I finally forced myself to sit down and put nose to grindstone and finished editing the text transcript to the Firing Squad Interview I did with +Steve Jackson.

It took much longer than usual – I’ve had a lot going on at work with presentations, various internal meetings, and lots of conference calls. That and having a collicky 3-month-old has left me with little spare time and few brain cells to scrape together.

The text transcript is inserted into the original interview post and will be updated over time with appropriate links and pictures. It will get better as I take a half-hour here and there to provide more value-added content.

I still think the video is worth watching, and honestly I put many hours into post-production on that one, so I’d love it if y’all would look at it and let me know if the video overlays I did were worthwhile.

But I prefer reading interviews myself, so please go back, watch the video, listen to the MP3 track, or read the transcript.

Thanks for joining me on the Firing Squad, and thanks again to Steve for sitting down with me for an hour.

Last weekend, I interviewed +Steve Jackson!

I tried to get this on out on GURPS-Day, but the editing ran me past midnight and spooling the video took two freakin’ hours.

During an interview that was about 50 minutes long, we covered Ogre and the Kickstarter, Munchkin, his recently released 2013 Stakeholder’s Report, and of course we talked a bit about GURPS.

Thanks to Steve for taking the time to join me on the Firing Squad!

Firing Squad with Steve Jackson (MP3 Audio Only)

Text Transcript

Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic): Good afternoon and welcome to Gaming Ballistics’ Firing Squad. I’m here with Steve Jackson of Steve Jackson Games. It’s a pleasure to talk to you today.

Steve Jackson (Steve Jackson Games): Well, it’s a pleasure to be here, especially since I can do it from . . . here.

Doug: The working from home thing is never cooler than when you can do an interview without pants.

Steve: Not admitting to anything here.

Doug: I think that’s fair. I tend to get right into things and first ask a quick question about…I’ve got my Ogre Supporter shirt on – ta da! [Steve laughs] and…

Steve: No [something]’s required.

Doug:…exactly. How did you decide to go from “Gee, I’d like to re-release Ogre to “Let’s do it on Kickstarter,” and how did that process work in your mind when you decided to do it. Continue reading “Gaming Ballistic’s Firing Squad welcomes Steve Jackson”

Last Sunday I intereviewed Steve Jackson (of Steve Jackson Games) on the Firing Squad.

We spoke for about an hour (a bit less) about Ogre, a tiny bit of Car Wars, Munchkin, and GURPS.

I’m in “post production” right now, editing the video. Transcription is in the works. I already have an audio file.

I hope to go live in the next few days.

Edit(s):

If you’ve not seen my interviews before, I’ve got some very juicy ones on the Firing Squad already.

Secondly, the audio file is ready for release, and I suppose with enough encouragement I could release it early rather than all at once with the video. The transcript will likely follow on with perhaps a week delay – that takes a while to (a) do it, (b) check it, and (c) insert all the right links where I want them so it’s a truly interactive document.

Today the Firing Squad puts Nolan T Jones of Roll20 up against the wall, in a slightly-belated but much anticipated (at least by me) continuation of the Virtual TableTop  topic for the RPGBA Blog Carnival. We’ll be discussing the ideal features of VTTs, where Roll20’s strengths and weaknesses lie, support for major and minor games, and what’s currently enabled and what lies in the future.

Unlike the usual process, we’re uploading the video immediately, with the audio file and transcript to be made available as soon as possible.

Text Transcript

Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic): Good evening and welcome to Gaming Ballistic’s Firing
Squad. Today we are joined by Nolan Jones from Roll20.

Very excited to have
Nolan with us today, as I believe Roll20
is the largest virtual tabletop on the market. If not it certainly seems to be
the best known. Nolan, thanks for joining us today.
Nolan Jones (Content Creator Roll20): Thanks for having me.
Doug: So am
I right? Is Roll20 the biggest, best kid on the block.
Nolan: By
everything we know, it is. There is no way to know that for sure, but looking
at Google Traffic, we are actually coming to the assumption that now, if you
added up all virtual tabletops over time together, we are bigger than all of
them, by what we’ve seen just in terms of Google Traffic. We’ll hit a half
million users in about a month and a half, if things keep on pace, and that’s
way more than anybody else has had.

Continue reading “Firing Squad welcomes Nolan T Jones of Roll20”

Today’s installment of the Firing Squad welcomes +James Introcaso , proprietor of the World Builder blog and all-around fun guy to talk with. We chat about the next edition of Dungeons and Dragons, his world-in-progress called Exploration Age, the edition wars, and other fun topics (like grappling!) having to do with RPGs.

We spoke for nearly two hours, and if nothing else, this interview taught me that while I might not stick with my list of questions, not having one makes for some scattered topic coverage! 

Text Transcript

Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic): Good evening and welcome to Gaming Ballistic’s Firing
Squad. We are joined today by . . . James Introcaso?
James Introcaso (World-Builder Blog): Yes.
Doug: Very
good! James Introcaso. Proprietor of the World-Builder Blog, and I believe that
you got a few publishings to your name, and you also run the Roundtable – a
regular podcast on . . . all-things role-playing, or all-things Dungeons and
Dragons, or both?
James: It’s
all things Dungeons and Dragons, but we do often delve into other systems and
topics as well. But it’s very role-playing centric for sure.

