When I was in high school, I ran my first D&D game. I hadn’t been gaming very long, and I had a ton of fairy tale tropes that were stronger influences than the D&D cannon. My game did not really fit the D&D archetypes, and while I did a great job rolling with the way the players took my material (because, hey, they were upperclassmen and veteran gamers and it was my first DMing experience), I learned a lot about the difference between writing—and writing for gamers. The core of the difference is that when you’re writing a work that stands alone, you know where the story goes and where it’s going to end. When you’re writing for gamers? Well, be prepared for everything.
As a game master, one of the nicest tools in the arsenal is the ability to go off script. So, your tabletop Shotguns and Sorcery gamers have decided that they don’t want to do the mission given to them by the Dragon Emperor, and instead want to spend the day shopping in Gnometown? You roll with it. That may mean arresting them and getting them back to the hook (because when is saying no to the Dragon Emperor a good idea?), but you humor them. It may mean changing the adventure to be about evading the Imperial Dragon’s Guard, and taking the bones of the adventure you designed and changing all the flavor so that when they get chased out of Dragon City, the zombies you prepped are there for a different reason than the quest they were supposed to go on in the first place.
But what if you’re writing an adventure, or interactive fiction, for players you’ve never met? If you’ve played with gamers who like to go off script, you know how challenging it can be to anticipate their options. But that’s exactly what adventure writers and interactive novel writers are asked to do. I’ve written my fair share of tabletop adventures and I’m now three apps into writing multiple choice novels, and I still don’t know the best solution to this conundrum. But I know the first thing that I have to do when I start writing is realize: I’m not the only writer.
Is that a surprise? If you’re a gamer: congratulations! I’m not writing my story when I’m writing a game. I’m trying to write one for you to make your own. And that’s the real key. Any game story I write, the player should feel like the star. As the player, you should be able to make choices that suit the backstory you’ve created, beyond the text I’ve written. You should be able to tailor your character to reflect the culture and romantic inclinations you think suit them best. You shouldn’t be held back by my imagination.
Am I always going to have all the options everyone would like? In a word: no. My playtesters will tell you, though, that if they present an idea I haven’t thought of, I’ll work it in if I can. And—to some degree—if it suits the framework of the story as I’ve envisioned it. Because that’s your job as a gamer too: you’re the star, but we’re working on the story together. I hope you’ll see some of me in the world I give to you.
If you’re a game designer or an adventure writer yourself, this can be one of the most mind-wracking, brain-twisting challenges you’ll ever have—and you’ll come out on the other side better for it, because your imagination has to expand beyond a single point of view to encompass the potential points of view of thousands of players. And when you walk away, you can guess that as memorable as your NPCs are, as great as the details are in your world, the character the players will remember the best are the ones they created. And that’s exactly as it should be.
Down to earth, but with a flare for fantasy, Steven Dudley explains how he got himself producer of a fantasy webcomic.
How did you find yourself producing Nightfell?
I was approached by my friend Jeremy Mohler. He’d asked roughly a year before the Nightfell project began if I was interested.
Did you always envision it as a webcomic?
Not always. Jeremy told me the project would be presented as such early on.
There’s a whole debate around comics becoming digital. Do you think webcomics are the gateway for this new digital world?
Yes. Everything is going digital. With that said, I don’t believe web comics will ever phase out hardcopy, but, will act as an extension – a compliment.
Do you find yourself more driven towards a specific genre(s)? Which one(s)?
Yes, I lean towards fantasy.
I was the typical kid who was awestruck by the Hobbit. I do like other genres though, but, yes, fantasy is my favorite. I’d also started playing D&D early on and so many good memories from that.
Was it always your intention to work in this creative field?
No. I never thought I’d be a part of a project in this way. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised since I have so many very talented artist friends. I feel lucky.
What was the first book you ever read (or was read to you)?
A book about bigfoot.
And comics: which were your favorite ones?
Spiderman and Batman. I’d also read the Savage Sword of Conan from time to time.
Nowadays, what can we find you reading?
Books regarding the nature of reality and primitive living skills.
Are you a person of idols?
If you mean “do I idolize people”…. Nope. But, I admire great art and people can be great works of art if they choose to be.
Who were your childhood heroes?
My dad, my grandpa and my uncle.
And today? Who do you look up to?
I can’t say I look up to people. I can only say there are a few I highly respect.
What was the first thing you ever wrote?
