Christopher Rondeau had the pleasure of talking to Mark Seifter, the Director of Game Design at Roll for Combat! Check out this interview in this week’s TTRP Corner and see one of the minds behind the latest Battlezoo Kickstarter!
TTRP CORNER: INTERVIEW WITH MARK SEIFTER FROM ROLL FOR COMBAT
I had the pleasure of talking to Mark Seifter a couple of weeks before their latest Kickstarter launch! He gives insight into how he transitioned from being the Design Manager at Paizo to the Director of Game Design for the Battlezoo line. Mark Seifter has credits for Pathfinder 1st and 2nd editions. He was a writer for the first Battlezoo Kickstarter in 2021, where he designed the monster part crafting system. Now, as director of the Battlezoo line, he has helped successfully fund their second Kickstarter, which is still going on now! This new Kickstarter features Eldamon, a group of animal elementals that players can catch and train for both Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition and Pathfinder Second Edition. Check out the Kickstarter Campaign here!
INTERVIEW WITH MARK SEIFTER
Christopher Rondeau (CR): Hi. Well, I’m glad we could get in touch, but first and foremost, can you tell us who you are?
Mark Seifter (MS): I’m Mark Seifer. I am one of the four creators of Pathfinder Second Edition and the former design manager at Paizo. And now, I am the Director of Game Design at Roll for Combat.
CR: Can you tell us a little about what Role for Combat is as well as the Battlezoo line?
MS: Sure, absolutely. So, roll for combat started as an actual play podcast, but over time, it ballooned into a licensed partner with Paizo, the company that creates Pathfinder and Starfinder. Roll for Combat took over the RPG Superstar contest, a contest that Paizo used to run.
At Paizo, I judged RPG Superstar one of the years. Paiso licensed out to the publisher of Role for Combat, Stephen Glicker, to run RPG Superstar since Paizo wasn’t doing it anymore at that point. So from there, when they licensed it out and Stephen was talking to Eric Mona about that, Eric Mona being the publisher at Paizo. Eric said, “Well, you should do a whole big book full of the monsters that people submit to the contest, and you’re going to need over a hundred.“
Stephen Glicker did that, and at Roll for Combat, he believes in going big. And that’s what he does every time. So Battlezoo Bestiary was the first book out of the Roll for Combat brand. And it did so based on the contest winners from RPG Superstar. At the time, I was still working at Paizo. Stephen Glicker hired me as a freelancer because he wanted the back of that book to contain a very difficult to create system, but hopefully not complex, for the players and GM system. This system replaced the game’s economy or part of the game’s economy with monster parts. You could take parts off of the monsters and use them to craft items. Like you defeated a swarm of beetles, you would make a beetle mask that gives you extra perception or something like that. So, I did that for him as a freelancer in that first book.
But otherwise, I didn’t really work on that book. After that, he (Stephen Glicker) hired me full-time, moving into some later books for Battlezoo, including Battlezoo Ancestries: Dragons, where you can play as a dragon character.
CR: You are the person we get to applaud for the crafting system of the Battlezoo product line. I think many significant tabletop games have a weakness in applying proper mechanics to crafting that sort of thing. What was your inspiration for that phenomenal crafting system?
MS: What happened is that there’s been an idea for years to do a crafting system on monster parts. Even at Paizo, people have wanted to do that. And, of course, Stephen Glicker’s Role for Combat has wanted to do it. Until then, Paizo didn’t because it takes a lot of work to redo the economy to get it done. At least if you want it to be all-inclusive and capable of being future-proof for new monsters coming out. The inspiration is all out there in so many different games. If you go play a computer game or a console RPG. There’s a decent chance that you will be crafting based on monster parts. Monster Hunter gets a lot of fanfare for it. Although our system is a little more flexible, Monster Hunter is more like you need exactly this one part from this one creature, but there are a lot of games that are doing that.
Stephen wanted it to be done, and he wanted to be done by one of the people who did a huge amount of the math work behind Pathfinder Second Edition in the first place to make sure that it would work. It would be accurate for the system rather than getting off base with the expectations of the game.