Doug: I
listened to at least one of your episodes, and it was kind of fun. There were
three or four people, and all had definite opinions, and you’d have one person
saying “This rule is the greatest thing ever,” and this other one said “This
ruins the game for me.”
So it was a good [James
laughs] friendly, but really you had all kinds of opinions on the topics you
were covering.
James:
Absolutely, but that’s kind of the point of the podcast.
In the Dungeons and
Dragons community there is a division, the edition wars as they say. With the
old school grognard gamers sticking to 1st and 2nd
edition [Dungeons and Dragons], people who prefer 3rd [Dungeons and
Dragons], and there is a whole new group of gamers who prefer 4th
[Dungeons and Dragons].
And on the Internet, and
message boards is want to do in a virtual anonymous space, people can get
pretty nasty.
We’re hoping to have more
intelligent, thoughtful debate about the new rules coming out, particularly for
the 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons which is supposed to be
released this summer.
The whole point of that
podcast is to bring people to the table and have a civil debate about things.
It remains pretty civil for the most part, though it does degenerate sometimes
into wackiness – which is sometimes fun.
Doug: Yeah,
indeed. I’ll offer up a couple thoughts on that.
First of all my system of
choice, where I play most often, and contribute most often, is GURPS.
So to a certain extent,
some of the edition wars are kind of funny to me, largely because I’ve played
Erik Tenkar’s Swords & Wizardry campaign, which is about as old school as
old school gets.
I grew up with the Basic
and Expert, I never had Champion or Epic. But I had the 2nd edition
[Dungeons and Dragons] Player’s Handbook with the statue and all that [James
laughs].
[Note I got this wrong: The PHB with the statue was
obviously AD&D.]
I played in one game that
I think was 3rd edition, and I have played extensively, recently, in
Pathfinder, which is a 3.5 modification I believe.
I know not a thing about 4th [James
laughs].
James: 4th
is very close to 3.5 and Pathfinder; in fact it even does some of the same
things Pathfinder does. But it’s also very different, in that characters have,
instead of spells, and fighting feats that allow you different maneuvers,
everybody has power sets.
You have powers you can
use during encounters, and you have you powers that you can use daily, and you
have powers that you can use at will. It takes its cues from modern day MMOs,
and I think that sort of turned people off, because it felt a little two
constricting. It became very combat focused.
And Dungeons and Dragons
has always been heavily focused on combat, that is where most of its rule set
lies. But this is really . . .  laser
focused that in, and there wasn’t as much to do rule-wise with your
role-playing aspects.
I think that turned a lot
of people off, which is why 4th edition came out, four . . . six
years ago, and you’re already seeing the release of another edition.
This time they brought
everybody in. Hundreds of thousands of people for a big, open playtest. The
point of that was to get everybody’s opinion, hopefully they get to a point
where everybody likes the game and will buy it.
I think they actually lost
a lot of business to Pathfinder when it came out, because Pathfinder still had
a lot of the role-playing aspects. It still had spells that could be used
outside of combat for wizards. And the fighters had some crazy moves that make
them feel a little more magical mechanically.
And I think it was, rather
than you starting as a regular guy who gets better and better and better, it
was you started as a really great hero, and then by 30th level your
heroes are definitely superheroes. They had these ridiculous abilities that
begin with the phrase like “Once per day, when you die, you’ll come back from the dead, and be even better than you
are.”
Doug: “I got
better” [Monty Python Black Knight voice]. There is the gratuitous Monty Python
joke for the podcast.
James: Yes.
That’s fun.
It can be fun. I played
two campaigns with people with the group from level 1 to 30 and that has its
own appeal as well, flying around the battlefield, and shooting lasers, and
farting, and killing orcs with that fart. It has its own appeal as well.
Doug: One of
the more memorable characters from Mystery Men: The Spleen . . . had that ability.
It’s part of the nerd canon so to speak.
A couple of questions. A
couple of things about that I guess. One is . . . a hundred thousand people in
a playtest. That is bold.
James: Yeah,
I think it’s obviously an unprecedented move, particularly for Wizards of the
Coast, to show us how the sausage is made – so to speak – and to invite people
in on that process.
And it has changed, if you
look at the first packet and the rules that were in there, and the way things
have changed from this final packet, and now the playtest has since closed, but
you can…but there is a friends and family playtest that I’m not actually a part
of.  But you know they’re continuing
along up to this August release date that has been leaked. And not officially
announced.
They really have been
listening to people, it seems, like up until the playtest closed. I have high
hopes.
Certainly at first it was
a very simple, basic game like you would expect the first round of a playtest
to be. But they really did have some things in there that could be considered
game-breaking. They’ve gone through and found a way to please the min/maxers,
but to also please all the role-players, so they don’t feel like their characters
are nothing compared to the people who enjoy min/maxing, you know?
And hopefully everybody
can sit together at a table, or convention style setting and get along.
Because I have players who
were in a theater troupe with me in college, so they love the role-playing
aspect, but then I have a couple of guys that we know that are somebody’s
brother, and they went to see all the shows, and they want to build the min/max
characters . . . and it’s a hard balance, sometimes, to please everybody at the
table.
Doug: Sure.
Sure. The other part of that is, do you think that having it so large actually
generated a useful amount of signal to noise ratio, or do you think that you
could have done better with…at least with the playtest of the book that I did,
I had about 12 to 15 people, and the one thing that I regret, and has come up a
couple of times later, is we didn’t get enough opportunity to actually play games. We did have some
good fights, and it was a grappling book.
I looked over the 5th
edition grappling rules…ehhh, I don’t know [James laughs].
James:
They’re much simpler probably.
Doug: Where
they are, is the grappling rules in most games actually up until . . . I’m sure
it was Riddle of Steel, or Burning Wheel . . . I know that there are games that
have done more detail in everything.
But the original GURPS
rules are fairly similar to original Dungeons and Dragons rules. You roll to
hit, if you hit you are grappled or not grappled, and it’s an event state.
Whereas the system I came
up with is…“Well isn’t it fun to hit…” and in GURPS if you fail to
defend, or you roll under your armor class in D&D. And then you roll some damage, and the damage counts for
something.
I’ve actually been
noodling in the back [of my head] with something like that in a D&D paradigm,
because I think it would be useful and fun for people who wanted to have more
detail about that.
The flip side of that,
though, is I don’t know of a venue in which house rules are published.
James:
Right. Well you can find a lot of house rules/suggestions on the message board,
but one of the things you’re going to see, supposedly, we’ve been promised, are
modules.
You’re going to see a lot
of optional rules modules they’re
going to publish. I would love to see something like that because whenever I
think about grappling, I think about the climactic scene in every action movie,
the hero or the villain are wrestling on the ground, one of them has a dagger,
and they’re trying to turn it around. You don’t really have that option in the
Next rules.
Doug:
Because that scene at the end of Saving Private Ryan wasn’t tense or dramatic at all.
James: Right
[both laugh].
Doug: Or a
little more action hero-ish, the first of the two recent Sherlock Holmes movies,
with Robert Downey Jr, had a great Technical Grappling scene where there was an
arm bar, legs, all kinds of stuff. It was very much period as well because I
know that Conan Doyle studied fighting and wrestling and he studied the
Bartitsu stuff, so he knew about it.
It was a accurate
depiction of what Arthur Conan Doyle was trying to put into his stuff, there
was judo or jiu-jitsu or Bartitsu or whatever. The kind of stuff can be really
cool, but having it be a “state thing, grappled, not-grappled,” is…
Let me give you the flip side
of that though: Grappling is slow. Grappling is slow.
A typical grappling match
(you can see I’ve got my Hwa Rang Do sweatshirt on), a typical grappling match
is – what we do is two minutes, a championship match is five minutes. In
Brazilian Ju-Jitsu, and no offense to any BJJ practitioners since I’m not
deeply experienced in it. The kind of the joke is, maybe it’s their testing, is
they grapple forever. They just work,
it and work it, and work it, and they are very patient. They are very good
offensively, and they’ll break you in half like a pretzel, but they are very
cautious, deliberate grapplers, and you can be wresting out there for 10
minutes.
In GURPS at least, 10
minutes is 600 turns.
James: Huh [Laughs
as he realizes the implications]. It’s the same way in D&D.
Doug: Yeah.
In D&D it would be…let’s see, 600 seconds is a hundred turns. And if you’re doing a die roll a hundred times, with
just two guys. I mean, you’re going to get pelted with d4s and beaten with the
Player’s Handbook. And you’ll deserve it.
James:
[laughs] Exactly.
And that’s one of the
things that they wanted to do, was to be able to have combat be very speedy and
expedient at the base level with this. I think they definitely achieved that.
4th edition
combat was really fun, because you had so many choices and options, but combat
at first level took an hour.
So you never had a random
encounter, because it would slow down your story.
Now, a random encounter
can take about five minutes. It’s super-lethal right now, 5th
edition.
I think you are going to
see options for more facing rules, and they’re really going to get into, with those
rules modules, into the nitty-gritty, again.
What we’ve been promised.
I don’t speak for Wizards.
But it would be great to
see that kind of thing. But it is nice to be able to do a theater of the mind
style – four goblins are guarding the door, the party comes in and they waste
some of the party’s resources, but ultimately the party wins overall, and
continues into the dungeon or whatever it is.
You want to see for the
bigger encounters, I want to have those grapple rules because I want to see
that action take place, I want to see Solid Snake, from Metal Gear Solid, get
into a close-quarters battle with a knife and handgun.
So hopefully that kind of
stuff is available, that’s the dream [crosses fingers].
Doug: It
should be kind of fun, because one of the complexities of, for example, playing
GURPS
with close combat, is if you ever throw somebody down on the ground, it
actually…playing with a actual face-to-face group with cardboard heroes or miniatures
it’s actually pretty easy, but on Roll20 or MapTool all of a sudden they are a
two-hex figure, so you better have a second token prepared [laughs].
James:
That’s one of the challenges. Or if you’re in a battle when someone is flying,
that’s really hard too . . . [laughs] on a virtual table, how do you express
that? Or even on a regular table that can be hard to express.
Doug: Right.
Squadron Strike. Ad Astra games. Ken Burnside has a really neat system where
you stack up 3D tiles or cubes and it gives you facing, orientation, and
everything, and gives you vectors because he uses vector math for where the
ships go. And it’s all visually intuitive at the blink of a eye.
So theoretically you could
show that your red dragon is banking at a certain acceleration [James laughs].
That would be kinda fun. The Dungeons and Dragons extension to Squadron Strike.
James: Well
I actually heard that they’re making…so they just released news that there is
going…WizKids is going to be making miniatures for them. There is going to be a
dogfighting dragon minigame that’s going to come with those minifigs.
Doug:
Because why not? [James laughs more]
So let me back up a little
bit and ask a little bit about yourself: It sounds like you’ve been gaming for
a bit.
James: Yes.
Since…I guess I was in about 2nd grade when I joined my brothers
AD&D game in our parents basement. So very stereotypical: little brother
wanted to tag along and play D&D in the parent’s basement, and they gave me
a Halfling thief, and it’s been my favorite class/race combination ever since.
Doug: So I
actually just started reading the Forgotten Realms book, with Cale, and the Slaad,
and Riven…I’m going to have to look it up because now I’m irritating myself.
Erevis Cale I think. Cale
Forgotten Realms. There we go. Erevis Cale thank you, by Paul Kemp.
Paul Kemp. I finally got
around to that, I was forwarded the books by a friend, but it wasn’t a great
copy, so I bought ‘em online anyways.
So it’s part of the
original D&D mythos, so in a way it’s like reading history to see how that
works.
But one of the things that
is interesting about those books to me, at least in the beginning of the first
book and this really does get to your point, it’s not as random walk as it
seems.
Your point about D&D 4th
edition actually has a strong resemblance to the initial character types if
you’re doing a GURPS Dungeon Fantasy campaign, which start at 250 points, or
about a 100 points more than a typical action heroish starter character.
The guys…and then there is
Monster Hunters which is 400 points, which is even more over-the-top, because
you’re playing in that particular genre, you’re playing Monster Hunters International,
or whatever, or Laurell K. Hamilton’s character at the middle of her powers
before she got really out there, and was mostly soft porn. [both chuckle]
But these characters start
badass, and they get more so.
And so the interesting
thing was, in a lot of this stuff, and the Halfling and whatever – it showed
that you could start off…it felt to me and I don’t know what the character
types were, there must have been a cheat sheet – but it felt to me they started
at 10th level and got more awesome from there.
James: Yeah.
I’ve heard that book described as these guys are power-leveling through, and
they just keep getting crazier and crazier, and more and more epic, as the
story goes on. Which is definitely true. It’s a very like manly sort of adventure too. There going into planes to fight demons
and all that kind of stuff. It’s really over-the-top with the action and with
their ability it’s pretty crazy.
Doug: It
kept getting more and more and on the flip side you’ve got a book like Elizabeth
Moon’s Paksenarrion. First of all, as I’ve said at least one, if not two or
three of these interviews, is my favorite paladin story: it’s not the lawful
goody-two-shoes that everyone wants to see die [James laughs]. [garbled audio]
and I don’t know if there was
…I’ll come back to this,
this is what happens when I don’t have my cheat sheet.
The thing was, very
clearly that Paksenarrion started off as a first level fighter, went through
mercenary training, you could see her getting a couple levels there,
multi-classing to ranger for a little bit, and then came into a full-on paladin,
and it really did feel like walking through the first half of character
progression, like going from a level one to a level twenty character,
And Elizabeth Moon used
the terms, and you could see the fighter, and the cleric, and the different
races, and the dark elves made an appearance and all kinds of stuff.
It was a great series of
stories, but you really got to experience the novice, to intermediate, to
professional, and the character progression, and it sounds like in 4th
edition you started a little bit more badass, but maybe in 5th
edition they dialed it back?
James: Oh
yeah, absolutely. It’s a very…not to the point where you are useless, but to
the point where you feel useful cleaning out a cellar of goblins.
Whereas if you were doing
that 1st level in 4th edition it was more like “Where’s
the real action, I didn’t feel threatened at all?” And I didn’t feel…
Whereas in this one,
you’re back to smaller hit points, you have a lot more hit points in 4th
edition at first level. You have smaller hit points, you have less options for
what you can do in combat. It seems like your starting equipment that you can
afford is as not as good as it was in 4E and that’s great, I like that feeling.
Because by the time you
hit twentieth level in any fantasy RPG it seems like you’ve reached that
superhero status. This is definitely less so.
To give you an example, I
have a player at my table who is a rogue and your back to…rather than point buy
being the standard, you’re rolling for abilities scores. Point buy was the
standard for 4E, and so he rolled a 6, and rather than put his 6 in Charisma
which is sort of a dump-stat for a lot of classes in D&D, he put it in
Constitution. He began the game with 3 HP.
Doug: There
is a motivation to play cautiously.
James: Absolutely!
It was so interesting to see that. You don’t normally see that in a
combat-focused game like D&D.
You don’t see that guy who
is constantly being cautious, and he really did have to play smart.
And kudos to him, it took
him a good four sessions before his character actually died [laughs] as it was
bound to happen at some point.
He had a lot of fun doing
it, and you know they have a lock of his hair, so a resurrection spell is in
the future perhaps.
Doug: Could
happen.