A short story about a mech warrior. I’d written it for a programmer friend of mine who was getting some of his code placed in a magazine back in the 80’s. The short story was published with it as an introduction. Was an exciting event for me since I was only a kid.
What kind of games do you play? Board or Computer games?
I play both. Not big into first person shooters though I’ve played many. I’m looking more for computer games that create randomly generated worlds and can be delivered from private, dedicated servers. I’m bored with the way marketing has dictated how computer games are created.
As far as board games go, I own many and like various kinds, though War of the Ring and Battlestar Galactica are a couple that have me hook-line-and-sinker.
So… can you tell us what project(s) are you most looking forward in the short run?
Nightfell. It’s the only project I’m involved with at the moment and I think it’s an absolutely great story. The world needs Nightfell.
Thanks Steven for telling us about your story!
P.S.: If you enjoyed reading this interview take a look at the other ones we have from illustrators to writers, passing through game-designers and authors.
Swords for Hire Development (Jacob W. Michaels and Mikko Kallio) is excited to announce its first project, The Villain Codex. This PDF, being done in conjunction with Outland Entertainment, will feature a series of antagonists for gamemasters to pit against their players. The NPCs will be fully fleshed out, with stat blocks, letting a GM simply drop one into an adventure when he needs a statted-up opponent or build an adventure or even campaign around.
The first Villain Codex will feature 12 opponents of CRs 3-8 for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Finished villains will be 600 words, including a stat block and a description of the villain, his/her motivations, plus potential plots, lairs and minions.
Right now, we’re looking for your best ideas. Send us a pitch that describes your villain and potential plots, as well as expected build. Please include at the top the villain’s name, race (please use core races only), gender, alignment and class. Also please include what CR you think the villain should be; a range of CRs is fine at this point, and we can assign what we would like you to build him/her at if we pick your submission. Finally, remember that the villains should be setting agnostic. If they use a bar as their headquarters, feel free to name it, but don’t put it in a city in an existing campaign world.
We expect to pick six villains, though obviously if we’re bowled over, we could select more. We’ll be approaching designers to produce the other six villains, so if your pitch is good enough, it could lead to more work immediately.
How do I submit?
Please send your pitches to email@example.com with your submission in the file (NOT as an attachment).
How many pitches can I submit?
You can submit up to 3 pitches. If you have more good ideas, save them. There will be follow-up Villain Codexes for higher CRs coming through 2016.
If I submit, will I get published?
Unfortunately, not necessarily. We’re including 12 villains in this first Codex, so only the best selections will get published. Any pitches that are accepted become property of Swords for Hire Development, which retains sole ownership.
What books will I be able to use?
Villains will be limited to rules from the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook, GameMastery Guide, Advanced Player’s Guide, Ultimate Magic, Ultimate Combat, Ultimate Equipment, Ultimate Campaign and Advanced Class Guide.
Will I get paid?
We’ll be paying a flat rate of $6 per entry that we publish, which will work out to about 1 cent per word.
Alright, I’m ready to get started! When you do you need this by?
Pitches are due by the end of the day (Eastern time) May 1. We’ll get back to you and let you know if your pitch has been accepted within a week and will need your finished villain by June 1. Payment will be received at this time.
Wait, I have more questions!
For more information stop by the Sword for Hire blog.
Before I purchased my first miniature, my concept of tabletop RPG “bling” was best evidenced by my collection of gaming accessories. With a total value of $4.62, this collection consisted of four items: an 80-page college bound spiral notebook, with several pages of unfinished homework in the front; a yellow #2 pencil, with a complete set of dental imprints; and a set of polyhedral dice, minus the d12. It was with this paltry arsenal that I marched– uphill both ways, to the best of my recollection – into my earliest gaming sessions.
Perhaps this is why the sudden acquisition of 162 unpainted miniatures came as such a shock.
Finding oneself buried in an avalanche of miniatures isn’t an overnight phenomenon. Having traded my collection of Magic the Gathering cards – their value today, I don’t care to think about – for a box full of tattered rule books and modules, the concept of using miniatures didn’t exist for me until 1991. That was the year I purchased the Dungeons & Dragons Black Box (my first store-bought RPG). Filled with a collection of stand up paper miniatures and a full-color map, it was somewhat of a short-lived revelation. While it provided some opportunities for tactical combat, it had limited use beyond a few short sessions.
