Saturday, April 12, 2008

Remembering Oathbound

Its really easy for a person to get so focused on what their current projects are that they don't bother looking back at some of the things they've done in the past. Specifically, in my case, I'm 110% into campaigning for the success of the Reign of Discordia line. I'm doing this because I know its a good setting, it's consistent with my design philosophies, and the art direction of the thing is going to get away from the CGI look space opera has developed in recent and get back to its roots from the late 1970s.

But this blog entry isn't about Reign of Discordia and how wonderfully brilliant it is. This blog entry is about the Oathbound campaign setting.

I first became involved with Oathbound right at the tail end of the writing for the core setting book. In fact, other than offering up a little tidbit that was added to the adventure in the book, I really didn't do much at all for that book and I was lucky to have gotten into the credits at all. I did do the adventure that appeared for free on the website. I did get to play a major role in Plains of Penance, which was the first expansion book for the setting. I was asked to write an adventure that would appear in it, and I was told to make use of a creature called the Ulatra. I did it, excited to be getting my first real freelance gig, and happily turned it in. Later, Todd Morasch, the lead artist and the guy who had thought up the Ulatra in the first place back back when he was in highschool, sent me an email thanking me for bringing his monster to life. He was thrilled that I could write an adventure around this creature and do so in a way that was faithful to his imagination. This would be the first of many such successes with Oathbound.

My second major Oathbound project was Wrack and Ruin, which was about the portions of the city of Penance that either lie in ruin or lie beneath the city. To be honest, I still can't keep straight which was which, but the point was that it was the first book (other than some stuff I did for my own short lived company) where I was given the position of lead designer. We're talking cover credit and about 50,000 words of the book! Man, that puppy really was the first book that could be called a Darrin Drader vehicle, and again, not only did Bastion seem happy with it, but it was also a critical success.

The next book I played a role in was Oathbound: Arena, where we finally broke into the second major domain of the Forge. It was a harsh desert where people went in to do battle over the massive amounts of gold that lie beneath the red sands. I forget the actual number of words I contributed to this book. It wasn't enough to earn cover credit, but it was somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000 words, so again, it was a good chunk. I also have to admit that I prefer the Arena portion of the setting to Penance. In fact, I think it was probably the best domain we developed. There were a lot of writers working on it which brought about real diversity, ultimately leading to a widely varied but very compelling setting. I can also lay claim to the mass combat system in that book as well as a prestige class that still catches my fancy called the Ravager, which would spin stones around it to absorb damage it would have otherwise suffered. Again, this book met with critical success.

I wasn't part of Mysteries of Arena, since I was too busy writing Serpent Kingdoms for WotC at that time, but once I was done with that project, I helped Thomas Knauss out on Wildwood. While he did the majority of the writing for this book, I still managed to kick in 50,000 words and added a significant amount of the defining characteristics to the final book, including one of the strangest D&D type adventures I've ever seen. Again on this one, it was met with critical acclaim. Unfortunately it came at a time when the D20 market glut was in full swing, and Bastion Press wasn't doing so great financially. As a result, it literally took years for it to find its way out of development and into the hands of the gamers who wanted it. I was impressed that one of the people who was the most vocal about his desire to own the book was the ENWorld critic Alan "Psion" Kohler.

One more book was written for the Oathbound line, the Player's Guide to Oathbound, which was designed to make Oathbound 3.5 compatible. Thomas Knauss ran solo with that project, and I was definitely too busy working on WotC projects at that time to get too involved with it. Actually, other than looking over some stats for some races I had originally created, I had nothing to do with it. Because of the sorry shape Bastion was in, it never saw any form of official release and it was recently leaked as a word file for free through Steve Creech, the new owner of Bastion. He couldn't officially release it since the ownership of the Oathbound line reverted back to Greg Dent, the guy who thought up the setting in the first place, but it was still an entire book sitting on his hard drive that was of interest to the people who still liked the setting.

Some people look at the failure of Bastion to mean that the Oathbound setting itself failed to sell. That's pretty far from the truth, considering that in terms of actual sales, the entire Oathbound line was one of the highest selling non-WotC D20 settings. Unfortunately, as sheer number of D20 books hit critical mass, the actual number of books any company was able to sell hit rock bottom. Sales into the hobby game market for most companies went from being in the thousands to the hundreds. For Bastion, this was simply not enough to sustain the livelihood of the owner of the company and (like many others at the time) the business sank.

Despite the ultimate demise of Bastion Press and the Oathbound line, I can say that it was a setting that did get a lot of circulation among gamers and it literally launched my game design career. I can hang my hat on it and say that it was as good as of a setting as we could create. Yes, I am a bit proud of my involvement with it, and it really brings a smile to my face these days when I see people talking well about it. I've been seeing a lot of that lately.

1 comment:

Ashy said...

Yea, those were some good days, Darrin... Well, most of them, anyways. :P