James: But
that’s a example of the lethality of 5th edition. You’d never have a
character at 3 HP at first level. It’s just impossible to do in 4E.
Doug: Okay.
I want to talk a little bit about yourself, because I know you got this World Builder
blog, and you’re into doing, it seems, adventures and world building.
Walk me through how you
started gaming, what games you played, and how you started into…whether it’s
the pro or semipro- or playtesting, writing, or authoring or offering opinions
on a blog.
Just go through that
history a little bit for those who are curious.
James: Sure.
I started with my brother, way back when we were in the basement. And I had
some other friends over, and I was young enough that it was kind of like “You
want to do that? Now roll this die. Now roll this die. And here’s what
happens.”
AD&D is difficult for
an eight year old to understand. I invited some friends over, and we were
deciphering it, and trying to play it, and it was hard for me to translate for
my friends and everything. So one of my friends went home and told his father
and his father said “Oh, I have this other game.”
We played a game called The Fantasy Trip that is a old and
definitely in print anymore. It’s a d6 based Fantasy game where you have three
attributes – Strength, Dexterity, and Intelligence.
It’s the kind of game
that’s not built very well. Your Strength score is also your hit points, your
Dexterity is used any time you want to something, and your Intelligence
determines your spell casting ability. And if you want to be able to cast
spells, you have to be able to hit with them, and spells use up your hit points,
so to be a spellcaster you have to have high all three. And every time you
leveled up you got to put a point in another one of them, and that was kind of
how the game worked.
And we played that for
years, until we were in middle school, and then we started played Dungeons and
Dragons again, and then the 3rd edition game out, and we stuck with
that.
And then I, in college,
introduced a lot of people to that. I have been playing D&D and kept
current with whatever the current edition was since then. But I also play
Mutants and Masterminds. I’m a big fan of the Ghostbusters RPG from the 80s
[laugh].
Doug: Do you
remember what system was that? A d6-based?
James: It
was d6-based. I’ve played a couple of iterations of the Star Wars role-playing
game. I dabbled in GURPS, I’m trying to find people who want to play it. I think
it’s a awesome system.
One of the reasons I’ve
stuck with D&D is I’ve had a rotating group with people, and I find people
latch onto that one pretty easily. It’s the easiest to understand, it’s the
easiest to find materials for, although now with DriveThru RPG you can find
anything, man.
I also, in my life, my like
day-job is I’m a television writer and producer. Promos, mostly. And I have
traveled around, I was in Atlanta working for Cartoon Network for a while, I
did a year-long stint there, and I was long for people to play with, and I
didn’t know anybody and that was how I met people.
I went to DragonCon which
is a big media/gaming convention down there. I met some people and started to
game with people that way.
And that’s sort of what
happened. I have submitted a lot of article proposals to Dungeon and Dragon
magazine in the past, but I’ve been very busy. My job is sometimes a 60-hour a
week job.
I recently decided I
wanted to take this to the next level. I wanted to start my own podcast and
several months ago, I reached out to a guy named Mike Shae who runs a blog
called Sly Flourish, he’s published numerous books and adventures for a lot of
different systems, dungeons and dragons included.
He told me I should talk
to a guy named Jeff Griner, who hosts a podcast called the Tome Show. Jeff has
a lot of followers and subscribers, and he talks about D&D, and it’s really
his passion.
So I emailed Jeff and said
“Jeff, do you have any advice for someone starting a podcast.” And he said
“What’s your idea?” so I pitched him my idea for the roundtable and he said
“Ah! That sounds really cool, why don’t you do that and I’ll host it for you.”
I had a built in several-thousand
subscriber base and everything. His podcast is really great, TheTomeShow.com if
you want to check him out. Tome Show.com is a weird Asian blog that pops up,
which I’m sure is also really good if you want to check that out too.
And I’ve also wanted to
design my own world from scratch. I’ve played in Eberron, Forgotten Realms,
Dark Sun, which are all pre-built Dungeons and Dragons settings.
But it’s probably been
since college that I had my own setting. So I thought a great way to make sure
I’m using my free time to create a setting, rather than sit around and play
video games, which for me is a good thing, it’s a fun thing to do, but it’s also
. . . I can spend hours. Like a entire Sunday doing nothing else, but playing
Arkham City.
So I thought it would be a
good way to hold me accountable for
writing and designing stuff, and putting out work. So that’s what World builder
blog is.
For creating exploration
age, which is a PDF which I’m eventually hoping to put out, and depending on
the people who are interested, it will be available for a moderate or free
download. So that’s the abridged version of the story.
I’m very passionate about
gaming of all kinds. I love Kobold Press puts out a lot of good stuff, but I
really want to step into the world of publishing. I really want/hope to be
putting out stuff that is canon if you will, but until then, I really just
enjoy making it, so I’m going to do it whether or not I’m getting paid to do
it.
That’s what Worldbuilder
blog is all about. I’m sort of discussing the techniques I use sometimes to
create something, and sometimes I’m just putting out ideas I have there, and
it’s a hodgepodge of stuff, some of it’s stolen.
Doug:
Leveraged. Leveraged. It’s leveraged.
James: Yeah,
exactly. Like any good idea [chuckles].
Some of it is weird
brainchild stuff that I’ve had over the years. Which I’m sure is probably
subconsciously leveraged from somewhere else.
Doug: That
was one of the fascinating things about talking with Kenneth Hite. We spent
almost two hours yakking it up. The process that he goes to to connect…it’s
like “Here is something you can look at in a history book” and “Here’s
something you can look up in a mythology book” and “Here is something that occurred
to me (him) while drinking heavily one day.”
We’re going to put these
three things together, and go to the logical extension of that idea. And that’s
for example, I think, where Day After Ragnarok came from. Which is World War
II, I don’t know if you are familiar with it: you’re in the middle of World War
II . . . and Ragnarok happens.
You take this two huge,
cataclysmic events, World War II and Ragnarok, and just blend them together and
you get three or four parallel mythologies going on there.
Because he wanted to have
a world, to make this connect a little bit. He wanted to have a world where one
part of the world was sword and sandal, Robert Howard Conan the Barbarian, and
the other part of the world was Norse mythology, and then you had other things
at other places. He had these turning points where it went off.
It’s exactly where you
take your sources, and you have your variations, and you borrow where you can,
and invent where you must, and take it to a logical conclusion.
James: Is
that the kind of place where you can have fun? Can you have a Nazi riding a
T-Rex that kind of thing [laughs]?
Doug:
Possibly. I don’t know about the T-Rex and the dinosaurs, but certainly you could
have a Nazi wielding the Spear of Destiny, or Valkyries flying into battle, or
something like that. I know that he had this thing where the giants – the Jotunn
return to Earth in the steppes of Russia . . . and stuff! There is a lot to it.
James: Well that’s
fun right?
I think D&D is one of
the last places – not just D&D, tabletop RPGs in general – are one of the
last places where you can collaboratively put crazy things out there and people
say “Yeah, I’m on board with that.”
You don’t necessarily have
box office appeal to do it. One of the classic Dungeons and Dragons monsters is
a beholder, which is a floating mass of eyes that all shoot different kind of
rays. What was someone thinking when that came up?
And it’s nice to know that
you can go there, and you can try something new. And that’s what it’s all
about.
I invite people certainly
on the blog. I want to know if they think, “Ah…that’s a little too close to
something” “Not as original as I hoped” or “That idea is so crazy and here’s
why I think it would never work.”
I’m all about the debate,
I definitely want to see that, and I want to see if people say “This is cool.”
That always makes you feel good.
But I think it’s great to
explore new avenues. To play on archetypes. So, for instance, in Exploration Age
elves, one of their main industries in this nation that the elves run, they cut
down trees – and sell the lumber. They’re like lumberjacks. Which sort of goes
against everything you’ve ever known about elves, and that was on purpose. Because
I was like “What would it be like if elves were actually cutting down trees and
slaughtering and herding cattle and selling burgers? What would that do?”
Doug: Invert
the trope, and see what breaks.
James: It’s
all about playing.
And Exploration Age, the
big idea is…there are big, blank spots on the map. Particularly…it’s based on
the Age of Discovery.
Australia had just been
discovered by Europeans, and the Americans had just been discovered by
Europeans. It’s based on the idea that all of a sudden these people’s world has
doubled in size. And they have a whole, hopefully rich, history of war with one
another, that war has translated into land grabbing over in this other place.
But oh, wait, there’s people who are native to this world. There like… “You
can’t come in here and just start grabbing up land.”
Doug: “What
do you mean you annexed this in the name of the king? I’m going to kick your
ass for that.”
James:
Exactly. Instead of Native Americans, maybe a civilization of intelligent
minotaurs, so that could go very
differently
for the people settling the land.
Doug: I’m
resisting nine different puns. This is very difficult for me. There’s no bull
about it. Bull in a china shop. I just can’t. I just can’t.
James: I
love the puns, bring them on.
Doug: Puns
and Monty Python jokes . . . they are like two of the fundamental base proteins
in the DNA of gaming.
James: That’s
right! Because it’s all about fun, and it’s all about fun that people aren’t
going to judge you for having. I feel like, no offense, I feel like the
community overall is awesome, but I feel within the D&D community there are
these fissures that are forming that don’t need to be there.
Play the game you want to
play. That’s what Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson were all about. They were saying
“Here is a book of rules we’re hoping you change. We’re hoping you modify for
yourself.”
Do that, with any system.
As long as you’re sitting around a table, or going online at some sort of
virtual table with people, hanging out and having a good time. It doesn’t
matter how weird it is or crazy like, get out there and have fun, if someone
thinks it’s lame, that’s their problem.
Doug: Right.
And they don’t have to sit down and play with you.
That’s actually one of the
things where I feel very much a kinship, and frankly the two interests do
overlap. I’m into martial arts I do this very eclectic art called Hwa Rang Do,
which no one has ever heard of it, well, they’ve occasionally heard of it.
James: What
is it?
Doug: It’s a
eclectic Korean style that is a blend of striking, and grappling, and joint
manipulation and all kinds of weapons, and notionally it dates back to the Silla:
the Hwarang knights, which are these noblemen, who were kind of like the
samurai, but except a thousand years before the samurai hit it big.
The Silla, Hwa Rang in
Korea, so when Silla unified the Korean Peninsula during the Three Kingdom
period there were these groups called the Hwa Rang which were a noble and the
rangdo, which were a bunch of knights and there were all kinds of crazy.
James: this
is awesome!
Doug: It’s
really neat. The history of these guys is really cool. You know you can start
fights over whether it’s accurate or not accurate, or whether the history is
made up, or only recently recovered, because the Chinese and Japanese destroyed
a lot of the records of Korean history purposefully, regardless of that it’s a
great story.
I visited Korea with the
Grandmaster, the person who reintroduced this to everybody, to the West. And
you go to this Buddhist shrine in Korea, and there is this massive immovable
bar around the statues eyes, because it was a guardian spirit, a guardian
temple, and the (I think it was the) Japanese put this bar in front of the eyes,
so that it couldn’t see the threats that it was supposed to protect against.
James: WOW.
That’s going in a dungeon!
Doug: They
were messing with the ki of this Buddha, so that it could not bring it to the
harmony that it needed to be.
In any case, it’s a very
eclectic art that does striking, weapons, and whatever. You were supposed to be
an awesome archer, and a horsemen, and a poet, and a general, and calligrapher,
and a scholar. There are these six disciplines, and all kinds of stuff . . . so
it’s a great rich history, someone, maybe me, really ought to do something with
that, and it doesn’t’ have to be a carbon copy, but it would make a very fun
class. A Dungeons and Dragons class or something.
Or a template or a fun
variation on the knight template for a Dungeon Fantasy campaign.
So Hwa Rang Do is very
eclectic, maybe a thousand black sashes ever.
It’s very small. But it’s growing, and if you really want to see Hwa Rang Do go
to insane levels, go to Italy. The Instructor
Mattiucci has got this thing going and they’re all gung ho and they go up into
the mountains and go and fight in the snow and stuff.
James:
Arghhh, that’s so cool!
Doug: And
Instructor Mattiucci is really cool, and there is a lot of that because the
people who stick with this are really dedicated and it’s a unique thing. The
thing is, you could say “It’s not this style” or “It’s not that style,” but one
thing that a lot of these styles have in common, that a lot of these martial
arts are f****** bizarre relative to people playing pickup football.
And so the schisms between
D&D, OSR, 2nd edition, 3rd edition, 4th
edition, and now 5th edition, the schisms there are every bit as
counterproductive as a lot of the schisms between the BJJ guys and Tae Kwon Do
guys, and the aikido guys, and Hwa Rang Do, and whatever the fact of the matter
is until it really is “What martial art do you do?” “Oh, of course I do this
one.” Instead of “You punch people for fun?!”
Until it’s sort of
accepted into the mainstream society, as not an oddity, and role-playing is
that same thing. We are best saying “Yes, we do this collaborative story-gaming
thing, it’s creative and it’s fun, and it’s pizza, and beer, and Monty Python
jokes, and yeah there is a rules framework, as long as you’re playing you can
have fun. And if you’re playing the type of game you like to do you can have
fun. And if you don’t like that particular style. Try something else.”
Until it’s more that then
“This sucks!” or “That sucks!” or “This breaks the game!” we’re not going to
ever break out, and make it so that “Of course, everybody…” you grow up
watching 90210 or Star Trek, or something really mainstream like Desperate
Housewives (I’ve never seen a single episode, but . . .) or Seinfeld! Best
example, right.
Something that crosses
everything. I have roomed with those guys. I roomed with a guy who reminded me
so much of Kramer that I could never watch the show. The George Costanza
character is yes, I’ve had to work with someone like that, so why would I watch
it on TV. It was one of those things that hit to close to home. Growing up in
New Jersey and working in New York City and Philadelphia, it was never my thing
because it was like “Oh God, I lived with some of these people. I don’t need to
remember” [covers eyes in shame].
James: Yeah,
you lived the show. You didn’t need to watch it [laughs].
Doug: Jerry
and Elaine were the only people you could tolerate. None the less, I will
always remember the pirate puffy shirt. So value has had.
James: And
you’re absolutely right, the deck is already stacked against you. When these are
the things that you enjoy. Why would you fight amongst yourselves, when what
you’re doing is already looked upon as taboo, out there, or weird. Until we
have reached that critical mass point like football. Until we’ve reached that
level of pro-sports fanaticism for these things, having those debates doesn’t
make any sense.
Doug: You’re
a TV writer/producer right? We need to do a little mockumentary that is like
the World Series of Poker . . .  but for
D&D.
James: I
would love to do that.
Doug: You have
like the announcer. “The fighter is moving around. I think he’s going to use
the Cleave feat. Yes! He’s doing it and the orcs are going down.” [whispery
voice followed by a sudden and very loud elated voice].
James: “He’s
going to need a 17 here – or higher – otherwise his game could be very…”
Doug: With
the appropriate extra…
James: I’m
in. Let’s do it.
Doug: That
just sounds like a awful lot of fun to me. Coming back round, you said that
sort of the conceit of Exploration Age is that there are giant areas of the map
that haven’t yet been discovered, whole new civilizations. In a way, is it a
Dungeons and Dragons version…oh, sorry, is it D&D-based or systemless?
James: The
plan right now is to depending on the Open Game License to put it out as
D&D, but it will be systemless too. There is going to be a lot of tables
you can use no matter what edition you’re playing. No matter what game you’re
playing. As long as you have some dice, you can use Exploration Age for your
campaign.
Doug: That