While my first encounter with miniatures was lackluster, my second was awe-inspiring. Delivered into my subconscious through a full-page advertisement in Dragon magazine, this was the first time that I had heard of Dwarven Forge (Master Maze at the time). Fortunately for me at the time, painted resin terrain wasn’t something that I could purchase, even irresponsibly (despite a generous on-and-off allowance). The advertisement faded from my memory well before I had disposable income to waste (That’s a figure of speech. It isn’t a waste, it is awesome.).
Then Dwarven Forge had their first Kickstarter campaign.
I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to purchase two “Dream Toys” from my childhood. The first was a high-end Traxxis radio-controlled car. The second was Dwarven Forge terrain. Since I didn’t own any miniatures at the time, the second came with an (extremely) bourgeois, (embarrassingly) first-world problem… which brings me back to the sudden acquisition of 162 unpainted miniatures, and the fact that I’ll need to learn how to paint miniatures.
Since the Reaper Bones 2 Kickstarter is responsible for the sudden influx of of miniatures (that’s right, it is Reaper’s fault, not mine), I’ll be starting with advice from their website on supplies, and painting advice from someone who survived the first Bones Kickstarter. I’ll be compiling a collection of other resources, from tutorials to painting services, from the perspective of a complete beginner here as I attempt to paint, purchase, or otherwise procure a collection of miniatures for my Dwarven Forge terrain.
And how about “Matt Forbeck & the Games Universe”? From collectible card games to RPGs, passing through miniatures and board games Matt Forbeck has done it all.
Your love for games started when you were very young, as you’ve shared with us. Could tell us what gave you the definite push towards working on the gaming industry?
I grew up in southern Wisconsin, which meant that I got to meet a lot of the people behind Dungeons & Dragons and other games at an early age. I first met Gary Gygax at a convention in back in 1982, and I went to my first Gen Con —which was at UW-Parkside in those days—later that year. That helped me fall in with the right crowd of people: folks that love games and want to make a living by creating them for other people.
You started working at the Games Workshop, in England, and then continued non-stop, from co-founding your own company – Pinnacle Entertainment Group – to working for Ubisoft last year.
In this journey through the gaming world what obstacles did you face?
In the beginning, I didn’t make much money at it, but I kept going at it anyhow. My girlfriend at the time paid my rent for my birthday and Christmas in my first year of freelancing. But each year it got better and better, and eventually it turned into a career. I kept waiting for it to all wash away, but it never did.
What led you to co-found Pinnacle Entertainment Group?
My pal Shane Hensley flew me and Greg Gorden down to his place in Blackburg, Virginia, to show us Deadlands. He wanted us both on board, whole hog. Greg wasn’t able to join up, but I said that if I went in, I wanted to own part of the company too.
I loved the game from the start, and I had a lot of faith in Shane and the rest of the crew he had built up around him. I had a bit more experience with things like layout and production and sales, and that came in handy too. We made for a fine team from the start.
There’s a big discussion about the lack of women on this particular industry. Do you agree?
I think it’s a problem in many industries, and gaming—whether you’re talking tabletop or video games—is no exception. Part of it stems from the fact that the games industries we know today stem from the war games hobby of the ‘50s and ‘60s, which was dominated almost exclusively by men.
Have you felt any shift in the numbers of female colleagues during the years?
Oh, yes, and I’ve been thrilled to see it happen. We have lots of wonderful women working in games today, in just about every aspect of the industry. When I started out, women were rare at any convention, for instance, but their numbers have grown steadily over the years. We’re still nowhere near parity yet, but I’m pleased to see that when I bring my daughter to shows she feels like she fits right in.
From all the different areas in gaming you have worked so far, can you pick a favorite?
That’s hard to say. They’re all lots of fun, each in their own way. I keep returning to RPGs for some reason, so that probably says something. If there was more money in it, I might never have pursued things like collectible games or toys or fiction. I must love it.
What is harder: creating a game world from scratch or contributing to someone else’s work?
It’s much harder to create a world of any kind from scratch. There’s a whole nother layer of work involved, and when I say “layer” I don’t mean “like a cake,” but “like the earth’s crust.”
That said, it’s tremendous fun, especially if you enjoy a fulfilling challenge. I’ve worked on lots of other peoples’ games too, and I’ve loved doing it, but there’s something amazing about stepping up to that blank sheet yourself and putting your own unique mark on it, as daunting as it may seem.
If you were talking to someone who knew nothing about these creative fields, what would you say were the major differences between writing a screenplay and a computer game script?
