A Chat with MMK – Savage Mojo

Rob Kalajian article, interview, tabletop Leave a Comment

Savage Mojo, publishers of the Suzerain universe of RPG books, has recently launched a Patreon with all sorts of community-based rewards. I recently had a chance to talk with MMK of Savage Mojo to chat a bit about their new Patreon and whats in the works.

They were also kind enough to provide a sample of the content they will be releasing. You can check that out here!

Welcome! Why don’t you start off by telling me a bit about yourself and what it is you do?  

Well, I’m MMK, the Publisher at a tabletop RPG company called Savage Mojo. We create the Suzerain universe of roleplay goodies, complete with ENnie Award-winning books like Shanghai Vampocalypse and the well-loved Shaintar realm.

With a title like “Publisher” you can imagine that it’s my job to get books published (doh!) but we’re in the 21st century now and there’s more to it than that. Not only do I write our art style notes and commission illustrations, I do the post-production as those illustrations go into layout. As the person who invented the Suzerain universe over 20 years ago, I write or edit most of the Suzerain material we produce, whether it’s material to download from DriveThruRPG or for our supporters on Patreon.

Most importantly though, I bring together all the fabulously talented writers, editors, rules gurus, line artists, colorists, graphic designers, web designers, plus our long-suffering book-keeper and administrator. Oh, and composers, because we have a range of Suzerain music that’s amazing and I’m listening to right now. It really does take a village to publish a roleplay setting!

That’s just inside the company. Looking outwards, it’s up to me to have day-to-day contact with our wonderful and loyal community, and to evangelize to the world about the amazing things we’re doing (and we do some amazing things). I talk on various forums, stream some of my Suzerain games on Twitch and, yes, do interviews 🙂

So why don’t I just go ahead and answer the follow-on question that’s begging to be asked:

“If modern RPG publishing is more than making books… what else is it?

It’s my strongly-held belief that RPG publishing isn’t about the PDFs or the dead tree products. It’s about delivering an experience to gaming groups, making sure they get the most of their entertainment time. Whether we play around our home table, at a game store or convention, or increasingly play online, the same thing is always true: each session is an event, as sure as going to a concert or to the cinema or to the theater. Tabletop RPGs are, after all, the true home theater system.

Once we accept we’re really in the events business, things shift.  PDFs and physical books are one way to deliver content to gaming groups so they can create their own events, and they’re important because they generate income, and we need that just to survive. Anyone who thinks that being in the tabletop RPG industry is a way to make good money… best look elsewhere 😉

At Savage Mojo we decided a few years ago to take another approach. We have the Legends Awaken initiative, a shared universe aspect to Suzerain. You can see the basic idea on our website, and it’s all about giving GMs and their players an even bigger sense of accomplishment out of their game sessions. Suddenly, the things that happen around your gaming table can affect the official setting. It happens all the time with Suzerain, in fact. Cities have burned, evil plots foiled, kings crowned… and that’s just the last few months. Those events, which happened in folks’ personal campaigns, have become canon lore for the Suzerain universe. Next time we talk about the grand shipyards of Beziar, it’ll be in the past tense – they’re gone, burned to the ground in a supernatural storm.

The Legends Awaken initiative also gives us the chance to help you get the game you want. It’s a direct access loop between gamers and developers. Have a question about one bit of the Suzerain universe? Need some stats for a particular NPC you want to introduce to your game? Looking for something special for your hero but can’t quite find the Edges and Powers in our published material? Just ask, and we’re there to help. We’ve also commissioned artwork specially for game groups so the GM has that extra wow-factor to their big boss reveal. It’s great for the game group and we love it too.

This is all about helping gamers make their events more eventful; as a community of developers and players we thrive when we can take our gaming to another level, every time we play.

Of course, we’ve had to ask ourselves: how do we make that dream happen? Running something like Legends Awaken takes a lot of time from a lot of people, so how do we make sure they can put food on the table and pay the rental on their home? Sales of books helps, and we’re grateful to every volunteer who contributes their time and energy, but we’re pinning our hopes on Patreon. It’s really the fairest way, having a “tip jar with benefits”. Those who contribute can have more of our time and resources because they keep the lights on at Savage Mojo HQ, but everybody benefits from those generous contributions.

We also hope people will support us because we’re doing something special here and it’s worthy of support. It’s harder and harder for small publishers to keep going (and that’s most tabletop RPG companies, make no mistake). It’s up to us to improve the quality of the experience you get when gaming in our setting, but it’s also up to gamers to rally round and support that.
We only started our Patreon recently. Let’s see how that goes 🙂

What kind of planning went into the decision to start a Patreon? Now that it’s launched, what is the upkeep like?

The hardest part was making the decision in the first place, because it’s not an easy one. On the one hand, it adds a fair and balanced way for people to support what we’re doing, and the income is needed or we simply wouldn’t be able to survive of course. On the other hand, we like to give a lot to our community, and we didn’t want anyone feeling like the behind-the-scenes access to development, sneak peeks into what’s coming, and other perks are now behind a paywall or that we don’t care about the rest of our community as a result. Nothing could be further from the truth, but we knew we’d face a few people who felt that way after announcing the Patreon.