seems like, in a way, it’s like the Civilization game, and there are
civilizations there, and you can either work with them or against them, it’s
really up to you.
James:
Exactly. And part of the fun of the blank spots is, I’m hoping to provide what is
a DM-only sort of packet, with secrets about the world, and what is within
those blank spots.
However, part of the
appeal of blank spots for people, I know, is you can put in whatever you want
there. And I highly encourage…you don’t have to listen to me, you can put
whatever you want there. And I would love to see what people actually come up
with, because I think those blank spots…you could have something completely
different and your idea is probably why more awesome to me.
Doug: That’s
actually something that Steve Jackson Games did with their Banestorm world, the
world of Yrth, the primary continent that they detailed is Ytarria. And
everything else in the world . . .is blank.
James:
That’s awesome, that’s great.
Doug: You
have a start, here is where the campaign starts, but everything else around it
might as well be Exploration Age, because it’s just not detailed. It’s there
for the GM to flesh out.
James: And
that’s awesome. I like that kind of flexibility, because then if you want to
stay and have your whole campaign in a area where you can see, that’s mapped
out, the party has that option. There is going to be plenty to do in those
areas that I’ve mapped out.
Political intrigue is one
of the big things, I’m hoping that sort of the problems of the real world can
also translate well enough with a good fantasy twist. Political leaders don’t
always have black and white decisions to make…
Doug: Hardly
ever.
James:
Exactly. I’m hoping to bring that to the table. It’s not just “This guy is evil
for the sake of evil, and so he needs to be destroyed, because his goal is
world domination.” I’m hoping that it’s more nuanced than that, I’m hoping that
the bad guys don’t think they’re bad guys. They don’t see themselves as evil.
That’s sort of a writing
101 kind of thing to say, because there are bad guys for the sake of evil in a
lot of fantasy literature. Sauron is a pretty awesome bad guy. The Emperor in
Star Wars is a pretty awesome bad guy.
But I think that you can
get deeper with those things other than they’re power hungry and crazy.
That’s when it gets
interesting, and players can have hard choices to make, and really influence
the outcome of what’s going on in the world. It’s not a coin toss. There are
multiple options that could happen here. There isn’t just A and B. There is A
through Z, and none of them are completely white and none of them are
completely black.
Doug: And
one of the people who’s done…two things leap to me with that kind of thing
built in. Probably not ironically, they are both Joss Whedon.
One is the core worlds
from the Firefly series. The operative. He’s like “Look. This is not the evil
empire, this is what’s going on.” There were two sides, and you can see the
point in both. And yet, he was like “I’m not going to live there. I can’t live
in that world. I do evil. I am Lawful Evil.” You could just see: ‘The
Operative. Lawful Evil.’ He was going to do anything to preserve the order.
The other is, as a friend
of mine said “You had Thor, the Avengers, or Thor: The Dark World. Or Loki 1,
Loki 2, and Loki 3.” Loki is a complicated character who is mainly reaching
into a toolbox of manipulation, and trickery, and deceit, for reasons, by the
end of those three movies, that you really get.
James: Yeah.
You feel for him. People keep saying, no matter what you think of the movie it
seems like in Thor 3 [Dark World] he is complications are interesting. The
complications, and layers of his character, are so fascinating because you are rooting for him.
Doug: In a
lot of ways you are. You’re rooting for the bad, you want him to lose, but you
don’t want him to lose so badly that it strips him of his dignity as a
character.
James:
Exactly. When you think about it, I’m a younger brother. I have an older sister
and a older brother, so I’m the youngest.
So when you think about it
from the perspective of the beginning of the first movie Odin is saying “One of
you will be king some day.” And then the very next scene, Thor is at his
coronation. I think to grow up as Loki, with your brother being Thor in the
public eye for all of these people to see, that’s bound to mess you up a little
bit.
And then to find out that
your dad isn’t your dad. Spoilers, I guess Thor has been out a while so statute
of limitations.
Everything progressively
that happens to him from that point on is downhill for him. He’s had a tough,
tough way of it. You can relate to that. Not that I…I love my brother and
sister and parents. I did not have a hard time like that. But you can related
to that. Living in someone else’s shadow.
Doug: Sure.
And I don’t know if you’ve seen all the deleted scenes from the first Thor
movie, but right before that coronation is a deleted scene, where you actually
see some of Loki’s “I’m so going to mess with his head this day.”
James:
That’s awesome. I haven’t seen…I’ll have to check it out. I have it on iTunes,
so I can check out the special features.
Doug: It’s
worth watching. I go on and on about that particular movie, and I will again.
It’s one  of my favorites. First of all
it’s beautiful, second of all because it’s so wonderfully epic.
This is sort of the same
kind of thing you’re talking about in Exploration Age. You take a base human thing,
like being jealous of an older brother, or a struggle to reach power, and you
span it over five thousand years with a mission of protecting the Nine Realms
instead of your local shire, or being the mayor of your town or whatever.
You take normal human  events and you amp them up. That’s what epic
fantasy is all about. It’s taking some of the little stuff and making everyone
have the opportunity to participate in these Earth-shattering world-shaking
events and feel like you made a difference. And you were creative and there was
pizza and beer and dice.
James:
Exactly. That’s the thing. You have the interactions are happening very
intimately, so that people can understand them. You can understand the jealousy
of that, and for the things that you can’t understand, like living for five
thousand years, that just amplifies what I do know. I hate to be jealous of
someone for 30 seconds, let alone five
thousand years
. I think that helps play all of that out.
It helps play out . . . the
other day on the podcast, this actually…this hasn’t come out yet. But somebody
was saying that when you think about fantasy realms, priests are given magic
powers often in fantasy tabletop games. If that were true into today’s world:
you would get all magical healing powers and shoot radiant light. Every single
person, the line on Sundays would be out the door because everybody would pray
to a god to get powers.
Doug: That’s
actually a great point. One of the funny things about D&D, especially, at
least in my experience with the people who have gravitated towards certain
types of roleplaying arena. Nobody in
a D&D world is an atheist. If they are, they are deluded. They are absolutely insane.
When the gods walk among
you and give you powers, the word miracle probably wouldn’t exist – or maybe it
would exist as a miracle, a true blessing from God. You wouldn’t really have a
concept for the kind of intervention that happens, as having had it not happen,
probably because it’s just part and parcel of the fabric of all those realities
that these monstrously powerful beings are mucking around with you at all
times.
James: Yeah,
and exerting there influence in mortals, and sometimes fighting them by end of
campaign sometimes. They’re calling you up, because they need help with the god
of death over here, “He’s at it again he’s trying to take over the realm of the
living.”
One of the things we’re
doing in Exploration Age is we are, I say we
like I have a team of designers, one of the things that I’m doing . . . I do
have my friends though who often comment and I’ll brain storm with them.
But one of the things
that’s happening, is the gods are not so interventionist if you will. The
cleric class still exists, and the paladin class still exists, and they still
get powers, but the gods don’t walk among people. They don’t have avatars that
they’re sending down, or heralds. Demons have never met up with evil gods, and
angels have never met up with good gods.
The idea to the common
folk then is that priests are just kind of like mages. They just kind of
practice a different kind of magic. They don’t necessarily…there are going to be atheists who think that
priests have gotten their magic the same way that wizards have – praying is
just another form of memorizing your spell book every day. So we are trying to
bring a little bit of that edge to it.
Also this idea often times
in fantasy campaigns, there is one pantheon. There is obviously exceptions to
that, but Exploration Age is going to have a lot of different pantheons. There
are a couple of polytheistic religions, there is a dualistic sun and moon
worshipping religion, and there are going to be a couple of monotheistic
religions – people who believe there is just one creator god. There are plenty
of people who are lapsed in their faith. They’re going to church, but maybe
they don’t necessarily believe in what they’re doing. They are doing it more
out of traditional values. And then there are people who believe it’s all a
bunch of hooey and people are deluding themselves.
Doug: but in
to have that you need to make sure that the priests or whatever…it’s
interesting, because if you’re going to say…one could go the other way and say
“Well, mages are just finding a different way to tap into divine power.” So, there
needs to be something that identifies that “tap” that “power tap.”
As an example, if you are
familiar with the Wheel of Time series, Robert Jordan’s epic . . . eternal
lengthy…sorry. I started reading those bad boys in 1990 or so and
unfortunately – I read through the first three books, because that was all that
was published at the time, and then I was just waiting. I would read it, and I
would stay up, and I would read all the book. When the Shadow Rising came out,
I read the whole thing in a couple of days, and then you’d wait, and wait, for
years and then the next one would come out. It seems like the large part of my
life from 1990 until last year I think – 2013 was basically waiting for the
next Wheel of Time book to come out to come out.
Then the gentlemen had the
unfortunate happenstance to pass away. Which was really ripping the needle off
the record player, and then fortunately Brandon Sanderson did a masterful job
of finishing it up. I told you that story, so I could tell you another one.
The point of that was that
the wizardry, the sorcery, called Channeling was a direct tap into the power
that drove the universe. It was scientific, almost, you had the male side, and
the female side and they were admissible, but worked together and against each
other in a very yin-yang or in Korean Um-Yang. And there was a Creator and there
was a Dark One and they were outside of creation. That was the point. They had
minions and stuff, but it would be like, in your world, it would be if the gods
of this pantheon (let’s say they do exist), but if they ever face down the gods
of this other pantheon, all of this local creation comes to an end . . . and
that doesn’t serve their purpose.
So there has to be a proxy
fight so you have the humans and all that stuff, and it’s like this infinite
series of chess boards.
James: Yeah.
That’s what I like to imagine. Maybe all of these gods are real, all of them exist,
or none of them do. I think that makes it hard for people to wrap their heads
around.
But the real world
religion and theology is very hard, if you want to wrap your head around all of
it.
That’s the hope is to make
a rich world that feels real, but at the same time there is dragons flying
around, and there is this divine energy, and arcane energy and I think that
that’s key here in this specific problem. If some people think that priests get
there magic from one source and wizards get if from another, some people
believe it’s both…
Doug:…some
people believe it’s neither.
James:
Exactly.
Doug:
Something’s going on because the dude
just chucked fire at my face
. There are few things as visceral as fireball.
You can’t explain a fireball in the face with hypnotism or chicanery or whatever
in a fantasy setting.
James:
Right. How did this ball of bat guano and sulfur, which is the standard
material component, how did this become a huge explosion. The idea then would
be kids trying to combine those two things. “Can I make this explode like old
crazy grandpa?”
I think that that’s fun,
that’s part of where the fun is that thinking about “Okay, if this is a real
world situation and there were people who were able to shoot fireballs. How
would those people be treated?”
Doug: I have
to imagine respectfully.
James: Yes!
Respectfully, in some places feared, in some places with extreme caution. If
you go into your local tavern they demand you hand over your crossbow and sword
in a lot of places. So maybe they demand you hand over your spell component
pouch. You could blow up the whole bad. Stab another guy and then the guards
can come and break it up. But this guy is a liability to your entire business.
So it’s thinking about
things like that too, that we get to do as gamers. Think about the minutiae of
it. So I want to introduce a little bit of that as well and go beyond the
standard fantasy tropes. Find the spins. Find the details.
My boss often says that
when you’re writing a good script you should get your overall idea down and
then look at it again and have fun with the details. I think that’s where we
get to have our most fun as gamers. When you get to read a new setting or new
rulebook you’re never like “The overall feel of this is so…” you’re usually
after your friends and you’re like “Look at this one little paragraph here!
This is how I feel about this expressive of everything else.” So that’s what
I’m hoping. I’m hoping people have fun.
We just did a big post
that got more traction than any other post than I’ve done that is about
mind-controlling parasites that live in a swamp and feast upon citrus fruit
that is being exported all over the world. There are small green beetles crawl
up into your brain and latch onto your brain stem and control your body.
Doug: I
think that’s been done in Star Trek a couple of times.
James: Yeah.
The inspiration from it came it from the old Animorphs books that I read when I
was in 1st or 2nd grade [laughs].
They were books for little
kids about alien slugs that went into your brain and took control. But I
thought “Okay, so when you’re a little kid this is interesting. But how can I
make it terrifying?” Because, really what it would be would be terrifying if
that happened to you, and that’s what I tried to do, and hopefully it is scary.  And my adventurers whenever they met somebody
they will be second-guessing themselves if they see them with a bowl of citrus
fruit. “Oh no, what happened here?”
Doug: The
forbidden food group.
James:
Exactly. It’s a lot of fun and that’s really why we do this, right? It’s fun.
Doug: I do
want to return, this has been fun, I want to cover broadly. I am one of the
kings of tangents, because we started with it, and we talked about world
building and that’s good, and we got a couple of plugs for you podcast, which
is also good.
But I also do want to talk
a little bit about the next edition, the 5th edition of Dungeons and
Dragons. Having looked over it, a little bit, you sent me the playtest packet
and it was public and that’s cool, and I looked through it.
It is very clearly and
recognizably D&D. It does not feel to me, as someone who’s dabbled over the
course of 1980 to now – over the course of about 35 years of roleplaying. I
started with Dungeons & Dragons. I can recognize it, I see the d20, I see
the hit points, I see the hit dice, you have attacks, you don’t have defenses.
Armor Class is still recognizably present. You still have spell lists
So it seems to me, as
someone who makes his gaming living in a system that is designing around
tinkering: You can use this set of rules, you can use the basic grappling rules
or the Technical Grappling rules? Are you going to use the rules from martial
arts or the ones in the basic set. Are you going to use ritual path magic or
one of the different magical styles from Thaumatology or the Basic book or the
entirely cool Divine Favor rules?
Which is if you’re into GURPS
and you’re looking at it and you want your priests and clerics to have
something that feels very different from spell casting, Divine Favor is your
drink. It’s really neat. So instead of casting spells, what you have is a prayer.
You have…two rolls. One is a reaction roll, can you get your deity’ attention
and does he feel well disposed to you on what you’re asking.
James:
That’s awesome.
Doug: You
can ask for whatever you want, but you usually define it in the framework of
power, but it’s basically like “I’m going to make the prayer and if I
successfully contact my patron/power source, how well disposed is he?”
I might say that the
specific prayer would be “Me and my party I want to be teleported away from
this battle or whatever.” Or it might just be “THOR HELP ME!!!” [whiny voice].
But if you get a really
good reaction the GM is encouraged to improvise wildly about what happens.
John: That’s the best.
Doug:  It’s really very flexible and it feels very
different than “I cast a 3d[6] Fireball spell,” which is a very 9mm kind of
effect, right? Casting a fireball spell in regular GURPS magic is almost
identical to cocking, point, and firing a .45 ACP. It’s really: I mean you cast
the spell, you throw the spell, and if it hits, it hits you for however many
dice of damage. And if it’s an explosive fireball it bursts and if it’s not