Physically, they can resemble each other, but structurally they’re nothing alike. For one, a film usually only runs about two hours, whereas games can literally give you hundreds of hours of play. Games often also feature branching storylines—or at least ones engineered to seem to branch and go off in different directions.
For some reason, I often wind up writing game scripts in Excel rather than Word, too, and as any writer can tell you, that’s just not a natural act.
How was it like to take up the role of director with voiceover actors?
I loved it. It’s one thing to write a script and hear the words in your head, and it’s something else entirely to work with an actor to get them in the same mental space to produce work that sounds reasonably close to what you had in mind.
The best part, of course, is how fantastic actors can surprise you. They bring their own interpretations to every line, and seeing how they differ from what you had in mind can be inspiring far more often than frustrating.
Did it make think of maybe moving into directing more audiovisual content?
I’d be happy to. I just don’t have much time to pursue it among all the other work I’m doing. All that said, when the right project comes along, I’ll jump at it.
You’ve won several awards, not just for your work on games, but also for your writing. It might be cliché, but what was the one award you are more happy to have sitting on your shelf?
Honestly, I don’t do it for the awards, and I never have. I don’t do it for any sense of acclaim or fame. I create games, fiction, toys, films, and so on to entertain people.
Now, I don’t mind getting awards for my work—not at all! I’m happy to have them, and the statues that come with them have a proud place on my mantle. If you’re working for recognition, though, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. For me, the work itself is enough. Being able to enjoy that every day means far more to me than collecting a trophy every year or so.
As we’ve talked about before, your Shotguns & Sorcery book series is going to be turned into an RPG by us here at Outland Entertainment.
You first developed S&S as a roleplaying game. How close to that very first version (nearly 14 years ago) do you want the game to be?
I don’t care one bit. That game never got beyond the notes stage, and it represents something I would have written in 2002. It’s a dozen years later, and the world has changed. Tabletop games have changed. Hell, I’ve changed.
This game needs to be a game of its own moment created by this new crew I’m lucky to be working with, not a resuscitated corpse of an idea I had over a decade ago. I actually can’t wait to see what we come up with when we finally get to hold that finished book in our hands.
Now that you have written the short stories and novels, how much has changed on your approach to this I.P.?
I wouldn’t say I’m done with Shotguns & Sorcery, but I’ve told the stories there I wanted to tell most. I have several others in mind, but working on the RPG gives me an excellent chance to step back and firm up the worldbuilding a bit. It’s an opportunity to shine a light into a few corners I might otherwise ignore, and see what turns up there.
I often say that writing is an act of discovery. I may have a solid sense of the story I’m going to tell when I sit down at my keyboard and start to type, but I don’t actually know what it’s going to be until I get those words down. It turns out that the idea and the actuality rarely match up well, but that’s at least half the fun.
Has your connection with the characters changed?
Sure. At first, I only had an inkling of who they were. By now, they’re old friends with whom I’ve had an intense experience, and honestly, I miss them. I’m looking forward to checking back in with them and seeing how Dragon City’s been treating them.
You will be writing the game’s background material. Is there something in specific that you want to add to the setting that wasn’t present in the books?
I have a slew of ideas for the history of Dragon City that doesn’t come out in the books. I regularly wind up on worldbuilding panels at various conventions, and I tell people that it’s doesn’t matter how cool your word is or how much work you put into creating it. If what you’re going on about isn’t pertinent to the story, then you’re just showing off and wasting your readers’ time.
I try to stick to that with my own work, of course, only revealing as much as a story requires. An RPG demands a whole different level of detail, though, and I’m looking forward to building out the parts of the setting that have remained off-camera so far.
What type of stories do you expect gamers will play out with The Shotguns & Sorcery RPG?
I lean toward noirish detective stories myself, but it’s really up to them. I don’t tell people how to have fun. I just point them in a good direction and give them all the tools they need to succeed. It’s up to them from there.
What story would you play out if you could play the game right now?
I’d explore what happens in the wake of End Times in Dragon City, the last of the stories I’ve written for the setting. I leave it wide open from that point on, after a near-apocalypse event, and I’m curious to see what emerges from the city’s rubble.
In the game department, what can we expect to see from you in the near future?
