2018-04-28 Interviews

The following started as a solo thread on Mastodon...

One of these days I should write up some interview questions I would like to see asked of other people in the RPG world. These days, I find most interviews extremely boring. Why is that? Something about there being no challenges, very little personal reveals, and product shilling, of course. They read like ads in dialogue form, not like interesting interviews.

So here’s my stream of thought on interview questions: How is your favourite human doing? Do you play role-playing games together? What was the last thing you did together? What does game design give you? Why did you base your design on rules X (Fate, Powered by the Apocalypse, classic D&D) and why didn’t you just house rule a similar game? Why did you pick these artists? Where did you find them? How exactly does the back and forth between you work? I’d love to hear more about the financial arrangements. How do you balance friendship and marketing? How do you keep your social media accounts interesting and yet peddle your wares? How do you feel about copyright these days? Where do you find your sparring partners and inspiration? Where do you think your strengths are? What about your weakness and how do you compensate for it? Why go back to old designs? Does the Long Tail work for you financially? Does game design work for you, financially? If not, why ask for money in the first place?

I had to think of somebody while I wrote down these questions and so I thought of @halfjack who has been on my radar ever since I bought the diaspora hardcover from Lulu. He said: “I can’t remember the last interview I did. Happy to fix that with a new one though!” I sure hope he gets an interesting #interview!

Read his answers on Google+.

In the interest of fairness I think I should answer these myself, too.

How is your favourite human doing? My wife has recovered from breast cancer, mastectomy and chemo therapy and we’re back out there running and enjoying ourselves. Chemo also led to immediate menopause, which also takes some getting used to.

Do you play role-playing games together? Yes we do. I run three campaigns. One of them is with a friend and some kids, one is my English campaign, and another one is my German campaign. She plays in my German campaign. I remember trying to explain the concept of role-playing games to her all those years ago and she just thought it was nuts and hadn’t ever heard of it. I think the only time I myself had seen role-playing games in school was my own group when I was about 15 or 16 years old, and later I learned of another group which had also been playing for quite a while. That’s it. My wife thought that it was a distinctly German or US thing; there was simply none of it in Switzerland. I am not sure and I have no data. So all I know are German speaking Facebook groups and two yearly mini cons in the German speaking part Switzerland. They are both very small, maybe fifty people or less. My wife doesn’t go. When she does see some role-playing people we always talk about the awkward moments. Some of these people seem to have a very hard time, socially. They don’t fit in, they have a hard time reading a group of people, when to speak, what to say. I feel the question hanging in the air: these are your people? I guess they are. Most of them don’t sit at my table but based on what I see, we’re a very tolerant bunch of people.

What was the last thing you did together? We went running. I think we did nearly 7km and tomorrow we will do some more running. Last week I came back from a three week holiday to Japan with two friends and their families. My wife didn’t come because she still fears the after effects of Fukushima. She knows it’s irrational but that doesn’t make the fear go away. If the cancer comes back, she’ll be looking for reasons and she knows it. It doesn’t help that she had leukaemia as a kid shortly after Chernobyl. Genetic testing seems to indicate a genetic mutation of unknown clinical relevance in a gene related to fighting cancer. So... it’s hard to argue about these fears and I went alone. At the same time, she’s been pushing hard for a reduction in work hours and she was now able to reduce her work to an 80% job. This is great because now the two of us have Fridays off and already we’re feeling much better about a lot of things. That certainly takes the pressure off of work. Work is clearly relegated to making money, not to providing identity and meaning to our lives. I’ve been working part time for a long time. I’m happy to find that she’s finally able to do the same.

What does game design give you? Working on my game booklets first and foremost means writing down my house rules. Once they are written down, they have more standing power. It gives them an existence beyond our memories. In addition to that, I’ve found that working on the documents scratches my itch regarding all the other skills I don’t have: layout, typography, art. I don’t know much about these but I want to know more. Having a project or two or three really pushes me to learn more. In a these are ways to work with a computer without programming all the time, and so it’s “same same but different.” A new kind of thing I can do at the laptop.

