Interview – Suzi Yee (Expeditious Retreat Press)

Suzi Yee and Joseph Browning are the founders and owners of Expeditious Retreat Press. They most recently published “Sorcery & Super Science!” a post-apocalyptic role-playing game.

First off, let me thank you for taking the time to be interviewed for the ENnies. I truly appreciate you taking the time to talk about the ENnies, especially since next year is its 10th anniversary.

Starting off with a more personal question, Expeditious Retreat Press was started in 2003 by you and Joseph Browning with your first published book, A Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe. It’s obviously grown a bit since then. So what keeps you going? What keeps you enthusiastic about working in the RPG industry?

Expeditious Retreat Press started with a very simple question: Joe asked me if I wanted to help him write the book he always wanted to read but had never been written, and a year later, we finished the manuscript for A Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that was almost 8 years ago, and when I look back at our product catalog, I’m sort of taken aback at just how much we’ve produced in that time with our company of two. Each product represents countless hours of work, relationships with authors, writers and other companies, and the shared urged of all those involved to create. That’s why we keep doing it.

Speaking of A Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe, it won the Gold Ennie for Best Setting Supplement, Best Electronic Product, and Best Free Product or Web Enhancement in 2003.

Since then, you’ve had multiple items nominated. A Magical Society Beast Builder was nominated for in 2005 for both Best Monster or Adversary Product and Brest Free Product and Web Enhancement. 2006 saw 1 on 1 Adventures #6.66: The Pleasure Prison of the B’thuvian Demon Whore win a Silver for Best Adventure. Magical Medieval Society: European Warfare won a Silver for Best Electronic Book in 2007 while Nevermore Gazetteer was nominated for both Best Electronic Book and Best Free Product in the same year. In 2009, Lands of Darkness #1: The Barrow Grounds was nominated for Best adventure. What did you think of the ENnies when you found out that you were nominated? How about when you won?

We are long time supporters of the ENnies through submitting product for consideration, donating to auctions for help raise operational funds, attending the ceremonies, and letting the awards draw our attention to nominated product that we had not heard of previously. We understand how the awards are conducted and have a healthy respect for their mission – winning feels fantastic, but being nominated is always an honor.

Did your nominations and wins affect your sales? Did it open up more professional avenues for you?

That is a very difficult correlation to prove or disprove, but I would say it’s beneficial overall when you look at the totality of our company. In general, we have not found a strong direct correlation between a nomination or win and higher sales, but being recognized for excellence by the judges and fans is a positive factor that, when coupled with other positive factors, makes our company’s presence stronger, which I believe has helped our sales. The fact that Expeditious Retreat Press continually shows up on the nominee list over the past 7 years may not have in-and-of itself directly opened more professional avenues, but I know it hasn’t hurt.

What items are in the pipe for publishing in 2011? Anything you can talk about?

Coming up in 2011, we’ve got 4 or 5 more Advanced Adventures for our first edition gamers, 4 or 5 more 1 on 1 Adventures for our Pathfinder gamers, and 3 more Sorcery & Super Science releases in print (The ZZZ Quick Guide to North America, The Vulture Men of Waukegan and The Scourge of the Mall Rats) with more smaller PDF releases for our post-apocalyptic gamers. We have Magical Society books at various stages of research and development, so while we would like to have them out in 2011, more than likely, they will be out in 2012.

What got you into RPGs in the first place? What made you want to publish your own RPG books?

Joe has been RPGing since 1981, and you could say I dated into it (the third edition serendipitously came out about a year into our dating). Needless to say, I had a blast, and shortly after we got married, we started publishing. It started out with just one book, but grew from there, and we expanded organically, adapting to the market and to our life circumstances over time. While a combination of factors were at work, I would have to say the driving factor that moved us into publishing was the freedom it offers, both creatively and logistically.

How often do you get to game yourself?

It’s usually up to geography and circumstance; for example, it was a lot easier to get a group together in Austin or Dallas than it was in India. Living in a small town makes it a little more challenging, but we try to get some gaming in at least once a month with more during later spring-fall.

Now that we’ve been around for almost a decade, what do the ENnies mean to you both personally and professionally?

We will always have a soft spot for the ENnies because it was there and allowed the fans to voice their praise for our first book A Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe. While all the nominations and wins after that have been joyous occasions, they can’t compete with the relief and excitement that we knocked it out of the park on the first attempt and the judges and fans recognized that and said “thanks” through their votes.

The video, Fear of Girls, was a big hit with the RPG community. How were you first approached to publish The Pleasure Prison of the B’thuvian Demon Whore? Was it fun to work on?

Regarding Fear of Girls and the 1 on 1 Adventures tie in, Joe was the prime mover on that project. He saw Fear of Girls on-line, contacted the creator, and pitched what is now the award-winning The Pleasure Prison of the B’thuvian Demon Whore. He did all of the writing, and I could tell he was having a good time based on the number and frequency laughing and metal-horn-throwing that was coming from his side of the office. Working on the project opened our company to more contacts and opportunities, and there it’s always a joy to watch the reaction of a passerby the first time they see the product.

Besides the fantastic supplement, Fire and Brimstone! A Comprehensive Guide to Lava, Magma, and Superheated Rock, what else do you feel is the best product you’ve produced up to now?

Well, we can’t take too much credit for Fire and Brimstone! A Comprehensive Guide to Lava, Magma, and Superheated Rock. It was a largely a labor of love for those of SammichCon, and XRP simply helped distribute the product to a wider audience. We really don’t think about which product is our best. Our goals when creating any product is to create something that is solidly good with high utility to the intended audience. It’s not very sexy in this day and age of advertising, but that’s what we do. We’re sort of like the Lake Wobegon of RPG companies–where all the woman are strong, the men are good looking, and the children are above average, but we don’t make a fuss about it.

If you are using sales as a measurement, our best selling product is A Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe, and in many ways people would classify it on top, but really, all of our products are good, useful tools so long as the end user applies them to a complementary task.

If someone who had never heard of the ENnie Awards walked up to you today and asked, “So what are these ‘ENnies’ you keep talking about,” how would you answer them?

I have actually had this conversation many times at Gen Con, so I’ll give you my elevator speech. “The ENnies is fan-based awards recognizing excellence in roleplaying games and paraphernalia related to roleplaying. It was adopted by Gen Con as its official awards, and the ceremony is on Friday night. You should come.”

Thank you to Suzi Yee for answering my questions. To learn more about Expeditious Retreat Press, you can visit their website at http://www.xrpshop.citymax.com. To watch Fear of Girls, you can see it on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HmgLOKRl5J0.

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