D&D Veteran Charles Ryan Talks 'Numenera' [INTERVIEW]

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Recently, Monte Cook hired his friend Charles Ryan to join Monte Cook Games as Chief Operating Officer to help launch the science fantasy roleplaying game "Numenera" later this summer. Ryan has been working in the RPG industry for 20 years, including a stint as the brand manager for Dungeons and Dragons third edition. MTV Geek talked to Ryan about his relationship with Monte, what he brings to Monte Cook Games, and the future of "Numenera."

MTV Geek: How do you know Monte Cook?

Charles Ryan: Monte and I overlapped for a while at Wizards of the Coast, when he and I were both on the RPG R&D team. I think the first product we crossed paths on was d20 Call of Cthulhu, for which I did a bit of editing. We remained friends throughout the years my family and I were living in the Seattle area, even after Monte left Wizards. More recently, my wife Tammie started doing some work for Monte, so he happened to get the word pretty quickly when my previous job came to an end. I think that was the point at which he and Shanna were thinking very seriously about the future of Monte Cook Games, and were concluding that maybe it was turning into something much bigger than they had perhaps initially intended--something that was eating up far more time than they had on their own.

Geek: Why did you decide to join to Monte Cook Games?

Ryan: Monte's been a good friend of mine for many years, and I've always had incredible admiration for him as a game designer and innovator. That alone would be a great reason to want to work with him, but the tabletop games industry can be a tough place to make a secure, stable living. The thing about Monte, though, is that he's a sure bet--you look over his creative history, at Planescape and Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil and of course Dungeons and Dragons third edition, and you see a proven track record of delivering the sorts of games that gamers love. "Numenera" certainly proves that. And it's clear that the only thing that was holding Monte Cook Games back from being one of the top-tier game companies was the lack of manpower, particularly on the side of operations and marketing--exactly what I could bring to the table.

Geek: How are you bringing your experience at Wizards to Monte Cook Games?

Ryan: My first four years at Wizards were on the R&D side of the fence, where I wrote, developed, and edited for the Star Wars, d20 Modern, and D&D lines, along with some other bits and pieces. Later I moved over to the business and marketing side, as Brand Manager for RPGs. The brand managers's role is at the hub of the wheel, bringing together the spokes of product development, marketing, finance, production, sales, licensing, customer service--really everything. You have financial responsibility to make a profitable line. You're responsible for crafting a strategy for the future of the brand and the IP. You develop the marketing strategies and work with R&D to plan products.

Wizards of the Coast, of course, is a big company where hundreds of people touch every product in some sort of way. So there's a lot more coordination, a lot of meetings, a lot of consensus-building that can take a while to achieve. You can't turn on a dime. Monte Cook Games is more intimate, and we're more agile (as small companies tend to be). But the fundamentals of bringing a product and brand to market successfully are pretty much the same.

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Geek: How would you describe "Numenera"?

Ryan: The word I keep coming back to regarding "Numenera" is "evocative." Early in the development, Monte worked closely with some really talented concept artists, and together they developed a vision for the world that is incredibly compelling and immersive. You literally just want to step into it. It goes beyond simply firing up the imagination--lots of fantasy does that--it builds an image in your mind so cohesive that you almost feel it's real.

A great world is wonderful in its own right, but Monte is also a consummate game designer. He's married this world to a set of rules that compel the player to thoroughly engage with it--to build the sorts of characters and adventures that are really at home in this universe. And he's focused very much on using the rules not as an end in themselves, but a means to an end--a way to best help the player develop those characters and stories.

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Geek: What is the future of the "Numenera" game?

Ryan: "Numenera" is launching with the corebook and Player's Guide in August. After that we have a huge slate of products. The Devil's Spine adventure compilation is in October and the Bestiary will follow in January, and other hardcovers and softcovers will follow at a solid clip. I think gamers can expect a new title every month or two, but the pattern will be driven by the needs of the game so it may not be a "new book the third Tuesday of every month" sort of thing. In addition to the print products, when we have a title that works better in a different format--a short topic that works best as a small PDF, or a print-on-demand card deck--we'll work to that format. So expect a sprinkling of online-only products among the print books.

Of course, that's just the RPG, the heart of "Numenera," but not its whole story. Torment: Tides of "Numenera" launches in early 2015, and the "Numenera" Thunderstone deckbuilding game is out shortly after the corebook. And there will be other licensed products as well--some already in the bag (but not yet announced) and others in the works. The first "Numenera" fiction hit the market just the other day, and I think you'll see some "Numenera" novels in the future. Like I said, the world is incredibly compelling, and there are so many ways to realize its vision.