it’s not. It’s a very “defined contribution” plan, you spend however many
fatigue points and if it’s successive “Boom! Your Dead” whereas in Divine Favor
it’s more like “I call upon the power of…oh yeah, you’re right I forgot to pray
. . . yeah, you know, that thing with the bar wench. Alright. Fine. Here’s a
sword because I forgot to pray.”
Or I asked Thor to help me
out and all of a sudden Mjolnir showed up or he can show up and he can just
show up and kicked people’s ass, right? It really depends on how well your
reaction roll is and what’s happening at the time.
So all the pieces of
D&D 5th edition feel like D&D to me, and yet from listening
to the podcast I know that there is great umbrage being taken with some of the
choices. And I happened by a blog post talking about a rule that I guess has
disappeared: Damage on a miss. Which apparently has come and gone.
So I guess what I would
ask is: tell me a couple of things that are like “Yes, this is D&D, and it always
will be D&D, and it hasn’t changed. Tell me the top three things that have
changed for the better, and what three things are going to happen to make
people hate it.
James: Sure.
Absolutely. So as far as new goes, when they did the playtest, one of the goals
for this edition was they wanted it to feel like D&D so the word iconic was
a big buzzword around it and they didn’t want to stray too far. Which I think
sometimes happens to their detriment.  
Which might be too weird to
make a classless system or something like that.
But because of these rules
modules, there are a lot of modules we haven’t seen yet. But they’ve talked
about crafts like a classless system and that kind of thing. I think if the
modules, if they deliver on this, they are going to be a huge strength of the
system. I’m really excited to see it.
They have a couple of
healing modules, so you can dial into…it’s as good as whenever you sleep all of
your bad conditions are gone. Just like resting in a video game. Or you can
dial it back to way gritty where there is a wound system and things like that.
I think those modules are
a huge strength of the system which D&D has always kind of had and it’s
come out in supplements, but they seem to really be pushing it with this
edition.
They have a new mechanic
that really speeds up gameplay at the table. The advantaged/disadvantaged
mechanic. In previous editions you got some sort of mathematical bonus usually:
if you were attacking someone who was prone, or you were flanking, or they were
paralyzed with poison whatever the reason is you would get these bonuses that might
stack up, but then of they are behind cover so you need to subtract and…
So to speed up play
they’ve introduced this mechanic which is if you have advantage you roll two die
and you take the higher result, if you have disadvantage you take two die and
take the lower result. It really has sped up play, in the sense that you’re not
trying to constantly figure out…there is always the classic “Oh, I forgot this
guy. He’s blind in one eye.” Three turns after the fact, would 31 have hit as
opposed to a 30? It’s really sped up play and really canceled things out and
from the playtest feedback a lot of other people have liked it as well.
Doug:
Interesting. I did the math: it’s equivalent to a ±4, I think.
James: Yeah.
Exactly. I actually posted up a chart on my blog that one of my players named
Andrew Timis made and it’s like …
Doug:
Probability distributions?
James: Yeah,
the probability curve that happens.
Doug: The
histogram, yep.
James: Yeah,
and that’s really interesting to see because it is at some points, depending on
what you need it’s equivalent to a +4 on average, but sometimes if you need to
roll really high it’s only equivalent to a +1.
I really like that
mechanic too and I think people are going to like that. And I think overall
people are going to enjoy the speed of combat, it’s really great.
I can already tell you
that at the table the lethality is one thing that’s making my players a little
unhappy and I also think that they’re going to need to provide an alternative
to Vancian spellcasting which is I know is a big stable of D&D. It really
wasn’t in existence in 4th edition. It’s also one of the things that
since I began playing for me personally it never really made a lot of sense.,
And I like that they have
at-will spells. They finally have a system where your wizard doesn’t run out of
spells after the first battle and is sitting in the back using a crossbow that
he can’t fire at first level like that. That was on big frustration.
I know a lot of people
like the Vancian casting system, but for me I definitely want to see an
alternative to that. I’m hoping there is a rules module for that, but I think
they’re going to turn off a lot of 4th edition players if they don’t
have that kind of option.
Another thing is in 4th
edition, the martial characters, your fighter, your rogue, had a lot of really
great options. They didn’t feel like they were just swinging a sword or
shooting a bow and D&D was not a system that really provided a lot of
options beyond that. You could try a grapple or a disarm occasionally, but if
you’re fighting an ogre who is bigger than you and using his bare hands there
is nothing to disarm and that grapple is not going to go well for you.
They have some
alternatives, I think I’d like to see a few more alternatives for martial
characters than are currently in the last playtest packet because I think
that’s where you’re going to lose people. A couple of your options for combat
and with that Vancian casting system really.
Those are the things…and
the lethality, that’s always sort of up to the DM. You can dial that up or turn
that down as needed.
Save or die is back, which
I think is great used sparingly. I don’t think a save or die monster needs to
show up every session. But it is great for that occasional fight when the save
or die monsters are in there. That’s great. Everybody’s adrenaline is up
because they know that gaze attack is coming and they got to be careful.
So those would be the
things I’m calling out specifically good and specifically bad.
Rules modules I think can
fix a lot of those problems so let’s see some rules modules for those.
Doug: It’s
funny though…the thing where I like . . . I’ll pick on Pathfinder because it’s
the thing I’m most familiar with in the D&D world. By the time, you get to
whatever level – high – ten, fifteen, twenty: Yes, you’re a superhero, but you
have this trail of feats or spells or whatever that if you inflicted that on a
player at level one there would be one word that would be used to describe it
which would be “GURPS-like.”
[both laugh] Because the
knock against GURPS and it’s fair, even Sean Punch, the line editor says yes,
the complexity is front-loaded.
Where I think that
Dungeons and Dragons, the OSR, or level one Pathfinder do right is “Here’s an
archetype, you’re going to play that archetype,” this is your chance to get you
to the rules because at level one . . . I had an old game where my friend Carl
Hinman was game mastering and my other friend Ken Capelli (who went on to
design videogames for Accolade, and now is doing other things). Ken was playing
the 1st level Cleric and in old D&D I think clerics did not have
a first level spell.
So we’re going around the
table, hold on, I got to find a black pen that actually writes. Naw, that does
not work, let me find a marker.
And it was every time . .
. it was one combat after another, every time poor Ken’s time would come around
he would like [holds up paper pad] with this sign that said “Hit him with my
mace,” because that was the only thing that he could do. There was nothing
clever or nothing whatever, yes, of course, I hit him with my mace.
Now, in a way that’s
boring, but I did notice that the number of experience points that you need to
get from 1st to 2nd level in 5th edition is
like 3 – it’s tiny. Getting out of the cellar so to speak seems to happen very
quickly. Which is probably a good thing.
To at least get a few more
options, but the nice thing about that first level character is that it denies
the opportunity for the complexity to be front-loaded. You’ve got one or two
spells, maybe a couple of cantrips – I do my homework – maybe a couple of
cantrips, I can hit them with a sword and maybe there are a couple of combat
options that anybody can do.
I don’t know if fighting
defensively or offensively or whatever.
But it’s not like “Oh!
WHAM! He’s the GURPS Martial Arts book,” and in order to make not owning that
– what they tried to avoid in 4th edition GURPS is that when the
Martial Arts book came out in 3rd edition [GURPS], if you didn’t
have the book and you had a character who wasn’t designed with the book it was
significantly disadvantaged to a character who did have the book.
Because there were things
you could do, but they cost you points. So if you had a character and a martial
arts character with all this rules stuff where you can bend the rules, break
the rules, or alter the rules and you had the “hit him with my mace” on the
other side.
What 4th
edition [GURPS] said is everybody can do almost everything. So if you’re
a Karate guy you can punch, strike, kick somebody in the nuts, you can do a
jump spin kick or whatever. Everybody can do everything for zero points, but
here are the penalties. And good martial artists buy off those penalties.
So anybody can do a jump
spinning kick it’s just a -6 or something like that. People who are in Hwa Rang
Do we do jump-spin everything. We do jump-spin sit down and have dinner. We do
jump-spin everything, it’s just part of what we do, a lot of spinning. So you
buy off that technique and all of a sudden you can spin kick at full skill
while somebody has to accept the penalties. Lots of choices.
The nice thing about the
D&D paradigm is that the complexity grows with your experience with the
game. Is that still basically present?
James: Yes,
it is. In fact what you said about first level is true. First, second, and
third level are being referred to as “apprentice tier.”
So you don’t even get
like…you used to be that you would get all of your base class abilities dumped
in at first level and now they’re spread out across those first three levels.
So really experienced role-players could start at 3rd level in
D&D and it’s only supposed to take you one session to level up from one to
two and two to three so that does exist. Really there is not a lot of
difference, though.
The trade off is, in GURPS,
two “first level” thieves can be completely different. Where that’s not really
the case for D&D mechanically, your two first level rogues are not going to
be all that different from one another. By the time you get to 3rd
level there is a little diversity and that continues to branch out.
But essentially your
choice of weapon maybe or your choice of a few spells and your race make a big
difference and then the rest is all going to have to be role-played as far as
what makes your character truly unique at those levels. But yeah, complexity
definitely scales up as it always has.
Doug: So
Pathfinder had, I’ll have to remember, twenty or thirty individual skills. GURPS
of course has several hundred. But Pathfinder had a very – it was pared down –
but you could do a lot of stuff with skills in Pathfinder, especially if you
were the rogue class, which is basically the “skill class.” [James laughs] Has
that been retained? Or are there ten core skills or a hundred or five or six
different skills, but each class has its own skill, how did they break that
out?
James: Yeah,
they did break that out. So the big thing in this is they want skills to be
optional because there are people who believe that skills were introduced in 3rd
edition and it shouldn’t be part of the Dungeons & Dragons experience. So
at base, your ability scores and their modifiers are sort of the things that
you latch onto. So you have ability rolls that are the standard base for
everything.
Doug: Those
are your proxy for skills.
James:
Dungeons & Dragons has what’s called, this new edition has what’s called a
bounded accuracy system. You don’t get…by the time…the difference between a
first level character and a twentieth level character in their bonus to hit
something is probably not going to be in what it would be in previous editions.
This is something else
that I think is really great. You actually get better. It used to be you had a
table so if you’re thirtieth level, the DC to pick a lock is 45, like a hard
lock, because you’re have to make it a astral crazy diabolical lock that people
are picking.
Whereas now what they are
saying is at twentieth level should be better at picking locks and your chance to
succeed should be greater. It shouldn’t be that the difficulty is scaling with
you. So that’s interesting.
So skills…the idea of
skills comes in again as this optional system that I think most people are
going to play with and they give you bonuses to those ability checks like they
had in previous editions and Pathfinder.
There is a core list of
[he counts] eighteen skills that I think is one more than it was in 4th
and certainly les than it was in 3rd edition which more resembled
the Pathfinder skill list. So you also have, you add what’s called your
Proficiency, so a slow-scaling bonus. But you’re also Proficient in various
pieces of equipment that aren’t skills. You’re Proficient on mounts so anytime
you’re on a horse and trying to pull off something fancy with a horse, you make
ability roll and if you’re Proficient in mounts you add your Proficiency bonus.
Any time you’re using thieves tools, so like Pick Lock isn’t a skill anymore,
but if you’re using thieves tools you add your proficiency bonus to pick a
lock, use a disguise kit, or something like that.
Doug: And if
you’re not Proficient then you’re disadvantaged as I recall so you have to roll
twice and take the lowest.
James:
Exactly. What it does is it allows…because you’re DCs in previous editions of
D&D were set with the assumption that if you’re going to attempt to do this
it’s because you’re trained in this skill.
It no longer assumes that.
It assumes you have an ability bonus. So that means a wizard can actually try
to climb a cliff now. It means that the fear is gone of the “Oh, I’m not
trained in this so I’m not going to even try.”
And that’s one of the
things that’s great about this Bounded Accuracy System and the way they’ve set
up skills.
The other thing that’s
really cool is so your class can grant you some skills, but your skills are
also tied to your background. So at first level, you either pick or create a
background and that’s where you get your proficiencies and stuff.
You could have a druid who
before they were a druid made their life as a scholar so they have all these
crazy lore like Urban and Arcana lore bonuses that they get because that was their
background.
It’s nice to see D&D
doing a little bit on that. Focusing on those story aspects because then you
can have a guy who was a wizard, but he was a spy for the army so he’s great at
disguise or diplomacy and bluff. I think that that’s going to be one of the
more fun things and that’s going to be a way at 1st level you can
have that sort of customization and make your character different.
Doug: So
just to repeat that was at 1st level you can make the customization
of the character different? I got a little bit of reverb there.
James: Oh,
sorry. Yes. [Doug sneezes] So at 1st level, we were talking about
mechanically they’re the same, but that’s not necessarily true With this
background system you could take the spy background or take the charlatan
background, they’re a little different.
And you can build your own
which is really great. There are already guidelines out there for how to build
you on. So that’s fun. I’ve had people already come to me and [say] “This is my
background! I’m human who was raised by elves and this is the background that I
want to have.” So, it’s cool.
Doug: One of
the knocks I’ve seen occasionally thrown at Pathfinder is you really kind of
had to map out your feat progression from 1st to 20th
level and hope your character doesn’t get killed before you can execute on that
plan and get maximally awesome. There was also a case, I think, (again I’m not
a Pathfinder expert. There were also cases where you could kind of be stupid
about your feat selection and really get some non-optimal series of picks which
might be fun, but another character who chose to be optimal would wipe the
floor with you. Has that been toned down in the latest edition, first of all is
that a) accurate assessment and b) is that some easier to tone down in the next
edition.
James:
Absolutely. And it’s certainly not just Pathfinder – that’s been true of all
sort of things based on the d20 system it seems like. 4E that was true…
I think yes that that has
been as far as the playtest package suggests I do think that and I’m sure there
are people who would disagree with me, but I do think a lot of that has been
taken care of…I think Wizards had a particular eye towards that and that was
one of the goals on the open playtest was to see like, “Okay, what can people
exploit that we’re not thinking about because we’re not necessarily designing
the game with that in mind.”
Looking at every single
feat . . . and one of the ways that they’ve done that is, feats are optional.
They are a optional part of the game and you get them less often than you have
and you have to give up…so you can either take every four levels, a character
can take a +2 to bonus to a ability or a +1 bonus to two ability scores or they
can take a feat.
As a result your feats are
way better because they need to be equivalent to that. So your feats do things
like “Whenever you wear heavy armor you get damage resistance against piercing,
bludgeoning, and slashing damage.” What would have been four archery feats in
past editions is one feat now.
Doug: I
remember seeing that as Master Archer or something like that. Took all the things
that a really cool archer ought to be able to do and said “Bam! Here you go.”

