Sharing your world: game writing | By Alana Joli Abbott

Sharing your world: game writing | By Alana Joli Abbott

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.

RPG: Hearthstone, my newest addiction

RPG: Hearthstone, my newest addiction

For a long time, RPG was a foreign word to me. I knew it from my so called geek friends, from the newest CGI games, and from hearing references of classics like Dungeons & Dragons. But I didn’t really know what it meant.

This summer, I was introduced to Hearthstone. It had something to do with the universe of World of Warcraft. Ok: a familiar name. I had never played it myself, but had seen people addicted to it and talking about how awesome it was.

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And…I’m dead…

My first reaction: cool graphics, but… so many cards with… numbers… and what do they all mean? There’s the little diamond shape thingy and then the other two on the bottom… And the ones with a skull have “Deathrattle”? My inner monologues ended pretty much with “Wait. Why did that monster die? No! Wh-why am I dead?!?”

Yup. Not the easiest game ever, I give you that. Especially if you have no experience with card games or RPGs in general. But I was hooked. I continued to try. I had help building my first decks and got used to playing with the same character: Mage (c’mon, you’ve got to love a good Flamestrike!).

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Flamestrike: Deal 4 damage to all enemy minions

But besides the everyday ranked games, daily challenges and solo adventures, there’s something that, sometimes, is incredible: the Tavern Brawls!

These consist of a weekly challenge that changes its rules every time and is only available for three days. You get games that go from cooperating with the other player in order to destroy a common enemy to using only one type of card to destroy your enemy—or even to using chess pieces.

Something that captured my attention was the cooperation game. In a question of seconds—and without the use of chat—strategies were made and put into action. Just by playing a certain card and maybe highlighting your partner’s hero power, you gave each other signals and you were in fact working towards a common goal from across the world. It seems something ridiculous, right? What’s so important about destroying an imaginary monster in a fantasy game?

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Co-op! Co-op!

Well, picture this: it’s not a random monster, it’s a problem that two people who have never met are joining forces to solve. Within seconds, tactics are created and acted upon.

This shows how we are more than capable of solving problems and collaborating. We just have to be on the same side—and that’s the tricky part of any conflict.

See how this quickly went from mere game to world cooperation? Ok, ok, I’m not preaching RPGs as a solution to World Peace—everyone knows that the answer to that is tickling; we are just afraid because it’s so obvious, as comedian T.J. Miller pointed out.

Anyway, back to Hearthstone!

I am now proud to say that I have conquered my good share of victories, currently trying to push myself beyond my comfort zone by playing with other characters. I know the difference between a Battlecry and a Deathrattle and more or less how to prioritize my mana spending and energy losses.

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Deathrattles and Battlecries: let’s mix it up!

I love that it is a game that needs more than sheer luck, that you have to actually think when playing if you want to create certain combos and get cool cards.

But there was another thing that helped me get addicted: the possibility of playing with friends from around the world! It’s fine to chat on a regular basis to keep tabs on how everyone’s doing, but it’s much cooler when you’re able to share these funny moments in an RPG. Challenging your friends for battles, arguing about what characters have the best powers and cards, giving tips and advice on how to improve your decks or what web pages to visit for extra news—it’s all part of a shareable experience. It’s something that takes the game to a new level and makes it less impersonal.

It’s almost like having that cosy boardgame night where you just goof around and have fun, using the game as an excuse.

The funny characters, the subtle humor on the card descriptions, and the whole sound and graphic landscape make Hearthstone an enjoyable experience for anyone wanting to give the digital RPG world a try. It’s free, so why not take a chance?

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Are you an avid player of online RPGs? Which ones would you recommend?

Let us know! I’ll be playing the ones you suggest and writing my impressions here. Yes, I’m a complete newbie but that’s why it’s going to be fun for you to hear the struggles and nonsenses of a rookie in worlds you’ve traveled so many times.

S.G.

LARP : living in a made up world

LARP : living in a made up world

I won’t pretend to be an expert on RPG, let alone live action role-playing or “LARPing”. However, even I can easily see why LARP is considered a descendant of games like Dungeons & Dragons. The catch? Here the players physically act out their characters’ actions. [ Awesome, right? ]

 

Fortunately, a few weeks ago I saw myself in the middle of a LARP for the first time.

I have to say I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the whole process from building the setting to fleshing out your own character.

There was so much to explore after you got the little paper with your character’s description! It didn’t just motivate me to pursue the tasks I was given, it made me want to explore the other characters involved in the game. And not only the ones I was directly connected to, but everyone that crossed my path.

For as little as an hour and a half I was someone else, living in a post-apocalyptic world – yes, you guessed it: there was a zombie threat. I wasn’t seeing my friends running around in extravagant outfits and saying the most weird things. No, on the contrary, I saw people starving, people looking for jobs that didn’t exist. I watched refugees seeking shelter afraid of being sent back to the outside where the zombies were waiting. I didn’t trust people easily. In a camp like this, inhabitants could be persuaded to work for the enemy, be it an outside emissary that says they have better military skills or even your brother who unfortunately has just brought the first zombie into the camp.