CR: Excellent. How was creating a crafting system like for two different systems? I believe the Battlezoo line is for Fifth Edition and Pathfinder’s Second Edition. Are there any noticeable differences?
MS: There are some significant differences in fifth edition. That was actually pretty tricky. First, we brought in some experts in the 5e system who also knew the Pathfinder Second Edition system to do the conversion. They had been working on Level-Up, which is a thing that EN World had made for fifth edition. They needed to reverse engineer a lot of the economy for fifth edition to do that.
And so they handed over a turnover that converted all of the special, cool abilities into fifth edition, just fine. And when it came to the overall economy, they gave a full analysis that this is the best we can do creature by creature. So I did a deep dive into that and realized that strangely or perhaps even, almost unfortunately for a creature-by-creature monster part system. The way that 5e was built prevents you from giving out substantial rewards on a per monster basis.
There is a table in the Dungeon Masters Guide where you can hand out this many coins, but if you look at how much is on that table, it’s very low compared to your overall treasure. We put our heads together, and we came out with a system that bases the monster parts on the difficulty of the encounter.
CR: I am friends with many of the Level-Up 5e, EN World group. And they have a lot of interesting ideas. So it seems from my perspective that you guys pulled talent from Paizo and EN World amongst your other list of people that I’m reading on your 2021 Kickstarter. And that’s pretty cool.
How was it to work with such a huge team if you had a direct part in that?
MS: So, at the very start, I didn’t because I was a freelancer, so I only needed to work with Stephen. But by the time the team got built up to include all the members. I was on the way to the job.
So when I did work with them, and strangely, I would say it was pretty easy. It was smooth. Everyone on the project was very professional and easy to communicate with and work with. And frankly, at Paizo, I’m used to having a project where I was dealing with possibly dozens and dozens of different freelancers. So, because I came in after the point where they were taking in all the contest winners. It was a smaller crowd than I was used to, it was a little more intimate and easier to work together with everyone.
CR: In 2021, Roll for Combat had a Kickstarter where they launched three books, and this Kickstarter did terrifically. You earned about 300k over your 20k goal. And from my perspective, being a freelance writer and hearing about these Kickstarters doing so well. Especially with Avatar, the Last Air Bender also did exceptionally well. This may be out of your purview because you weren’t off full time then, but what was your decision to crowdfund this instead of just going the more traditional route?
MS: I wasn’t there at the time. The best I know is that Stephen was probably going to be able to get the first book, the Battlezoo Bestiary, done without crowdfunding. But crowdfunding was seen as a way to enhance the slate and to have some funds to pay artists. Because I don’t know if you’ve got the PDFs for those books, but there’s a lot of art, and it is very high-quality art, which is not cheap. And you have to pay for printing and other things in advance. When you’re small, it’s good to know how many people you are sure will purchase your product. Because if you guess at a print run and you guess too many. You had to pay the printer for the extra books, and you probably had to pay a warehouse to store the books over time until they are sold. You can wind up losing money on that. I’m guessing that crowdfunding helped know at least this many people want it, and that’s just because it’s the cultural zeitgeist way to do preorders and help raise funds in advance to pay artists and writers. As far as I know, roll for Combat is paying pretty high for the industry.
CR: By this article’s publication, you’ll have your second Kickstarter. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
MS: Absolutely. So our second Kickstarter, which at the time of this publication has launched on July 26th, hopefully really successfully, will also have three different types of things. However, it won’t be three books exactly. The three things in the Kickstarter are just like we had Battlezoo Bestiary: Strange and Unusual. It’s from RPG Superstar, the winners of a second contest. It’ll have expansions to the monster crafting system in the first Battlezoo Bestiary because many people said they liked it and wanted to see even more from it. And I’m happy about that. We just wanted to make sure people liked it first, plus a new archetype that will probably be called the Aberrant Soul. But we’ll see if that name changes by the time that the Kickstarter goes up.