Managing those expectations, talking to the community throughout the process to explain why we’re doing a Patreon, and showing the world the array of benefits… those were certainly all in our mind before we went live with patreon.com/suzerain. We also had to do the numbers: if we’re creating unique content for our patrons, which we are, how much does it cost us to generate that content each month? What can we afford to create and not lose money each month? After all, that would be bad, right?

In terms of upkeep, the social aspects are easy for us. We’re already a very community-focused group of people and the shared universe aspect of what we’re doing means we spend a lot of time with Suzerain fans anyway. Spending time with the patrons to talk about future projects and get their opinions on things, giving sneak peeks of work in progress… that’s a really fun part of the day and flows naturally for us.

For a publisher who has a business model of developing and releasing books and interacting with fans at conventions and the occasional Facebook post… maybe the extra level of interaction with patrons would need adjustment or feel like a pain, but for Savage Mojo there’s never a sense that talking with the community is getting in the way of publishing our product. Quite the opposite – we publish books because we’ve been inspired by the community.

Sure, each month we have to generate unique content for the patrons, but again that’s a mindset. You could look at it as “one more thing in an already-busy schedule”, or you can see the opportunity to flesh out a corner of your setting that wouldn’t become a core part of your release plans for a long time. That can be really beneficial in making the setting stronger.

To give an example, I’m attaching last month’s Patron content pack, which I’m happy to ask the patrons: would you mind if this were shared with the world so they can see what you’re getting as patrons? I don’t think they’ll mind a bit, but it’s only fair to ask. Last month we got asked by a patron whether we could give a sense of what it’s like to live in the post-apocalyptic town of Seventh Creek, mentioned in the core rules and primer PDF. We aren’t going to be able to focus on that any time soon with our official releases, but it’s a great way to keep the Wilderlands part of Suzerain fresh and doing development on it. It encouraged me to commission new artwork, which raised a bunch of questions: what do different parts of town look like? What sort of gear do people wear? And so on.

It was a big win for us as well as the patrons, so it doesn’t feel like “upkeep” to having a patreon, even though I guess it is.

How far in advance are you planning content specifically for the Patreon? How much influence does your community have on that content?

I ask them every month what they’d like to see and discuss it with them. I never know in advance what I’ll be creating for them. You’ve got to stay current. Each month we create content that some patron will be actively using that month in their game, and that the others can enjoy and use down the line. Seventh Creek City was an active request at the start of the month from a patron who asked for more information about that place. The rest of the patrons said that they liked the idea and have enjoyed the content too. This month is a deep dive into gear for agents who are investigating the paranormal in 1999. It’s a very specific request but it’ll be fun for all the patrons.

What’s the process like of creating this content?

After picking a project for the month, the first thing is to talk with the community members who’ve been asking for it. If it’s something they specifically need for their campaigns at home, I want to be sure we deliver what they need. After that it’s just like working on any RPG supplement. Depending on the topic there may be more or less community involvement and feedback. This month’s content is a set of gear stats, and I want to work with the patrons pretty closely to fulfill their vision for that gear and what it does. Other times it might me more of a, “We have a rough idea what we want – now go and inspire us with your creation!”

How often does an idea stay in the form is was presented in the community?

So far (and remember, we’ve only been running our Patreon a few months as of writing this) all the content has remained exclusive to the patrons. However, we’ve very open that we look forward eventually to sharing plenty of it with the world, incorporating it into other products when appropriate. When we do our “Big Book o’ Gear” then we’ll certainly include the material the patrons get this month, even though we don’t plan to develop that book until late next year. At that point the content from this month will be stripped down to its basics – the words and images will be separated and we’ll consider: do we need any edits/changes based on what has happened in the previous year? Again, it’s all about being responsive to what’s going on in the Suzerain setting since this is a shared universe.

How often do you take an idea and expand upon it?

It’s always going to be an inspiration for more material down the line. The gear we’re focusing on this month inspires us to do a  “Big Book o’ Gear”. These content packs are almost always a catalyst for more ideas and expanded lore/stats. We inspire the community, but they inspire us too. It’s a big win for everybody.

Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?

The Suzerain universe lets you play in any genre or style you can imagine. Your campaign can be set in Earth’s past, present or any future you like, in mythical realms of fantasy or horrific alternate realities. What we’re delivering with the Legends Awaken initiative is a way for your game to be a part of something bigger, to make a difference to the universe itself. The community that’s coming together for this is wonderful, friendly, and passionate about our shared universe.

If you have a gaming group and would like to see about your game being a part of Suzerain, come and talk to us on FacebookDiscord, or send us a direct message from the front page of savagemojo.com. If you don’t have a gaming group then ask us. We may be able to get you a seat at a game online. And if you’re just curious to know more, then drop by and say hi. We’re always happy to answer questions. Check out our free downloads – they’re free, but we put a lot into them. I think you’ll like them. If you do, please consider a contribution to the Suzerain Patreon, our “tip jar with benefits”.

And that’s it. That’s all I have to say. Time for me to go figure the stats on an H&K G11 assault rifle with ammunition that can punch through magic shields. I’ll see you all around the Suzerain universe, folks.

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