The Guild Counsel: An interview with author Adam "Ferrel" Trzonkowski

Karen Bryan
K. Bryan|03.24.11

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The Guild Counsel: An interview with author Adam "Ferrel" Trzonkowski
At PAX East a week or so ago, I had the opportunity to talk with Adam "Ferrel" Trzonkowski, who is a guild leader, blogger, and newly crowned author. After managing his guild Iniquity for the better part of a decade, he decided to write a book about the lesson's he's learned regarding guild management. It's titled The Guild Leader's Companion and is available both in print and as an ebook through Amazon. In this week's Guild Counsel, we'll hear a bit about his background as a guild leader, his motivation to write a book, and his thoughts on why guild management offers important lessons even to those who don't run a guild.

Massively: First off, can you give the readers a little background on your gaming experience and how you got into leading a guild?

Adam Trzonkowski: I started playing MMORPGs when they weren't even graphical. That means I played in the old chat rooms and MUDs! Those were dark times, but we had guilds back then, and I actually was an officer in one for a few years. That role didn't entail nearly the work that it does these days, but that is how I got into leading people and learning how they interact with each other.

When EverQuest came out, I moved there from Ultima Online and worked my way up the ladder so to speak. I ended up in a top-tier raid guild and remained there for over four years. I learned a ton about MMORPGs there and a whole lot about leading [from an exceptional officer]. It was because of EQ's difficulty that everything after that just didn't seem as hard to me. That is why when EverQuest II kicked off, I unintentionally ended right back in competitive raiding, joining a great guild [Iniquity] that just started to have raid aspirations. When it was time to replace the leader, the other officers chose me for the role. I filled it for over two years there and have kept the post through several different games since.

Define your MMO playstyle -- are you a hardcore leader or more casual?

I began, without a doubt, as a hardcore leader. I didn't suffer much nonsense, but you really couldn't in those days. In the games I played, if you didn't kill the dragon, someone else would, and that meant you didn't get any loot that week. No loot means no progression. We were there to win, so we did everything it took short of exploiting to do so. That isn't the case these days, and I have mellowed extremely since that time! There isn't quite the need for that level of discipline in most raid guilds anymore. Yes, we must progress. Yes, we want to be number one -- but there is a key difference. Not being number one doesn't preclude you from doing content. These days you're really only playing against the game itself. My guild and I have aged because we've been together so long. We can't be number one, so we just settle for being good at what we do.

In your years of running a guild, what's been your proudest moment and your biggest regret?

One of my proudest moments probably occurred in EverQuest II. We had been working hard on Darathar One for weeks. We were undergeared, but we knew SOE were going to nerf the mob and make it easier in a matter of days. We didn't want to be a guild that never beat the original version. So we threw ourselves at that mob over and over and pulled it off. When Darathar died, we removed all doubt that we were the real deal.

Regrets? I have a few, but then again, too few to mention. I got lax on attendance for a while in EQII after classic and when the instances started rolling in. To make up for that, we started to recruit more bodies and grow the guild. That meant we often had more raiders than we had raid slots. For that reason I sat out good players because of their classes. We're talking skilled, loyal players who wanted nothing but for us to succeed. Some of them are still with me, which blows my mind. Doing that haunts me till this day and is the reason I will never recruit too much past the raid cap. I refuse to sit anyone out. I'd rather get by with less.

What's the most important piece of advice that every guild leader should know?

The one thing that people forget is that being a guild leader has nothing to do with MMORPGs. It has nothing to do with your skill as a player. It has nothing to do with gaming. It is all about people. That is why a good guild leader can be a good manager in real life. Management is management regardless of whether it is in person of via text. There are real people behind those characters. They have hopes, dreams and goals just like you. They want to win too. Once you have a good grasp of what everyone wants and who they are, you can move forward quite quickly.

What made you decide to write a book about guild leadership?