Then the second thing that will be on the Kickstarter is not one product but a bunch. It’s something called the Year of Monsters. 2022 for me, at least, was a year where just every once in a while, something really bad would happen, and I was not looking forward to what the next thing would be. So, we were thinking, what if in 2023, there was at least one good thing that you knew you would get every month to look forward to? That’s where we came up with Year of Monsters, 12 very unusual monstrous ancestries or races that will come out each month.
I will announce all of them to you because this is coming out after the Kickstarter. But as of the time when we were doing this interview, some of these were still a secret. So the Demon, gremlin, intelligent weapon, dungeon expanded because we did an April fool’s release of a dungeon that we were very serious about; we just put it on April fools because it was a dungeon. Oni, nymphs, doppelganger, minotaurs, slimes, Sthenos, which are medusa-like people, mimics, and Sidhe, which are like fey nobles. Those are the 12 ancestries that are in the Year of Monsters. And then, based on stretch goals, some of those might be expanded, which we will do at the end of the year in a compilation book.
So, if you get it, you’ll end up with the Foundry module and the PDF for each ancestry, showing up every month. And then, in the end, you can get a hardcover or PDF of the compilation plus expansions based on what people want after they’ve read it. You can just say, “Hey, this is what was missing,” and that‘s how we’ll spend the pages.
The third part, which is probably the biggest part of them all, is Battlezoo Eldamon. Battlezoo Eldamon is a collectible tabletop RPG supplement. It allows you to go around the world to find these strange ancient elemental creatures called Eldamon, who like to hang out inside of items, creatures, and locations related to their element. And they’re sort of phased out of reality. When you find a flametounge sword or defeat a fire giant, a fire Eldamon might pop out.
And the reason we did it like that is that there have been monster training and monster collecting ideas for years that people have wanted to do. But most of the time, they’re very intrusive for the dungeon master or gamemaster and the rest of the group. Because you have to make tons of encounters where you fight against them if it’s like Pokemon style where you battle and get them low and then capture them, or you have to completely change what you’re doing. With Eldermon, since they just hang out in the items and creatures you were going to find, you can use the published encounter, published adventure, or your own adventure as the GM. And if you want to, there are tables that you can just have the player role to see if they got Eldamon. You don’t have to do anything extra if you don’t want to.
You can befriend them. You can train them up. They battle each other in a mock battle where no one really gets hurt, and they’re phased out of reality. But suppose you’re an Eldermon trainer class. In that case, you can bring them into reality, fight ogres and dragons and everything else with your Eldermon and evolve them into newer forms. There’s also an elemental avatar class. That’s for people who are like, okay, I like that there are 10 elements worth of special abilities, but maybe I don’t want to collect a bunch of Eldamon. I just want to do an ice blast. Eldamon sometimes likes to merge into creatures and objects. What if they merge into you and they stay there for a. It’s possible. You might start to develop abilities based on that Eldamon, and that’s the elemental avatar comes in.
So, all that plus pluses and more random things have been added to the Kickstarter. And I highly recommend that readers check it out.
CR: Wow. I thought your first Kickstarter was massive, which had the Battlezoo Beastiary with this monster crafting system. It had the Battlezoo Ancestry specifically for dragons, my favorite part of the last Kickstarter. I’m a huge dragon nerd and liked seeing things like the Imperial dragons get playable options.
MS: Yeah, I wrote that Dragon’s book cause I’m a big dragon fan too. Uh,
CR: But we get to see you take that base, a successful Kickstarter, and trying to do more with that is incredible.
MS: The first one was kind of a warmup. Stephen Glicker likes to go big. He’ll swing big on pretty much anything. And where every other publisher I’ve seen would be like, we’re out of page count, cut this down. If he’s like, no, we should add this other thing, we’ll just make it longer and not increase the price. I’ve seen him do that. He often likes to go big.
I’ll give you a Major Spoiler since this is Major Spoilers. The brand for Battlezoo Bestiary was called Battlezoo because Stephen, over 20 years ago, registered Battlezoo because he wanted to do something similar to Eldamon. He’s been waiting, poised to try to find the right opportunity and the right person to work with. He decided that based on the current way that things are going with Pathfinders Second Edition and fifth edition and having me on the team, now was the time to put his long-term plan into action. That’s why it is called Battlezoo because you have a lot of creatures, and you can have them fight.