Why did you base your design on rules X (Fate, Powered by the Apocalypse, classic D&D) and why didn’t you just house rule a similar game? I used Basic D&D from 1981 by Moldvay as the basis of my game. When I learned to play role-playing games, I started out with the first edition of Das Schwarze Auge, published around the same time. It was similar in complexity. When I returned to role-playing games in 2006, I got sucked in by the publication of Rules Cyclopedia and then I started reading the Kitsunemori campaign setting and so I was set on the path of D&D 3.5. For a few sessions we played M20 but soon one of the players clamoured for D&D 3.5 and I relented. Big mistake. Things got more and more complex and my campaigns flourished, and eventually we switched to Pathfinder and still it was good, but then I tried to go back and eventually it all fell apart. I had to start with a new group. I think my wife, Samuel and Stefan were the only ones to make the change with me. And so I arrived at Labyrinth Lord and B/X D&D. I tried Labyrinth Lord with my wife and it was good. My house rules started out as a little player handout for those that couldn’t be bothered with reading it all. And who needs spells up to level nine and class advancement until level twenty? My campaigns always seemed to be fun until we got to level ten or so. That’s why at first my house rules only went up to level five and now they go up to level ten. I don’t think more is required. And with that, level limits are also off the table. This is great.

Why did you pick these artists? I don’t seem to have the talent to speak to artists in a way that makes them want to collaborate with me. I don’t make any money with my stuff and thus I also don’t want to pay anybody. But if nobody is enthusiastic about collaborating, then I don’t want to ask them to work for free (or for “exposure,” haha). So I decided to try and work on my own skills. I illustrated my House Rules using public domain pictures of helmets (this made sense because I called it Halberds & Helmets), and I drew the monsters in my Referee Guide myself.

Where did you find them? I didn’t find any. :(

How exactly does the back and forth between you work? All I can say is how the back and forth between me and my players is: I’m trying to run my campaigns using Eero Tuovinen’s idea of D&D as oral history. If you remember the rule apply it. If you forget it, it was not important anyway. Thus, no need to consult the rule books. Rules change over time, depending on the interest of players. I try to keep it that way: if we don’t use some rules, I drop them from the document; if we run into a problem and make a ruling, I add it to the document.

I’d love to hear more about the financial arrangements. There are none. I’m a software developer by day and thus I don’t need the money and I really like the idea of DIY D&D. Do-it-yourself is great!

How do you balance friendship and marketing? I don’t do any significant marketing.

How do you keep your social media accounts interesting and yet peddle your wares? The only marketing effort I make is that I post the occasional links to work in progress or I link to blog posts when I’m involved in a discussion on the topic. That’s it. Thus, I think I keep my social media accounts very interesting and practically don’t peddle my wares. Then again, I don’t make any money off it. But then does that lead to a world where the people who ask for money have to work for it and thus swamp us with their messages and those who do work for free don’t post about and are relegated to obscurity? Oh well, perhaps that’s what it means. Money pushes us harder and I refuse to “work” for role-playing games. I have to be entertained by every single step I take.

How do you feel about copyright these days? Generally speaking I feel like it makes everything harder. Sharing is complicated. People rarely understand the licenses. Even if we do, they make everything harder. If I publish my house rules and don’t do any actual copying and pasting of the SRD, do I still need the OGL in my document? I hate this. All those well meaning people illustrating their blog posts using images they took off the net, all of them in violation of copyright. My current position is that copyright was appropriate for a world of a few publishers printing books but these days we are practically all involved in the process of copying, modifying and distributing works. The Book Free Culture talks about this a lot. The Creative Commons licenses were created to get around the need to ask for permission. No more asking for permission is key. So, generally speaking, I went from the OGL to Creative Commons to Public Domain dedications.

Where do you find your sparring partners and inspiration? I don’t, except for my players.

Where do you think your strengths are? I’m best at running games. I’m a good host. I can organise games. And as far as game design goes, I can think things through and I can write it up.

What about your weakness and how do you compensate for it? My weakness is that I’m not an artist and that I have a hard time doing new things. I compensate by practising my painting by consciously deciding to not design any new games. I just stick to old ideas that worked well over decades: classic D&D, classic Traveller, and so on.

Why go back to old designs? I think familiarity with the rules translates to people at the table being able to focus on other things. To take D&D as an example: everybody knows how to fight and thus people can focus on the important decisions of whether to fight at all.

Does the Long Tail work for you financially? I don’t sell anything so I have no idea whether anybody looks at my old stuff. I suspect nobody does. Do people still play M20? I don’t think so. Thus, nobody cares about M20 Hard Core, I’m sure.

Does game design work for you, financially? Not at all.

If not, why ask for money in the first place? I don’t.

Wow, that turned out to be a very long blog post!

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