When I started the book, there wasn't much in print, and I felt like the whole concept was underrepresented. There weren't a lot of outlets for people seeking advice on the internet, and few people thought to pick up a book on management to help them run their guild. You could find some good blogs, but in general, guild leaders didn't have a lot of tools. There was also a lot of disinformation and what I call bad role models. People looked at Furor and said, "Now there is a good guild leader," but was he really? If you modeled yourself after him, you might not necessarily succeed. I just didn't see the right tools for the job and some of those tools felt pretty demanding. I wanted to include more general ideas and advice -- general concepts that anyone can use.

What was your biggest challenge in trying to publish a book on this area?

The biggest challenge was the whole process of getting the book published! The work, so to speak, used to be in getting the book you want to write completed. It is a lot of effort to get a solid flow, good editing and enough content together. Once that was done, I proceeded to look into the realm of publishing. This proved to be an extremely daunting and depressing task. Submitting to [publishers] is nearly impossible without an agent, and there are "publishers" who will take your money, publish your book, and [expect you to] market it yourself! When it came down to it, I looked to technology and found it with Publishing on Demand. When orders come in, the books are printed, and there is zero cost to me. Since my book is directly targeting people who have internet connections, I decided to sell through Amazon, Kindle and a few other venues.

Can you tell us a little about the book, and what sorts of issues you discuss?

I think it is fair to say my book is about managing people and their expectations. [That's why] players who aren't guild leaders will find it interesting. Most who have read it seem to feel they have a better understanding of what their officers do and why. I also discuss the tools that we use as guild leaders and include a lot of my mistakes. The only way I learn is through pain. The book has a lot of my pain in it so that others may learn and avoid the mistakes I made.

I also wanted the book to at least touch on as many subjects as I could possibly imagine a guild leader running into. The goal was that someone with zero experience could pick it up, read it and know enough to do a decent job. I talk about the roles of guild leaders and officers. I talk about the members and recruitment. I talk about how to organize events and distribute loot. In dealing with both of those topics, however, I talk about how they intersect with the expectations of players. I also included example documentation to help get people started. The book is really a general advice guide. If you run into a problem with loot you open the book, flip to that section, and brush up. It is meant to be a light read and easy to reference.

What surprised you most during the process of writing the book?

Honestly? How many things I know are best practices but will generally fudge in my day to day leading. When you've lead a guild as long as I have with the same group of people, you get complacent and comfortable. My group doesn't need a lot of management. I "serious it up" for raids, but that is about it. That made it a humorous process to go through a section and realize, "Wow, I did the opposite of this last week." It is one of those situations where I hope others will do as I advise but not as I do, which sounds awfully hypocritical. Just try to live up to those best practices. As long as you try and your members respond positively, you can't do things wrong. That is what everyone needs to understand and the reason I didn't try to tell people how I lead. How I lead and how my guild works won't necessarily work for someone else.

Will this book be helpful to non-guild leaders or even non-MMO players?

Absolutely yes on both counts. For non-leaders, the book does a lot to open them up to what sometimes may seem like the insanity of the leaders. I want to show them the wizard behind the curtain! Guild members need to see that the majority of us don't make arbitrary decisions. If I showed my members exactly what I was doing and why, they would accept that.

I've also found that my non-mmo player editors found a lot in the book they could use in life. They were interested in it because of the social dynamics and people skills I talk about. I was paid a high compliment when someone said, "I can use this for managing my team!" That is exactly what I want people to get out of this book. Learn how to deal with people in any setting and apply those skills to your guild. Guilds are people, plain and simple. Dealing with loot is people! You can take out the word loot and put in "resources" -- it all works the same way. Know your people and their motivations and you'll succeed.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us Adam!

Do you have a guild problem that you just can't seem to resolve? Have a guild issue that you'd like to discuss? Every week, Karen Bryan takes on reader questions about guild management right here in The Guild Counsel column. She'll offer advice, give practical tips, and even provide a shoulder to lean on for those who are taking up the challenging task of running a guild.
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