But setting all of this aside, it’s not just the story we built together during that period of time. What matters is the fact that we were putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes. On that moment, we were living in a camp, there was little to no hope for a better future and what shaped our reactions were the problems of this post-apocalyptic existence.

I’m sure that if you have taken part in a LARP before, you will identify with at least one or two things I’ve mentioned. I believe that there is much more to it and that my experience was very limited compared to the five hours even the whole day LARPs that exist out there. But for me, as a newbie in this gaming world, I found it extremely interesting to say the least and it has made me look for other LARP experiences for sure.

None of this would have been possible without the people who wrote the setting and the characters and, of course, the awesome group who played it all out and made the game as crazy and funny as it was.

 

And how about you?

Have you ever taken part in a LARP? If so what was your favorite one? And how about the worst…hmmm…I mean your least favorite?

Tell us all about it in the comments and if you’ve got pictures don’t hesitate to share them on our Pinterest board or on any of our social media platforms!
We want to see YOU in character!

 

S.G.

Mat Nastos – Artist & Author Interview

Mat Nastos – Artist & Author Interview

Mat Nastos is a versatile artist who always manages to infuse his unique sense of humor into the countless projects he is involved with. He is known by his work as an artist in the cult-classic independent comic book, “ElfQuest”, and as a writer for film & TV as well as for his own novels. Fan of action packed stories with a sci-fi or steampunk twist, you won’t be surprised that from all the children shows out there, he worked for Disney Channel‘s “Phineas & Ferb”.

 

Mat, the big question: what did you want to be when you grow up?

My goal in life, from as early as I can remember, was to be a comic book artist when I grew up. Comics in general were my life: I read them, collected (read: horded) them, drew them…I started and ran the first comic book conventions in Hawaii in the 80s back when I was 11. Comics were my life and my driving goal had been to draw them. That spurred me to go to comic book school out in the middle of New Jersey when I graduated from High School.

I drew comics for a lot of years before transitioning over to film/TV and, eventually, to writing.

 

What was the first book you ever read (or was read to you)?

I remember my mom reading a lot of Dr. Seuss to me as a child, but nothing specific. I still have the very first comic I was given – “The Power of Warlock” #14. The first real book I remember reading was “The Hobbit” when I was about 6 or 7. That really stuck with me and opened the door to fantasy/sci-fi fiction for me. After I read that any the “Lord of the Rings” series, I went nuts and started reading everything I could get my hands on. Luckily, I had an older brother and mom who were also into that material and I’d read a lot of things they were.

Right around the same time, my family discovered the early Dungeons & Dragons game (late 70s) and I’ve been playing ever since.

 

And comics: which were your favorite ones?

I read EVERYTHING as a kid. Pretty quickly my collection of comics bloomed up into the thousands and then tens of thousands (now it rests at somewhere around 150,000 comics). When I was younger, my favorites were Elfquest, X-men, 2000AD, and Legion of Super-Heroes, but I wasn’t picky beyond that.

 

Nowadays, what can we find you reading?

I don’t read much in comics these days, and when I do they are generally trade paperbacks versus singles. The art of writing comics to actually be read as singles has become a bit of a lost art over the past 20 years or so and I find it a waste to attempt to follow series in that format. I pick up a lot of omnibus collections of material I was a fan of as a kid.

Outside of comics, I read an insane amount of things – tons of non-fiction, and at least 3-4 novels a week. Still a lot of sci-fi/fantasy more than anything else, although thrillers and any sort of action stories are finding their way onto my reading list as I begin to write more and more in those genres.

 

Who were your childhood heroes?

Most of my heroes were the men (and women) creating the material I was a fan of: George Lucas, Wendy Pini, John Byrne, George Perez, Stan Lee, Piers Anthony, Jim Kelly, Gary Gygax, Ed Greenwood, Chris Claremont…my dad.

 

And today? Who do you look up to? 

I’ve been lucky enough that I still have a lot of the same heroes I did as a kid. I still have most of that sense of wonder and love I had as a kid.

 

Your first published work was in “The Big Book of Urban Legends” from Paradox Press in 1993. But what was the first thing you ever wrote?

My first published writing was a short fantasy story I wrote back in high school. I had an English teacher who was truly a terrible human being who went out of her way to put me down. Her abuse turned out to be a driving factor for me and I submitted a story I’d written in her class (and been given a “C” on!) to Fantasy Digest Magazine. They bought it and I was on my way!

After that, my writing was for my own comics – things like the Cadre, Elfsong, and Fionn.

My first “real” gig as a writer was the screenplay for the low-budget horror flick, “Stinger,” in 2002. Since then I’ve had 8 films produced.

 

Your writing spans from comic books to novels, video games to film and TV. Do you have a favorite?

Writing, in general, for me is a lot of fun. The most satisfying for me as a creator is probably novels because I have complete control over there. Good or bad, with a novel every aspect of it falls onto my shoulders. If it succeeds or fails, things are all on me.

The rest of the mediums all have their own positives, though, and comics will always be my first love. Working with a fantastic art as a collaborator is an incredibly fulfilling experience.

 

You have done the artwork, including the cover art for all your own books. Why?