CR: That makes sense, in retrospect.
This Eldamon system seems to be pretty complex. How accessible is it going to be for the average player? Would it be something I could play with my kids who are elementary school age, or is this really geared towards a more veteran player?
MS: Great question. It has enough depth that we think that players of all ages will really, really enjoy it. Still, it’s intentionally made to be a simple enough play style that your elementary schoolers can easily pick it up and enjoy it. And it doesn’t have as many complex interactions as some of the other classes in Pathfinders second edition.
So if your kid wants to be an Eldamon trainer, they decide that they’re going to use, let’s say, their Squirrelember, which is a fire squirrel. Or maybe they use their Blizzotter, an ice otter, for a situation. And they’re like, okay, we’re going to send in Blizzotter to fight against, let’s say, a fire giant with their Blizzotter is they can phase the Eldamon in. That means that the playstyle will not be as complicated as the summoner class in Pathfinder. It’s easier resource management than spells per day or focus points while still encouraging people to explore different abilities rather than spamming the same one.
CR: You worked with Paizo for a long time as a Pathfinder Society GM, and then you were hired in 2014, I believe.
MS: That’s right.
CR: What was the transition working for Paizo to Roll for Combat? I’m assuming Roll for Combat has a much smaller team with maybe more risk involved. What was that choice like?
MS: Would you like to hear about the transition or the choice?
CR: We’ll start with the choice.
MS: It’s always a little scary for, for most people, I think, except for the people who are just super risk averse to jump into something else and to leave something you’ve been doing for almost eight years. But the pitch on what was going on with Role for Combat was simply too good to ignore because Role for Combat would make me the Director of Game Design. I would be in charge of everything that was going on there. And Eldamon was just so cool and innovative and something I wanted to work on. Plus, the work is very flexible and allows me to work from home. I would be capable in theory, although my SO still works for Paiso. But in theory, move to somewhere that is not ridiculously expensive, like the Seattle Redmond area. And therefore, being able to make my salary go a lot further, plus it’s a higher position it’s the Director of Game Design.
There were just a lot of factors that made this feel like a really good choice. And I decided that it was worth the risk. As you said, it can be riskier, and I know a lot of responsibilities fall on me because there aren’t many people on the full-time team. But on the other hand, not having like 30 books going on with eight different teams who might all be coming back to me and I was sort of the hub for all of Paizo design. It’s in some ways less stressful, even though there’s more pressure on me if that makes sense.
CR: And you left for Roll for Combat. I think the press release was in early January of this year. How big is your team for this?
MS: So if we’re talking about Roll for Combat, it’s technically a brand. It’s technically not a company. To understand it, you could think of it as being sort of like a company that has two people in it. The publisher, Stephen Glicker, and me, the Director of Game Design. Technically, Stephen has his own company that he’s in. And I have a company that only includes me that is contracted by the other company. But for the most part, it’s the two of us, and then we bring in many people such as those Level-Up people for the 5e conversions and the 5e adventure conversions.
We brought in David N. Ross, who is not on level up but did the Abomination Vaults conversion for 5e, to head up our adventure conversion. He worked with the Level-Up people who helped do some of the stat blocks while doing the main adventure conversion. He had a lot of experience seeing what needed to be done when a Pathfinder adventure became a 5e adventure.
So we have a lot of freelancers and other people like that, but it’s mostly just Stephen and me. It’s tiny.
CR: I’ve had the pleasure of being able to freelance for several companies. And it’s interesting to hear that you’re coming from a two-person team for these product lines and a bunch of freelancers. I applaud your responsibility and tenacity to give this to freelancers for this project.
