This interview is part of a series focusing on candidates in the running for the 2014 ENnie Awards. The Gen Con EN World RPG Awards (the “ENnies”) are an annual fan-based celebration of excellence in tabletop role-playing gaming, with voting beginning 7 a.m. Central on Sunday, July 20 through 7 p.m. Central on Wednesday, July 30. The winners will be announced at Gen Con, the Grand Hall at the Historic Union Station on Friday, August 15. To vote, see http://www.ennie-awards.com/vote/. In this installment I interview Tim Roven, head uh...let's go with audio guy...of Tabletop Audio.
Michael Tresca (MT): Tell us about your company.
Tim Roven (TR): To be honest my “company” is more of a "for-fun" project that seems to be taking more and more of my time. The short history is that I’m a Brooklyn, NY based composer and sound designer who also plays RPGs with my 2 young kids. I had taken a long break from playing RPGs (about 20+ years) before I started thinking that my kids might really enjoy them. About 2 years ago we got the D&D Red Box (that was 4e then) and had a blast playing through the adventures. I started thinking how cool it might be to have background audio tracks to accompany our adventures. So I resurrected a few unused tracks from old client projects that I thought might work, and using them as a starting point, turned them into 10 minute ambiences for our game. Long story short, our games were more fun, so I did a few more. When I had 12 or so I decided, on a lark, to put them online to see if anyone else might enjoy them. That was around February of 2014. The response was very encouraging, so I kept making them. I’ve gotten lots of emails since I started. Suggestions for tracks, encouragement, design advice, emails from other gamer dads who play with their kids and, surprising to me, quite a few emails from fiction writers who say they use the tracks as inspiration for their books and stories. The site has undergone a few revisions since launch, and I’ve added almost 50 ambiences so far, which someone recently pointed out is over 8 hours of audio.
MT: Tell us about your nominated site.
TR: Tabletop Audio is a website where players and GMs of tabletop role-playing games can find and play background audio tracks to accompany their gaming sessions. I have multiple types of ambiences that will work for a wide variety of games, from classic sword and sorcery, to sci-fi, horror, and urban fantasy. I’m adding new ambiences all the time.
MT: What distinguishes your entries from your competitors?
TR: I'm assuming you mean other RPG audio makers and not the other nominated sites on this list (all of which I'm a big fan of by the way!) When I started Tabletop Audio I hadn’t heard of RPG audio - otherwise I might never have created my own! I’ve since come across a few others and to be honest I think they are all really good. It’s pretty exciting for consumers to have such a great array of choices. I think it helps everybody. So, what distinguishes Tabletop Audio? I suppose my business model - if you can even call it that - where I give everything away for free and hope that enough people support it through donations or Patreon.
MT: What does it take to produce a successful digital presence like yours?
TR: Basically it's what everyone always tells you. Be engaged with your site and the content, be engaged with your audience, update it as frequently as you can and make sure you’re having fun with it. Promotion is tricky, it doesn’t come naturally to me. It still feels weird to post notices on Reddit or Twitter or Google+ about new tracks or to introduce myself. I feel like I’m bothering people even posting as little as I do - which is about once a week, usually when I offer a new, free track.. Another thing that's crucial is to be mindful of the community you’re presenting to. The RPG community from what I’ve experienced is extremely smart, very tech and Internet savvy and can smell a shill from 50 paces. People can handle a bit of promotion but bristle quickly when they feel like you’re overreaching or otherwise overdoing it. Above all, be a fan of the community and support all the other amazing work that people in it are doing. And, like Wil Wheaton says, “don’t be a d*ck”.
MT: Any tips for newbies just entering the field?
TR: Do it for the fun of it, for goodness sakes don’t do it for the money! It helps to have an actual job to support your RPG habit. Failing that, a spouse with a job will do.
MT: Have you participated in any recent Kickstarters? Are there any upcoming Kickstarters on the horizon?
TR: Yes, I’ve participated in a few recently. Reaper Bones II(*cough*) for my kids. (*cough*), Mage: the Ascension 20th anniversary, Primetime Adventures, Backstory Cards, Strong Female Protagonist, Urban Shadows RPG and Fragged Empire. I'm actually doing some of the stretch goals for Fragged Empire which I'm very excited about. I’m realizing I tend to Kickstart whatever Fred Hicks tells me to in his Twitter feed. This could be a problem moving forward.
MT: What do you think of the new edition of D&D?
TR: I just started the included adventure with my kids, so far we like it. I like the advantage/disadvantage mechanic I think, but time will tell.
MT: Where can we find out more about your site online?
TR: The ‘about’ section of the site has everything I could think of including attribution links for all the artwork I use on the site. You can always email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions or suggestions.
MT: Anything else you'd like to share?
TR: Thanks for including me in these interviews. I’m just so thrilled to have been nominated on a list filled with such talent. I feel like I snuck in the back door of the club and I’m still waiting to be found out!