James: Yeah!
So I think they’ve taken that out in that “you get it all” with that feat now.
If you want to do that you’re giving up the +2 to Strength in an attribute
based game could also be really helpful.
One other thing they’ve
done to encourage people to take feats is all your abilities cap at 20, so you
can’t exceed that. You can with magic – finding a magic item or that kind of
thing – your base physical ability score can’t exceed 20.
So if you’re a fighter and
you get your Strength up to 20 pretty quickly – maybe 8th or 12th
level – you do start to take those feats because they’re more interesting than
boosting your Charisma if you want to. Or maybe you are going to boost your
Charisma because there is still a benefit to that too if you’re a fighter.
Doug:
That’s…oh, go ahead, sorry.
James: Oh,
not I was just going to say it boosts Saving Throws and some Defenses.
Doug: I
actually brought it up on my screen so I can pronounce his name right. Gerard
Tasistro [spelling?] at Saurondor, he writes a blog and he talks about…he’s
working on a modern game using the d20 resolution. He’s got a some really neat
articles on guns and bows and arrows type stuff using a d20 resolution.
One of the things that we
got into a little bit on my blog when I was going through the Pathfinder
core-rules and I made it through chapter 11 before I got distracted. It’s a 600
page rulebook so there was a lot to go through and I was going through every
section, I got to magic and lost my steam because after 110 pages of spells my
eyes glazed over.
The point is that Pathfinder
characters especially seem to be mostly one or two attribute dependent. If you
were a fighter you cared about Strength and you wanted your Strength to be
between 20 and 30 and between your natural attributes and your class and your
magic items and your gauntlets of strength, bracers of strength, and your
braces of strength, and your earring of strength you could get like a +15 bonus
to hit and to do damage with a melee weapon and the assumption that that’s what
you were going to do was built into the rules.
One of the things that we
were flirting with in this house ruling party that we were having was to say
all to-hit bonuses or ranged weapons or melee or whatever were Dexterity. All
damage bonuses are based on Strength including for a bow. Because if you’re a
big freaking guy you can pull a big heavy bow and do more damage.
Then you’d have fatigue…you
could only swing a sword so many rounds without taking a break unless your
Constitution was a particular bonus level or whatever. Which was sort of
hearkening around an article that I wrote for GURPS called The Last Gasp which was…I’ll get into
that later or maybe I won’t.  
It’s not important, but
the thing was when someone came back to me and said “You need to stop this
crazy talk because to have this where you have three or four or five attributes
that matter out of six is a bad thing because of the way that the game was structured.”
But I always thought there
would be no such thing as a dump-stat if you took that 6 in Charisma. It was going to matter. It wasn’t “Oh, I’m
a fighter so I don’t care how bad my Charisma is”
It means no one wants to
heal you, you don’t get any followers, you get bad prices at the whorehouse or
whatever so it all comes back to that. That would be a great example…sorry,
that’s not a great example, but what I’m going to is a great example – I get
myself in real trouble – a fighter
with a lousy Charisma has to pay more for all his gear . . . because he’s a
asshole.
James: Isn’t
that the way the real world works too? If you walked around and treated
everybody terribly and you were big, dumb, ass and you were mean . . . people
wouldn’t like you and there would be consequences to that and I like to see
that in a game.
You still have your
dump-stats certainly in this edition, but I think that one of the things that
you touched on is it assumes you have all your magic items – this game the
math…because of that bounded accuracy system in combat as well, doesn’t assume
that. So if you find a +1 sword, that +1 sword is still going to be just as
good for you at 20th level as it was when you found it at third
And that’s really cool
because it also means finding magic items is more special. As a DM, you don’t
have to constantly give them out to make the math in the game work. You can
give them out whenever you feel like. “Ah, this is an appropriate time for
someone to get something” and it feels more special and they cherish that item
instead of “Oh, this is my +2 sword, when am I going to get my +3.”
Doug: When
do I get my next piece?
I did a…it’s funny…let me
see if I can find it really quick. I was writing about something, and I was
using Pathfinder as an example. “Fighting People Better Than You” there it was.
We do this thing on my
blog, and I started it and then a bunch of others got into it. We do two
things. One is called Melee Academy and the other is called GURPS
101. Melee Academy is a series of posts, front-loaded right? So Melee Academy
was something . . .
So that one was…I’m
surprised you saw. So that was the thing if you look at the iconic…I was saying
“oh he’s a example of a Pathfinder character or whatever.” I was like “I want
to make a good example.” Cause I had a 6th level rogue and his name
was Pel and he was a pretty good archer and that was all cool, but I was making
examples, but I was like “I’m not really good at this so can someone provide me
with a Pathfinder character.”
As it turns out, on the
SRD they have the iconic characters at multiple levels, so you can click on
Valeros the 12th level iconic fighter, and I’m looking at this thing
and I’m going “I am utterly incompetent at designing Pathfinder characters,”
because this guy has a +6 this and +5 that the amount of stuff that went into
it.
Or Merisiel the 7th
level iconic rogue, which was just one level more, would just wipe the floor
with my guy because we didn’t have enough magic items or the right kind of
design or feat structure.
You really had to know
what you were doing. And the difference between a high level character and a low
level character was…the ultimate capability if you were a 5th level
fighter and going up against a 10th or 15th level fighter
you were just deader than hell.
There is nothing that you
can do because your hit points are lower than his, it doesn’t matter how many
criticals you get, his typical stuff is just going to cut you in two.
Whereas in GURPS
you can get lucky, if you get behind someone who is really awesome and they
don’t have something that gives them vision in the back you can totally crit
their brain with an All-Out Telegraphic Attack [James laughs] and they’re just
dead. If you can punch through the armor or whatever.
That was always the
difference. It sounds like the…
So what would happen if a
5th level fighter fought a 10th level fighter in this
next version of D&D, how one-side is it? Or how far apart do the levels
have to get before it’s really just a one-sided beat down.
James: I
would say that probably…it’s probably closer to the Pathfinder example that
you’ve described. I don’t know if it’s a big as difference as one level to one.
But I would say that if you’re three or more levels above another character you
could probably easily take them out
However, I do think that
if that character…if the lower level character is a magic-user, because there
is a variety of spells that are back, you can probably play certain things to
your advantage.
And I also think that
they…one of the things they’ve done well is that a dragon…if there is a army of 1st level guys they
stand a chance against a dragon and in previous editions it was like “These 1st
level guys will never pierce the dragon’s armor class. They will never get
through his damage resistance, and he’s got a breath weapon that can kill all
of them at once.”
Doug: Fifty
of them at once, right, yeah.
James: That
is one of the interesting things that they’ve done. One of the things you might
face in a lower-level is something like a big monster attacking a town and you
need to rally all the townspeople to help you defeat this thing.
Doug: And there
is a point to that.
James:
Exactly. It will mechanically make a difference in your battle.
Doug:
Instead of getting together 15 chew toys to distract the big beast.
James:
Right. We need meat shields for when we run away. Yeah, and I would like to
see…I love that example you gave in getting lucky in GURPS and planning
something out.
Doug: Make
your own luck.
James:
Exactly. So if you can have like an A-Team style planning montage, you can go
up against a force greater than yourself. That’s what all fantasy is about,
right?
So I would like to see
that aspect come into it. I think, again with the right magic spells and
everything you can probably pull that off.
Doug: And
that’s probably true if you can’t get behind a really good…it’s true and it’s
not true.
The one thing that GURPS
has is the critical hit which bypasses all defense rolls.
The flip side of that is a
really good cinematic fighter should have one or more advantages of Luck which
allow you to reroll. So if I roll a critical hit, if I’m a 150-point schleb a
500-point experienced Dungeon Fantasy character, if I swing my sword at you and
I roll a 4 it’s a critical hit and it’s going to bypass you…you get no active
defense. You may have awesome armor that I may not be able to penetrate
through, but the GURPS damage model is, armor subtracts directly from points of damage.
James: Oh,
wow.
Doug: You
have to defend too. I think the Fantasy Trip had it. You rolled to attack and
rolled to defend.
Fantasy Trip is a lineal
descent of GURPS. Steve Jackson, it was the whole lineage thing.
But if you bypass defense
you got the armor. And if the guys like 
[affects a deep voice] “Yes, I’m a mighty fighter, I don’t need armor.”
His skin is every bit as vulnerable to a broadsword as yours is. So you can get
lucky, and you have to watch the critical hits and stuff.
So let me give you a parting
shot. What do you want people to know or anticipate about the Next edition of
Dungeons and Dragons that you feel like, because your view in the playtest or
people who haven’t done it. Or because of your interactions and whatever with
people who have been actively debating this.
What point do you want to
leave people with for the next edition of Dungeons and Dragons?
James: So
the point I want to leave people with is come try it out.
If you’ve been away for a
while I would come, give this one a shot, but do not change whatever you’re
game of choice is. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m not saying “Oh, this is
better.”
This is a different
experience, that it’s going to remind you certainly of old dungeons and
dragons, and you’re going to have a great time at the table with this one. Because
it is flexible and there are a lot of really great mechanics that are coming
out with it and building a character with it is super-fun [laughs].
Come check it out, check
out the background system, I guess my big plea would be that if you don’t like it
play your other game of choice, but let’s just stop the edition wars. Because they’re
done. There is plenty of information 
available, go play it, have a good time, that would be what I say.
Doug: All
right, very good, thank you for joining me this evening and thank you for your
time.
James: Thank
you, Doug. I really, really appreciate it.
Doug: I’m
sure that when you get closer and closer to having Exploration Age either get
into a beta for playtest or whatever you can come talk about it and see what
interest we can scare up.
James: Thank
you very much, that would be great. Check me out [points to his blog link].
You’re already checking out Gaming Ballistic but it’s awesome.
Doug: Thanks
a lot.
James:
Thanks, Doug.