MS: It is pretty wild. And not only that, I write a lot of the material myself. Sometimes we do it at a ridiculous pace because we both work quickly for different lanes. I work quickly over a short period of time, and Stephen and I feel like he never goes to sleep ever. For example, this year, I mentioned Dungeon Ancestry on April Fool’s day. Well, on the 30th of March at a time that would’ve been like 2:00 AM for him. Stephen sent me a message like, “Hey, Let’s do a dungeon ancestry for April fool’s day.” So, on March 31st, I wrote a 6,000-word ancestry, and then Stephen laid it out and put arts assets in it. And it was ready for April 1st, which is beyond what we usually do in a day. It was ridiculous, especially since we had a two-hour stream that day.
CR: Well, that’s cool. I encourage everyone to go check that out for 5e and Pathfinder.
MS: It’s got a lot of silly named sidebars, but it’s honestly serious that you can play a dungeon. Like that’s sort of the punchline of the joke where people on April Fool’s Day first saw a picture of it, and they’re like, oh haha, it’s a joke. Picture somebody mocked up on, like a fake picture for something that is not a real product. And then they’re like, this is a real product I could download. Okay. It‘s probably just like gonna say, haha, trick you when I download. And they‘re like, hold on. No, it’s actually an ancestry, but is it serious? And they looked at it, and we’re like, oh, it’s balanced. Actually, I can play a dungeon. I feel like that sort of onion layer of jokes makes it much funnier than if it was just a picture of a cover.
CR: Well, for our last question, I am going to assume that this Kickstarter had a very, very successful start and will keep raising money until the end of the crowdfunded campaign. But what is the plan for Roll for Combat? Do you guys have things planned out for even more content after this Kickstarter? Are you hoping to do more and more?
MS: I would say that Stephen has so many plans that I can’t tell you exactly what he’ll do. To be honest with you, until right after I had joined the company, it wasn’t fully decided that the Kickstarter this year was going to be Year of Monsters, Eldamon, and Battlezoo Bestiary: Strange and Unusual. There was another thing that might have shown up that is also a big thing he wants to do. And so that changes with enough frequency that when we talk about the future, even if I was allowed to tell you what the other ideas were, I would hesitate because I think he would probably change it again.
But yes, there are a lot of ideas, and they range from things like doing more of whatever people like the most from this Kickstarter. Because there could be more Eldermon or more monster ancestors to doing some things that are not even in the first and second Kickstarter yet. I would suspect his third big thing would probably show up in a third Kickstarter, but who knows?
CR: Do you have any advice for anyone looking to write for tabletop gaming or design games who are a little unnerved by the Kickstarter or crowdfunding process?
MS: Sure. I would say that the thing that held me back the most was imposter syndrome and the belief that what I was writing couldn’t be something anyone would care about. So, I would say, just do it. If you want to if you have enough skills to create a layout and grab some art, publish it yourself. You can do it on Pathfinder Infinite. If you want, you do have to give up a significant amount of cut, but that would let you use IP and certain amounts of art. So you won’t have to risk paying an artist and losing money on it. On the D&D side, the DM’s Guild is the equivalent situation.
And if you don’t want to do all that, you just want to write, then approach some third-party publishers and pitch your idea. If you do that with 5 to 10 publishers, the chances are that there’s at least one of them will follow up with you. Maybe more, so perhaps don’t do it all at the exact same. Then you can see where it goes from there. So, the best way to start is to start and do something, because once you’ve done something, you’ve done something! And the next time, you can ask for a reference from that publisher or go back to them, and you’ll be pretty confident they might accept your pitch again. Or you can say, “Hey, I was a silver bestseller. I was a gold bestseller on here,” to the next person you talk to. So, the best way to start to get started is to get started. And I would say no other preplanning stems really can replace that.
CR: Well. Cool. Thank you for this interview. Where can we find you, and where can we find this Kickstarter when it goes live?
MS: All right. You can find me on Twitter; I’m just @MarkSeifter. On Twitch, I have a channel with Linda Zayas-Palmer, the development manager for digital adventures at Paizo, called Arcane Mark. I’m also on Roll for Combat Live YouTube channel. And you can find the Kickstarter at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/rollforcombat/5e-pf2-monster-training-and-year-of-monsters
CR: All right, thank you very much.
MS: Thank you for the interview.