Besides the Shotguns & Sorcery RPG? I actually have a few different things in the works. The one I can talk about is the Titan line from Calliope Games. Ray Wehrs over there asked some of the best tabletop game designers around to create new gateway games from scratch. Besides myself, there’s Rob Daviau, Michael Elliott, James Ernest, Richard Garfield, Seth Johnson, Eric Lang, Mike Mulvihill, Paul Peterson, Mike Selinker, Jordan Weisman, and Zach Weisman.
I’m flattered all to hell just to be on that list. Those folks have made some of my favorite games over the years, and I’ve spend countless hours playing their designs. Calliope is planning a Kickstarter for the series sometime in early 2015, and I’m looking forward to digging into it soon after that.
Thanks, Matt, for taking us on this brief journey to get to know more about you.
You probably know his name from games such Dungeons & Dragons, A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Or maybe, if you are a Cypher System fan, you recognize him as a contributor to the Numenera Character Options and Technology Compendium: Sir Arthour’s Guide to the Numenera.
The fact is he has years of experience working on the roleplaying game industry. So let’s try to get a brief insight into his work.
Robert , you have worked as a writer, game designer and developer in the RPG industry. Do you have a favorite role?
I have indeed worn many hats over the last ten years or so. When I started in this business, I had thought I would pursue a writing career, but I found that my love for roleplaying games offered opportunities for me to create worlds in a way that helped others tell stories through the settings, characters, locations, and mechanics I produced. Not long after I got started, I landed a job as a developer for Green Ronin Publishing. As a developer, my job was to work with design to make the rules and story even better and to ensure that the mechanics worked within the larger game system and setting. I started with d20 system products and eventually took on Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Since then, I’ve written a novel, designed a few game systems, and created and developed story and mechanical content for a slew of games including three editions of D&D, one edition WFRP, A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplay, Witch Hunter: The Invisible World, and more. A favorite role? I don’t have one. Not really. If I do a lot of story design, my appetite for numbers grows and vice versa.
Do they complement each other?
They do, but it’s hard to be good at all three. Many people have just one strong area. A person might be a genius with story but workmanlike when it comes to producing the nuts and bolts of the mechanics. Another might have an eye for broken tech and know how to fix it, but be hard pressed to produce new tech from scratch. I’ve been fortunate in that I have had many opportunities to learn the various aspects of game design, development, and story creation. Each opportunity gives me a chance to test my limits and push past them. And, what I learn as a story creator inspires my mechanical design, which in turn makes me a better developer.
You have written a series of magazine articles on the D&D universe. Were you always a fan of this particular I.P?
I’ve loved Dungeons & Dragons for as long as I have been playing RPGs. I started with D&D and it has been my primary game for most of my gaming experience. Producing content for 3rd Edition and 4th Edition was a great, but being part of the various design teams of the 5th Edition rules was really the high point in my career.
Where you a gamer growing up?
Oh yes and at times to my detriment. Minutes into my first game session, I was hooked. Keep on the Borderlands will remain one of my all time favorite adventures. Playing D&D was just the start, though. It opened the doors onto a whole universe of roleplaying games.
What were you favorite roleplaying games?
When I was young, I had a huge appetite for roleplaying games. We played a lot of D&D, but it was the 80s and my family was not immune to the fear that some dark and sinister force was going to drag me to hell as a result of me using my imagination and sharpening my math skills. Once it was decided that D&D was bad for my eternal soul, I turned to other roleplaying games to scratch my gamer itch. My favorite was Marvel Super Heroes (the FASERIP system), Twilight: 2000, Top Secret, Rolemaster & MERP, and, of course, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (which was a far darker game than D&D ever was).
When did you first decide to work in the gaming universe?
Honestly, it was about five years after I started working in the business. I stumbled into game design. I had finished college after a second go and discovered there was no long list of employers hot to grab an English-Philosophy major in his mid to late-20s. So I worked two jobs. I sold flooring—carpet, hardwood, tile, vinyl, but I was not very good at it as I knew nothing about flooring and had to learn as I went. I also sold liquor, which I did, in fact, know something about. A few months later, I responded to an open call for d20 system sourcebooks and sent in a stack of proposals. The company bought one and then bought another. I began scouring websites for submission information, pestered everyone in the industry for work, and finally built up enough of a resume that I could get steady work, as a freelancer, as a staff developer and designer, and then as a contract designer.
What about references? Do you have any favorite artists that inspire you?