March 2014’s RPG Blog Carnival is focusing on Virtual TableTops and Online Gaming. I invited VTT creators to chat with me briefly about the state of VTTs, and what’s the future of online RPGs.

This evening I sat down for a brief chat with +Benjamin Loomes, lead developer of Syrinscape, a program that enables playing thematic background sounds and music to enhance the tabletop roleplaying experience. We spoke for a bit less than an hour, and he gave me a pretty detailed walk-through of the program. We spoke about Pathfinder-native content, as well as more generic sounds.


In any case, here’s the interview!
Text Transcript
Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic): Good evening and welcome to Gaming Ballistic’s Firing
Squad. This evening we welcome Benjamin Loomes – who is from Syrinscape – which
was designed to create background sound and music for in-person tabletop
gaming.
That being said, this is
part of a continuing series of interviews for the March Roleplaying Game Blog
Association Blog Carnival. Whose topic is virtual tabletops, online gaming, or
computer enhanced role-playing.
So Benjamin thanks for
joining us this evening.
Benjamin Loomes (Syrinscape Creator): It’s a pleasure. It’s fun. It’s the middle of the day
in sunny Sydney here.
Doug: And
coming on 10 o’clock PM here in Minnesota, where it freaking snowed again here
today! Come on, really?! This is just uncalled for, even for Minnesota.
So just broadly, before we
get deeply into Syrinscape, talk a little bit about how you got into
role-playing. Clearly your interest in music stuff for the game comes from love
of the game.
What got you into
role-playing and what current games do you play?