I think it all goes back to control. So far, I’ve had very specific ideas of what I wanted on the novel covers and the easiest way to get those ideas out was to do them myself.

Does it ever backfire?

Not yet, knock on wood!

 

Your work in the comic world started with “Elfquest” comics for Warp Graphics, right? What made you enter this new universe of storytelling?

Well, my first comic work was on “The Big Book of Urban Legends,” and I had done quite a bit of indy comic work before Elfquest, including working as an assistant to Joe Orlando at the DC Offices while I was in art school.

Comics were my life-long love. Elfquest specifically was my favorite comics. Funnily enough, my biggest goal in going to art school was to draw Elfquest. I had always figured it would take me years (5, 10, or more!) to get a chance to work with the Pinis on Elfquest – they had never let anyone else draw the comic back when I was reading it, so my goal was a crazy fantasy at the time. It was mind-blowing to get a call from Barry Blair asking me if I wanted to work on Elfquest. I was still at the School of Visual Arts when he contacted me and it was easily one of the best days of my life.

There was never a doubt in my mind that I wasn’t going to work in comics.

 

“The Cestus Concern”, your first novel, was the #1 best selling Cyberpunk & Sci-Fi Adventure novel on Amazon for 7 consecutive months in 2013. How does it feel to have your work on the spotlight?

It was pretty crazy. Novel writing wasn’t something I had ever set out to do…in fact, when I started writing “The Cestus Concern” I’d never written more than a couple of short prose stories. Sure, I had written a bunch of material for TV/film and comics, but prose was so alien to me I wasn’t convinced I could even do it.

My whole goal with the book (and each once that’s followed) was to write something that I wanted to read. To write something fast, fun, and crazy. It’s been a great to see that so many other people have enjoyed the work as much as they have. As a storyteller, nothing is better than connecting with fans the way the Cestus books have.

 

Of all the projects you’ve worked on, is there one that stands out from rest? Why?

I’ve been lucky to work on a huge number of fun projects, so it’s hard to pick. Right now, the thing I’m the most in love with my Donner Grimm books. The first, “Man With The Iron Heart,” came out at the end of 2014 and I am finishing up the sequel, “The Unweaving,” right now. I love the action-adventure/pulp/weird war universe I’ve created for it and the characters are a lot of fun.

In comics, it’s the new Elflord series I’m working on. The artist, Tony Vassallo, is insanely good and the material we’re putting together isn’t like anything else being done in fantasy comics right now. The series is crazy good.

 

You own the license from Barry Blair’s projects. What made you take that leap?

Barry himself was the reason behind me picking up the rights to all of the material. We had been friends since the early 90s when he hired me to work for Warp Graphics on the Elfquest material, and we had very similar sensibilities . We started talking in 2007 about working together again and one of the things that came up was my love for so many of the characters he’d created, especially things like Elflord, Dragonforce, and Samurai. He said he was done telling those stories, but asked if I wanted to carrying on with their tales on my own. He turned over the rights to all the material to me in exchange for my promise to treat them like my own children.

We had been well on our way to doing a ton of new material together when he passed in early 2010. It was a crushing blow for me and it took almost 5 years for me to get back to the point where I felt like I was ready to start again. To be able to put the work out FOR Barry since I couldn’t do it WITH him.

 

Outland Entertainment is working closely with you not only to bring several of Barry Blair’s titles into digital format but to actually reboot some of them.

What are you most excited about this endeavor? 

The most exciting part of working with Outland is having the chance to bring Barry’s work back out into the public eye. Barry was a creative dynamo who generated a ton of fun material in a dizzying array of genres. He worked in every possible genre you can image: sci-fi, fantasy, comedy, horror, satire, action/adventure, erotica…you name it and he produced work in it.

It’s been a shame that his work has disappeared from the comic industry, especially since his work and company (AIRCEL) was such a huge force in the 80s and early 90s.

Having the opportunity to make that work available once more is a thrill and an honor for me because I was a huge fan of Barry’s work, as well as having been his friend for more than two decades.

 

And now a peek into the Future. Can you tell us what project(s) are you most looking forward to?

I’ve got a lot of work coming out this year. Right now I’m finishing off sequels to both my prose series with “The Cestus Corruption” and “The Unweaving.”

In comics, I’m writing Rob Liefeld’s new “Brigade” series for Image and “Blindside” for Marat Mychaels. For Outland, I’m writing a series based on my Aegisteel fantasy stories with Alan Gallo as the artist; Elflord with Tony Vassallo, and a brand new Dragonforce series that will be drawn by Richard Pace (you heard it here first!).

It’s going to be a fantastic year!

It sure looks like it! Thanks Mat for taking time to let us get a glimpse of your vast creative work!

S.G.

The Dwarven Forge Effect – “I Think I’m Going to Need a Bigger Box (of miniatures)”

The Dwarven Forge Effect – “I Think I’m Going to Need a Bigger Box (of miniatures)”

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 1991-DUNGEONS-amp-DRAGONS-Game-in-Box-Easy-to-Master-TSR-p488136overnight 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.

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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.

Game Developer – Robert J. Schwalb

Game Developer – Robert J. Schwalb

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!

 

S.G.