You bet. When I was much younger and much more deluded about my talents, I thought I would pursue art as a career. Though I never did chase that fantasy down, I remain interested in it and am always excited to see how people interpret the game worlds, stories, and characters in paintings and illustrations. Some of my favorites include Russ Nicholson (his illustrations set the tone for so many of my D&D games), John Blanche (his work is quintessential Warhammer), and Ralph Horsley for the astonishing detail he put into the covers of Tome of Corruption and Tome of Salvation. Two artists I have recently worked with have also impressed the hell out of me. Ivan Dixon did a few interiors for Shadow of the Demon Lord. I’ll be sharing these pieces soon. Also, Svetoslav Petrov knocked the cover out of the park. I knew I wanted to use him when I saw the cover for Green Ronin’s new Advanced Bestiary.
How does it feel to create gaming experiences for such well-known brands such as Dungeons & Dragons and A Song of Ice and Fire RPG? Is there a different pressure?
Working on established brands is tricky and, yes, there’s tons of pressure. But the stress you feel working on D&D is a lot different from the stress experienced working with a literary source such as Game of Thrones, Thieves’ World or The Black Company. Hell, there are huge differences in adding content to an existing game and re-interpreting a game for a new edition.
Adaptations are a lot like coloring books. You can make the pictures whatever color you want but you have to stay inside the lines. A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying could have used any engine and could have focused on any part of the world of Westeros. That’s coloring in the lines. The game could not, however, invent new lands, alter the history by injecting characters of our own creation into the timeline, feature space ships, mutants, or lightsabers. All those things are well outside the lines.
The pressure from building a new edition of D&D was infinitely worse. When you buy a copy of a Game of Thrones, you may own the physical copy of the book and own your experience reading it, but that’s it. You don’t own the world. You don’t decide what the characters do. And you don’t determine what happens next. When it comes to RPGs, the audience takes ownership of the game, much like a person owns a hammer or a blender or a set of paints. They use the game as a creative tool. When you monkey with the game’s tools, whether those tools are established bits of story or how the mechanics work, people get upset. For this reason, it’s wise to be conservative in your design and yet the audience also expects something new. After all, they’ve bought D&D already. Probably several times. They want something new but not something radically different. You can introduce something sexy, but it has to fit. On seeing it, a readers should feel like the thing has always been there or, if hasn’t, that it should have been. We know what happens when a design team forgets this: we get an edition war.
From all the projects you’ve been a part of is there one that stood out for some reason?
D&D for sure. It was such a huge undertaking, so massive in scope, and so fraught with perils that I’m still recovering. This isn’t to say that the experience was bad. It was hard. It was the hardest thing I’ve done. Until my new game, that is.
You have won several awards over the last 10 years. What was the most gratifying one?
Gosh. I am gratified by any and all recognition. I was especially proud when Grimm, a supplement for the d20 system, won an ENnie. It was my first big award and it validated my work in a big way.
Earlier this year, you founded Schwalb Entertainment, LLC. What led you to take that step?
For me, it was the next logical step in my career. By the end of 2013, it was clear D&D work for me was winding down. I could dive back into freelancing or carve out a place for myself. Since I’ve already paid my dues in the freelancing trenches, I figured it was time to strike out on my own. It’s a terrifying place to be in, but if it isn’t scary, it’s not worth doing it.
You are now preparing to launch your own RPG: Shadow of the Demon Lord, an all-new horror fantasy roleplaying game, that will be launching its Kickstarter campaign in the spring of 2015.
When did you first come up with the idea for this game?
I’ve had elements of the design in my head for years and years, some going all the way back to when I was much, much younger. The older I get, the less time I have to prepare or play. I love RPGs, but I just can’t commit to a 2-year campaign let alone a 5-year campaign. If my gaming group meets once a month, I want this to be ok. If I miss a week, I don’t want to ruin the story because my character wasn’t there. I suspect lots of people are in the same situation. These desires that drove the design and I decided to go for it, for real, to scrape the ideas out of my head and put them in a book, early this year.
What do you think gamers will love most about it?
Two things. The game’s tone is distinctly mine—disturbing, a little offensive, and a little funny (just a little). The other is the low barrier to entry. I wanted to create a game anyone could play without having to do much in the way of hard work. This game delivers that experience. You could play Demon Lord with your grandma, if you want to play a game that’s chock full of demons, dark magic, and madness.
How about you? What are most looking forward to?
Three things. Pushing the button to send the final files to the printer, cracking open the first box and pulling out a final book, and running an actual game rather than running a play test. Four years of play testing, between Demon Lord and D&D, I’m overdue for a regular game.
