The following is an interview with Mark C. MacKinnon, founder of Guardians of Order. Guardians of Order was founded in 1996 and currently publishes books using the Tri Stat dX and BESM d20 game systems.
Marx Pyle: Please explain how you first became involved with role playing games, both as a player and as a game designer.
Mark C. MacKinnon: I started seriously role-playing when I was 16, after being invited to play a game with a Cpl. in the Canadian Army (who was, oddly, 32 years old). I tinkered with systems for many years before finally designing my first RPG, Big Eyes, Small Mouth, in 1997.
Marx Pyle: Why did you create your role playing game company? Also, why did you choose to name it Guardians of Order?
Mark C. MacKinnon: Initially I didn't plan to run a company; I just wanted to publish my anime RPG and make a few bucks on the side. It was so popular (nominated for the BEST RPG Origins Award that year), though, and sold so well that I quit my Masters Degree in Chemistry to helm the company full time.
I'm revealing a bit of geekiness by admitting that Guardians Of Order was based on one of my Amber DRPG characters -- the Guardian of the Unicorn, High Priest of Order. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and the name certainly describes my personality quite well.
Marx Pyle: How did your company come up with the idea of creating the Tri Stat rule mechanics system?
Mark C. MacKinnon: I designed BESM because there wasn't any game on the market (that I knew of) that gave me the rules-light tools to run the anime games that I wanted. The system was heavily influenced by the Amber DRPG -- my favourite RPG -- but I wanted to one-up it and reduce the number of primary "stats" in the game from 4 to my current 3. Tri-Stat was thus created.
Marx Pyle: What do you believe are some of its strengths compared to other game systems like d20, GURPS, Unisystem, or the Action! System?
Mark C. MacKinnon: I think one primary strength is the player base -- many people are familiar with the basic ideas behind Tri-Stat. That said, d20, GURPS, and Storyteller obviously have Tri-Stat beat in that area.
I prefer to describe Tri-Stat as rules-light, but options-heavy. That is, the core elements of the system are extremely simple to grasp, but there are many add-on rules and concepts you can plug into the game. It's very modular.
Of course, the primary benefit to Tri-Stat was hard-coded into it's design philosophy: during a game (if played right), the system is nearly transparent. The system is just a loose skeleton upon which you build your character. Once the game play begins, the details of the system should rarely come up. I realise that not everyone shares my view on what a role-playing game should be, but that's how Tri-Stat was designed -- to be invisible during play.
Marx Pyle: What do you think of d20 and the OGL? Do you think it has been a good thing for role playing games?
Mark C. MacKinnon: I think that the collective gamer mentality that goes along with the propagation of the d20 System has set role-playing back many years. I know, I know -- it's odd hearing a publisher of successful d20 products saying such a thing. I think the d20 core has far too many details and strategy-game components to it, which de-emphasises the "role-playing of a character" and encourages the "gaming of a character." I'm a role-player, and not a gamer, which is why I see it that way.
The OGL, on the other hand, is a great idea that isn't working. The problem is that nearly every game designer thinks that they can design stuff better than other people. This is why we have multiple versions of the same d20 products. Other than compilation books (complete feats, complete spells, etc.), publishers aren't using each other's open content enough in their works. In addition to creative designers, a lot of this has to do with obscure or crippled OGC declarations and inability to easily access OGC.
We have tried to buck the trend by first making BESM d20 and d20 Mecha nearly entirely OGC, with a very crisp and clean declaration. We have also published SRDs of these two books, making it easy for designers and publishers to incorporate our OGC into their own works. We are the only major independent publisher to offer d20 System SRDs freely, and I think that more companies should follow our lead. That would greatly increase the viability of the OGL.
Marx Pyle: Was it a tough decision to start making d20 products?
Mark C. MacKinnon: Hell yes it was. I didn't want to go the d20 route (since I think Tri-Stat does nearly everything I want it to), but as a publisher, we had to give our customers what they wanted. And in the RPG industry right now, d20 is king.
To quote from my 2002 New Year's address:
In short, there were two reasons we didn't enter the d20 market until this year: pride and creativity. When I came to terms with both arguments, we decided to do a d20 edition of Silver Age Sentinels. I wasn't simply going to be yet another d20 fantasy publisher. Rather than saying we 'jumped on the bandwagon,' I prefer to think we built a sleeker, faster, and more attractive bandwagon of our own and asked, 'hey, do you mind if we pull our bandwagon alongside yours and travel together for a bit?'
Marx Pyle: What do you believe are some of BESM d20’s strengths compared to other d20 games?
Mark C. MacKinnon: Balance, modularity, and control over character destination. Many disagree, but I don't think the core d20 classes are balanced; BESM d20 set out to fix this. Since every class we constructed for BESM d20 is balanced over 20 levels, it offers a stronger start to the games. By give players the options to customise their characters with a wide array of abilities and disadvantages, BESM d20 combines the strengths of point-based systems with class-based systems. It's a nearly perfect blend, I think, which can match nearly anyone's style of play.
In short, turning the d20 System into a point-buy system is a vast improvement.
Marx Pyle: Magnum Opus seems like a really great idea. Could you please explain the concept behind it?
Mark C. MacKinnon: Magnum Opus is a creator-owned publishing imprint. Think of it as the Image Comics model for the gaming industry. The imprint offers publishers access to our distribution channels and our player network, while they maintain creative freedom and control over their copyright and trademarks. We created Magnum Opus, Latin for ‘great work,’ after carefully considering the needs of both the independent creators and the industry consumers. This professional creator-owned imprint is an ideal publishing alternative for many companies, and we are thrilled to bring this innovative concept to the role-playing market.
Marx Pyle: How did “Link: The West”, the first Magnum Opus product to be published, do in sales?
Mark C. MacKinnon: It did better than we expected, and certainly better than a start-up company could have done with their first d20 System publication. We printed conservatively, and had to reprint immediately.
Marx Pyle: What are some of your strongest products currently, and what does Guardians of Order have planned for the future?
Mark C. MacKinnon: BESM is our flagship product, which is currently available in a revised second edition. BESM d20 debuted at Origins 2003 and has sold exceptionally well; a revised edition is due out in May 2004. Silver Age Sentinels (Tri-Stat/d20 dual-statted) is a very successful superhero game, heavily supported with miniatures, short story anthologies, and numerous supplements. Nobilis is critically acclaimed, and still sells well. Finally, Tri-Stat dX is our stand-alone core system that scales to any power level and is ideal for any genre.
I can't reveal all of our coolest stuff coming down the pipeline, but I can reveal what we have already announced:
* The Authority RPG and Resource Book -- based on two popular DC/Wildstorm comics, The Authority and StormWatch. Compatible with Silver Age Sentinels (d20 System or Tri-Stat). April 2004.
* Tekumel: Empire of the Petal Throne -- based on Prof. Barker's detailed low-tech fantasy world, which was the gaming industry's first licensed product (first published by TSR in the 70s). Tri-Stat (April) and d20 System (July) core books will be available.
* The Slayers d20 RPG -- based on the entire anime TV series, The Slayers. March 2004.
* Ex Machina: Tri-Stat Cyberpunk -- a genre sourcebook for Tri-Stat dX, plus four different campaign worlds with different takes on cyberpunk.
* The Game Of Thrones RPG -- based on George R.R. Martin's best-selling fantasy epic. Three core books will be released (d20, Tri-Stat, and a dual-statted deluxe limited edition), and all supplements will be dual-statted. August 2004.