by Shannon Hopwood
Role 4 Initiative is one of the biggest names in the dice business, with their colourful diffusion dice and larger, high-visibility dice moulds just a few of the things that make them stand out from the crowd. We talked with John Federkins, R4I’s founder, about the most recent Diffusion Dice Kickstarter, R4I’s recent 10-year anniversary celebrations, and more things that make his family business special. Read on for the full conversation!
What was your inspiration behind the company name “Role 4 Initiative”?
A few things, really:
- A play on words of the phrase “Roll for Initiative” which is a common phrase used to start a combat sequence in Dungeons and Dragons. Over the years it has been shortened by some to just Roll Initiative.
- As a family run business, we have 4 children (now adults) who each play a role in our business: artistry, product development, order fulfillment, and customer service. And as a family, we took the collective initiative to start this business.
- And furthermore, Role instead of Roll as an effort to promote the social interaction and team building of Role-Playing instead of the less interactive metagaming and simple dice rolling.
What drew you to start making dice, and how much experience did you have with dice before opening your business?
Our dice production experience was nil, but as a family of gamers, we saw the need for an expanded set of dice rather than the common set of 7 that has been around for decades. So we started off buying generic brandless dice and repackaging them into our sets of 15 to supplement traditional sets of 7.
Then, with a couple of vision-challenged family members, we saw the need for easier-to-read larger high-visibility dice. And with a resident engineer and college art major, the next logical step was to develop our own designs.
Keep in mind, though, we are not only a dice company. We have a broad line of products including dungeon tiles, miniatures, dungeon dressing, and dice tower products.
What were your day jobs before starting R4I? Did they relate to tabletop gaming or dice at all?
John had 25+ years in Engineering Product Development, primarily in electronics and software.
Jenny was a stay-at-home mom, homeschool teacher, and volunteer treasurer for high school.
Our kids were all students in middle – high school and would start to develop skills in college in Art, Business, and CAD.
What is it like running this business as a family?
It is an incredibly rewarding, fun, learning, frustrating, and challenging experience all at once.
<Insert Yakety Sax music> Everybody contributes and excels in different areas and at different levels. We’ve been blessed with different abilities that compliment each other very well. We celebrate our successes and commiserate our failures together. Operating a family business gives you a lot of flexibility and opportunities you don’t get in a regular 9-5 job, but with it comes a lot of risk and stress.
It is challenging to be able to separate the owner/manager/worker relationships from the parent/child/sibling relationships. When it gets to be too much at times, we have a running joke that everyone is allowed to “quit” their job (not their family) just once per day, then back at it tomorrow!
What is your favourite set of dice you’ve created? What are your favourite dice from your own collection?
Since we are a gaming product company/family, we are not so much specifically dice collectors as we are dice accumulators! So, you’ll see that all of our favorites will be dice that we created. 🙂
As a family, our favorites include Diffusion 42 w/ Arch’d4, Diffusion Bloodstone, Diffusion Dark Forest, Steel Dragon Shimmer, and a custom re-inked “Barely” Fairly Magic.
What was the motivation behind R4I’s larger die size?
An aging gaming population with degrading eyesight and a family member with a visual deficiency. They also just feel nicer when you have something more substantial to roll.
You recently held several auctions for some very large Diffusion Dice prototypes. What inspired you guys to manufacture this colossal product?
We’ve seen jumbo d20 and pipped d6 for years, but nobody was making a complete set. We feel nothing is more iconic for tabletop gaming than the set of 7 polyhedrals, so why not make them into a display piece?
What dice do you have planned for the upcoming future? Do you have any other tabletop products planned for the future as well?
In addition to dice, we are actively developing new products across all of our product lines: dice, dungeon tiles, dungeon dressing, and minis. Too much to do, too little time! 🙂 Since project development timelines can be a tricky thing, we will make product announcements as they become available.
Are there plans for R4I to attend any conventions this year? Will you be producing any more con-exclusive sets such as the one you designed for Gamehole Con in 2019?
Our convention schedule plans for 2020 are as follows:
Mar 09-13 GAMA Trade Show, Reno, NV
Mar 26-29 Gary Con, Lake Geneva, WI
Jun 17-21 Origins Game Fair
Jul 30-Aug 02 Gen Con, Indianapolis, IN
Nov 20-22 PAX Unplugged, Philadelphia, PA
While we will have some convention-exclusive products which we will announce before each convention, we do not currently have any plans to produce convention-specific dice at this time.
Can you describe the process of your recent Diffusion Dice Kickstarter from conception to fulfillment? What did it entail on your end?
Without giving away too much of our secret sauce, it goes something like this: Concept idea, prototyping, selection, photography, advertising, fund-raising, production, product receiving, quality inspection 1, packaging, order packing, quality inspection 2, shipping.
You had a pretty large difficulty arise with the Kickstarter this past summer. Can you talk more about how you managed to push through with fulfillment despite the hurdles?
When the trading company went dark, we lost our only link to the factory. We thought our kickstarter project, reputation, and possibly our company were sunk. However, I knew our dice were in the middle of production, so somebody must know something. I just had to find a way to make contact. After many long days and nights talking to colleagues, other suppliers, and even competitors over various forms of communication in 4 continents, I finally managed to locate a factory representative in China to reestablish communications. Since the factory did not get paid by the trading company, I had to re-negotiate terms to get our production run completed. From this point forward, it was very difficult work due to the language barrier and loss of funds.
How did you come up with the combinations of colours used in the Diffusion Dice Kickstarter?
Lots and lots of prototype sets (about 50 different designs). Then our entire team participated in a review, prioritization, and selection meeting that took many hours over a few days.
How do you balance the colours of the dice with legibility of the ink colours?
Most of our prototypes start out white numbers because that gives the best contrast and visibility. We then test out a few other colors, especially metallics, by hand inking.
You guys just celebrated R4I’s 10th anniversary last October! What are some of the biggest successes you’ve had with the company over the last decade?
The development of our people (our family) into a full fledged design, production, fulfillment and customer service company where each member plays different and contributing roles.
What can we expect from R4I in the coming decade?
Innovative and practical products, unwavering quality, and top-notch customer service.
Your anniversary announcement came with the unveiling of a new logo. What was the process behind the updated design, and how does it relate to your business?
My daughter is a second-year Art Major in college and head of our “Art Department”. We’ve been talking for years about redoing our logo. We mentioned several times that we needed a mascot but never had the chance to do it. She took it upon herself to develop the new logo as a surprise for my November birthday and R4I’s 10th anniversary.
What makes Role 4 Initiative unique compared to other dice companies?
First, we are not only a dice company, but a multi-faceted tabletop game accessories company. Second, we are completely family-owned and operated. And third, having launched just after the Great Recession, we focus on providing cost-effective, practical and innovative products that fit a family’s budget.
What is your favourite thing about the dice community?
The boundless enthusiasm of our customers and fans, whether they be dice collectors, tabletop gamers, or business associates and the passion we get to experience firsthand when we meet them at conventions.
Banner photo taken by Scott Kalman.