You will be collaborating with us here at Outland Entertainment, to help integrate the Cypher System seamlessly with The Shotguns and Sorcery RPG setting.
What attracted you most about the project?
Matt Forbeck and I have been friends for years and I’ve always wanted to collaborate with him on a project. This was my chance. Plus, I know the Cypher System. It’s flexible enough to accommodate just about any kind of story.
What are you most looking forward to delving into?
I really enjoy the process of realizing story through the game mechanics. I want to help fans of the Shotguns & Sorcery novels and stories create their own compelling characters and expand the world Matt created around their tables. I can’t wait to dive into the guts of the world and pull out the glistening bits of awesome that will come to life in the book’s pages. Monsters, cyphers and artifacts, cool stories and neat locations, and so much more.
Thank you Robert for shedding some light on your work.
You’re very welcome!
William Ward has a passion for storytelling, be it short story or comic strips. He is also an award-winning photographer and RGP developer. Let’s find out a little bit more!
William, it’s no secret you started out as an avid (and talented!) Dungeon Master. Would you say that D&D played a big part in your passion for storytelling?
The similarities between modern tabletop role-playing games and traditional oral narratives are, in my view, an exceedingly fascinating topic. Before the rise of the novel telling stories was a community driven process. It was interactive. The reason that a single folktale has dozens of variations is because of storytellers that altered their tales based in there audience. I think that tabletop role-playing games fall into this tradition of interactive storytelling. Seeing my audience at the game table was certainly rewarding – an experience that made me want to tell more stories.
What do you enjoy most in roleplaying games?
I’ve always enjoyed the creativity involved in the planning and running of the game sessions. As a player you have the opportunity to creatively solve problems within the game. As a game master you have the challenge of creating scenarios that will be well received.
How often do you GM nowadays?
I’m not able to play as often as I would like. I typically run Pathfinder once every other month. Our schedules make it difficult to get together more often, but in addition to those sessions in person they also roleplay on message boards between games.
How about working in RPG? What is the most rewarding part?
The things that I find most enjoyable about creation process overlap a lot with what I enjoy about playing. The process of creating a RPG is interactive. While you can create a role-playing game solo, it’s most often a group process. Game designers, writers, artists, designers – it’s a process that can create a lot of back-and-forth. I think it’s the same reason that I enjoy the collaborative process of comic books.
Speaking of writing comic scripts. When did comics enter your life?
When I was in elementary school and junior high school I’ve read a lot of superhero comics. I enjoy them, but at a certain point they no longer held my interest and stopped reading. I was fortunate enough to have my interest rekindled during my freshman year at college. A professor included Maus in one of my classes and it made me give comics a second look.
With a little research I discovered that the reason I lost interest in comics was that I was not reading the right comics. I began to read through all of the comics my childhood grosser didn’t carry: Sandman, Hellraiser, The Dark Knight Returns, The Killing Joke, The Incal, and dozens of others.
Photography is another one of your passions. Is this something you consider a hobby, or more of a parallel professional activity?
Photography has somewhat come full circle for me – hobby, parallel profession, and back to hobby. While I’ve always enjoyed photography it became a serious hobby for me after taking a class in college. Taking what I learned from the class I entered the Main State Fair photography contest. Since (like most artist) I am critical of my own work, it was a surprise when I won best in show (B&W) and ribbons in half the categories where I submitted photos.
That gave me the confidence to pursue photography as a parallel career. Since then I’ve worked on-an-off as a portrait photographer for outside companies and independently. My real passion is for landscape photography though, and that is where I concentrate my time currently (as a hobby).
Who do you consider to be the most influential writers?
Ursula K. Le Guin as a writer that has had the most influence on me. A Wizard of Earthsea was my first favorite novel. I still keep a extra “giveaway” copy at all times that I gift to others who show interest in the fantasy genre.
Any novel or comic book recommendations?
There are so many lists out there that I always find it difficult to make recommendations. I’ll try to keep my suggestions somewhat obscure rather than repeating the same books that are on every other list. I’d recommend In the Night Garden by Catherynne Valente and Little, Big by John Crowley for novels. For graphic novels I would recommend Three Shadows by Cyril Pedrosa.
How about the future? What projects can we expect?
Currently I’m working on a graphic novel retelling of a Shakespeare play based on an academic exercise that I was introduced to in college. I’m also working on several tabletop roleplaying supplements that use the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game rules.
Thanks William for telling us a little bit of your own story.