Dragon Magazine, the long-time resource for D&D players, folded last September after an amazing 359-issue run. Dungeon Adventures ceased publication at the same time, Pyramid has been all electronic for awhile, and White Wolf Magazine and Inphobia are distant memories. Is the era of the paper gaming magazine all gone?
Not if Wolfgang Baur has anything to say about it.
Baur, a longtime game designer and editor, created Kobold Quarterly, now in its 3rd issue. Pairing high-caliber writing with the visibility brought on by Baur's contacts in the game industry, KQ seems destined for an impressive run.
Recently I had a chance to interview Baur.
JB: I don't know what percentage of gaming geeks have fantasized at one point or another about publishing their own RPG magazine. What made you take the plunge?
WB: I've worked in magazine before, as the editor for both Dungeon and Dragon magazines. And so when those publications folded, it seemed like a chance to launch something for the RPG audience that wasn't tied to any one company.
JB: Do you feel like you're sticking your neck out, given the dismal track record of paper gamer magazines lately? There aren't many of them left!
WB: Honestly, no. While it's true that some mass-audience paper magazines are suffering, the magazine field as a whole is thriving with lots of niche publications, for cooks, knitters, wine lovers, geeks, what have you. And to be fair, Kobold Quarterly is both a paper magazine and a PDF publication. Best of both worlds!
JB: When you look back at other independent startups like d8 or Shadis, what lessons have you learned from them?
WB: Don't lean too heavily on non-fantasy, non-D&D content! I loved both d8 and Shadis, but both tried to distinguish themselves as covering the whole field of RPGs. Kobold Quarterly is much more tightly focussed on D&D gamers, on the classic sword & sorcery genre, with some high fantasy and horror thrown in for good measure.
JB: What kinds of gamers would appreciate KQ?
WB: Anyone who plays D&D will love Kobold Quarterly, as will fans of True20, Pathfinder, Warhammer, Iron Kingdoms, and related worlds.
JB: Do you have recurring columns or features that regular readers look for?
WB: Yes, we run a Monster Ecology in every issue, such as "Ecology of the Lich" or the derro, or the barghest. Skip Williams answers rules questions in our "Ask the Kobold" column, and the designer/artist interviews are quite popular. We've talked with novelist and game designer Ed Greenwood, publisher and Pathfinder guru Erik Mona, and artist Wayne Reynolds. Plus the Princes of Hell series , which was just supposed to be 3 issues worth, but the fans are already asking for more. The magazine is growing quickly, so Kobold Quarterly is still developing its own voice, but it's clear that gamers want spells, magic, and monsters: so that's what I'm providing.
JB: How were you able to convince such recognizable writers as Skip Williams, Jeff Grubb and Ed Greenwood to contribute?
WB: RPG design is a small community, and I'm very grateful that people of the caliber of Skip, Jeff, and Ed have supported Kobold Quarterly. I had the good fortune to work with Skip Williams long before he designed 3rd Edition D&D, in the TSR days. Likewise I stood in the TSR Castle at Gen Con with Jeff Grubb during the Al-Qadim days. And I saw Ed Greenwood at a friend's wedding reception this past summer. Which isn't to say the contributors come only from the Old Guard: the new designers like Keith Baker, Nicolas Logue, and Richard Pett have also provided articles that kick things around in new ways. I'm glad to maintain the shrine of tradition, while subverting it at the same time.
JB: I notice you publish both a paper magazine as well as a PDF. Me, I'm a paper guy. Do you find a lot of readers prefer the PDF product?
WB: The early adopters were all PDF subscribers, and the magazine would have been stillborn without them. PDF allowed me to launch without having to build a newstand presence first, which is a big barrier to new magazines entering the field. That said, these days its the paper edition that is drawing the most attention. I am working furiously with artists and designers to keep improving the look of the paper edition, and I have a few goodies planned for subscribers that matter a lot more in paper than they do in PDF form. Both formats have their merits and their downsides. To make Kobold Quarterly as appealing as possible, print subscribers get both versions, and a PDF-only version is available for those who love the pixels. There's no reason not to give readers something tangible AND something searchable.
JB: Where do you see KQ being three years from now?
WB: Magazines have always been a way to experiment a little, to do things that don't quite fit the company line. With no marketing department to force us to promote a new edition or the latest release from MegaBig Games, Kobold Quarterly caters only to its readers. It just might be the little magazine that beats the odds. I hope Kobold Quarterly continues to draw good notices, contributions from artists and freelancers, and that it sparks debate among D&D gamers all over the world. I'll keep taking some chances with it. And I'll keep doing other projects, like the patron-funded Open Design experiments, and the Kobold's Guide to Game Design book. I talk about it on my blog and on the forums at koboldquarterly.com. Really, I hope to publish the first "Best of Kobold Magazine" hardback compilation in 2011!