Benjamin:
Yes. Cool. So in about 1980 or something – it must have been a bit later than
that – when I was about 10, yeah it must have been later than that. It’s back
in the distant past.
I was 10 years old on a
camping holiday on Smith’s lake, which is above Sydney, and my parents gave me
the red box, the original red box, with the crayon that colored in the numbers
on the dice (and you wiped it off).  And
you went on a little self adventure with the cleric, who you got friends with,
and she healed you, and she died and all that stuff.
So I read that red box and
it totally blew my mind. I just really fell in love with the whole fantasy
genre obviously. I read lots of stuff, I read lord of the rings when I was
young. I’m still a bit of a sci-fi and fantasy tragic: Star Trek or Lord of the
Rings or Star Wars obviously, anything, just give it to me!
So I started playing when
I was about ten, I played as teenager, not a lot of incredibly immerse
role-playing when I was a teenager, lots of dice rolling and collecting massive
amounts of gold pieces off dragons and stuff.
And then I probably took a
bit of a break from role-playing while life took over, and Uni and all that
stuff. Maybe from 16 or 17.
Late 20s I got back into
it, just when 3.5 starting coming out – which is really great, and I fell in
love with that.
Since then we built up my
gaming group with a bunch of really creative people. I’m a composer and
classical singer and musician, so I’m surrounded by actors and directors and
writers – so we got a fantastic gaming group.
Now we play incredibly
emotional and story-driven epic role-playing games, whether it be Star Wars or
Pathfinder – we play lots of Pathfinder – Call of Cthulhu, all that stuff.
Amazing activity.
I love role-playing
because of the social aspects, sitting around the table, looking at each other,
laughing at each other, being stupid, telling those big epic stories.
Does that answer your
question?
Doug: It
does.
It’s funny you mention. .
. I had forgotten about the crayon – because I have a similar role-playing
history to you. I started with Dungeons and Dragons, actually, technically it
was probably Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, because I played with a friend.
Again, it was 1980 or 1981,
I was ten, I asked for it for Christmas. I think my parents got me the red box
and the blue box, the basic and expert set.
I remember sitting down
with my father, the one time he ever
played. “Here’s all the characters you can do and you got this. . . ” and he
goes “I want to be elf.” And I didn’t know that he was fairly voracious
consumer of the Tolkien books. I think that they got thrown away, but I had a really early edition of Hobbit and Lord
of the Rings paperback. Probably you know one of the first couple with the very
odd sketchy cover that was really interesting.
Benjamin:
From what I read I remember a brownie cover which was very cool.
Doug: yes.
Exactly. So I played and whatever, but it sounds like you got a interesting
game going.
I also heard of this thing
called “The Dicestormers” to bring role-playing games to anyone who wants to
watch. Tell me a little bit about Dicestormers.
Benjamin:
Yeah, so about 18 months ago, our gaming group – who are pretty much stagey
people whether we are salesmen or composers or directors or whatever. We just
grabbed a couple of cameras for a lark and filmed our games.
The first one we filmed was
Star Wars d6 and put it up on YouTube. It just got heaps of views, and then
straight away they started commenting and demanding more content.
And we’ve just stick the
cameras up whenever we play now, we got more cool stuff, we have four cameras
generally and a really good audio recorder, and we edit the games after.
I have a fantastic set up
at home where I have a projector that projects – a normal theater projector –
but we stick a mirror up on the roof, and it bounces the maps back on the
table. And we’ve now got 3D maps, because we have little white blocks built up
on the table, because it actually projects the cover on the top of this 3D
terrain.
Doug: Oh,
wow.
Benjamin:
And yes, we’ve been videoing. . . and it’s just gone bananas there are so many
people watching, there is about 10x people watching as minutes that go past.
For every minute that goes past this interview, 10 people are watching a minute’s
worth of video.
And we’re getting about
30,000 views a month now, and what’s fantastic about the game community is real
connectedness right across the world, people are always commenting on a videos,
and encouraging us, and picking up rules violations, and asking for more stuff.
This incredible community
has grown around us. Dicestormers, all one word if you search on YouTube, you
can’t miss us.
We’re coming up really
high: if you search for Pathfinder RPG, I think we’re like the second hit from
the top or something.
As you said it’s. . . we
almost feel like you’re modeling one of the ways you can role-play. Quite
cinematic. Quite epic. Really storytelling focused. Lots of dice and all that
stuff. Lots of stuff happens, and lots big successes and epic fails.
I feel like a lot of young
players are looking at us and saying “Wow, I’m really learning from you. Which
is really cool, and quite humbling as well. It’s such an amazing hobby,
anything we can do to make it stronger and better is good for us.
Doug: I
agree. It’s not just good for the hobby, and the more people that play and more
immersive and – popular is the wrong word – but the more people play, the more
easier it’s going to be to have the market base to have innovation within it.
If there s enough market
out there so that someone can try something, and do well enough to encourage
them to try again, you can get enough failures to get the real successes out
there. You got to try stuff: very few people are going to walk into the first game
mastering experience – sometimes even their first roleplaying experience – and
are going to go “I am a natural game master and everything I do is soaked in
awesome, all the time.”
[Benjamin laughs] You have
to have the epic fail out there as the game master, where you have six people out
there looking at you like this [mimes disbelieving look]. “What just happened?
You really want us to do that? No?”
Benjamin: We
get those on our channel, people get to see us making actual genuine mistakes.
There is a classic moment
in one of our games recently – where we actually played four games in a row on
the international tabletop roleplaying game day theme and I was GMing at like 12:30 am in the middle of the night – and
I had this remorhaz miniature, and I was like “You come over the hill, and
there’s a remorhaz there . . . and it attacks you.”
And I’m like “Oh, that
wasn’t very a. . . maybe it wasn’t there . . . can I take it off the table?”
Everyone was laughing and
laughing, it was the worst set-up for a non-dramatic battle that you could have
possibly have wanted.
So people get to see us
play, warts and all which is really cool as well.
Doug: Tell
me a little bit about. . . so you’ve got your projector, and you flash it up,
and you got this really cool set up, and that’s neat for a face to face game – but
to what extent do you use computer aids to enhance your tabletop games?
Obviously, you’re
broadcasting over the Internet, so there is something going around there with
computers – even if it’s just a proxy for a pair of eyeballs, or a audience.
What. . . do you think
that’s going to be core to the future gaming experience or do you think it’s just
kind of temporary?
Benjamin: I
think. . . apart from Syrinscape, which we’ll talk about, with the whole audio
thing which is totally computer-based.
For me, sitting at the
table, the ability to search rules and . . .  let’s go back a step actually.
In preparation I’m using a
computer lots. I’m brewing up an individual description of a monster, or had a
template applied to it. I can print out individual sheets of all my counters
all ready to go from the computer. I can bring up a rule clarification really
really fast, and that makes a big difference.
One of the things that filming
our games for the public has done is those dead spots, flat spots. I’ll look
through the book a while, and try and find the rule – no one is going to want
to watch that. The ability to do text searches on games is really fantastic,
and that’s totally computer-based, Internet-based.
The sharing of ideas
across a social media community helps us. People are pushing for what they
think might be cool, or they’re suggesting things, and it’s actually – our
gaming group has become a worldwide interaction, with everyone out there
contributing in their own way, which is really cool, and that’s totally
dependent on computers as well.
Doug: More
broadly, what do you think that that means for the roleplaying game industry –
the content creators, the marketing, or dice manufacturers? I don’t know.
Whatever.
As far as an industry, you
got the game guys, but do you think there is a lot of room for a healthy cloud
– to use an overused word – or peripheral support pieces, as a part of the
gaming industry?
Benjamin:
From the very top, for a starter, it was Paizo who really got into the whole
beta test online, actually directly starting a conversation with users, rather
than delivering what the user was supposed to like, and it would be the next
thing for them to take.
Paizo really asked the
users, and extended beta test on that Pathfinder game, and developed a
community around themselves – and they basically do that every time they
release a book. They’re not just doing a pretend beta test – it certainly
appears genuine, and the ideas of the users and the community get incorporated
into their new books.
Then going to the actual
question, the thing with PDF you can publish a book or gaming content
incredibly cheaply. I’ve bought and paid for cards, printed out, of all the
monsters you can summon.
Which is fantastic,
because I barely used to summon things because it’s a pain in the butt.
Especially if you’re playing a celestial template, or augmented template, or
whatever, and I can support a tiny little publisher who went and set all of
that out correctly using the OGL – and I can give them money for the work
they’ve done.
Then you’ve got publishers
publishing physical gaming aids, like spell cards, which are fantastic, and I
used for a long time . . . plus you got apps. Most of my guys, now, when they
are casters, they got a little app on their phone that brings up all the spell
details.
Yeah, there is a whole big
set of companies that now can survive. From the very top ones, who are using
all those online things, and smaller and smaller companies who are able to do
it on a hobby basis to support it on the costs they got.
And I think that’s really
exciting and it gives us more great stuff to play with.
Doug: It
does seem a little bit that the key to that is some kind of – whether its open
gaming or a system resource dictionary – it’s some amount of content that’s out
there for anybody to use, reuse, repackage and make some money of off it in a
unique way, without bringing the holy wrath of Paizo or Wizards of the Coast,
or someone, down on them.
Benjamin: And
that was the genius of the d20 system and that whole open gaming license, which
just happened to be when I came back to gaming, and I think that’s lucky for me
and wonderful – and that’s what Paizo, obviously forced into the situation, had
to then develop a game within that system.
There is obviously a big
crossover from people who had the concept of the OGL originally, and those
people who were in Paizo when they lost the magazines and all that stuff, so
it’s a logical continuum for them, and a gaming industry philosophy for them.
But I think it really is
the way of the future, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens with D&D
Next. They’ve tried to do public trials of their rules and everything, and got
some big decisions from what they do then release-wise. That’ll be really
interesting to watch and how they sort of structure their business.
Doug: Yeah,
I was impressed. I’ve obviously been playtest leader for a couple of GURPS
books, and those playtests are like . . . my book was I think twelve people.
Tactical Shooting was twelve or fifteen. High-Tech was maybe a few more. I’ve
been participating in other Steve Jackson Games playtests where you got about a
dozen or maybe two dozen in the past playtests, but not many, and I guess that D&D
Next or 5th edition – which is “Dungeons and Dragons” I guess is
what they’ll call it – had a quarter million people or something like that.
I’d be very interested to
hear their impressions, afterwards, of the signal-to-noise ratio for a playtest
that was that broad.
Benjamin:
[laughs] Yeah. We say on our website that Syrinscape is developed as part of a
community, the only reason it exists is because people demanded it, and
demonstrated a desire for it to go from the next level as the little thing that
it was that I had – that was a homebrew kind of thing.
The market created its own
market research, and its own clear stats about how many people were probably
interested in using it, and that helped me get the funding and financial
backing to develop Syrinscape to the next level.
It really is a user-demanded
system, and because people are so engaged in this community, they will
criticize, or complain, or write, or encourage – especially encourage. I’ve
found 95% of incredibly positive, encouraging, thankful, and grateful comments.
Every single day I’m waking up to more people thanking me for making Syrinscape,
and what it does and what I’m adding to people’s table, and it basically
motivates.
Doug: I was
going to say that’s a perfect segue: what is Syrinscape? What’s it do, and why
would you write it?
Benjamin:
That’s right, as I said earlier, I’m a musician and composer, and I love
computer games with their big thundering scores, and all their roars and sounds
like that.
We all know that if you to
a movie and turn off the sound, then the noodle kind of drains out of the
noodle.
I’ve seen things where you
put different soundtracks behind the same footage, and you can completely
change the interpretation. Someone is cutting up carrots in the kitchen, and
there is nice happy music, then you think “It’s nice happy carrot cutting
music” or if you put a spooky sound behind you, the imagination immediately
paints this monster creeping up behind them, or stab them, or eat their ankles,
or something like that.
I was playing this tabletop
roleplaying game, sitting at the table, and there is no soundtrack at all,
obviously. And lots of people have done what I did, which was to start to use
computer game soundtracks that I was stealing, ripping off the games I own, or
using movie soundtracks.
And they’re pretty good,
but a lot of these soundtracks have really strong associations with particular
plot points, and I was finding the wrong music coming at the wrong time, or it
was evoking. . .  You can’t be putting on
Lord of the Rings soundtracks without being there in Hobbiton with the actual
hobbits. Are we Aragorn or are we something else?
Movie soundtracks are
written specifically, and they have rises and falls. That was working
reasonably well, so what I started doing was making 10 minute audio tracks,
which actually a lot of people are doing on Kickstarter now, where you got ten
minutes of environmental noise sort of going on, maybe with a wind loop behind
it or maybe a music track.
We found really quickly,
because you might spend an hour in a particular environment discussing the way
you’re going to skin the goblin you just killed, or whatever. You start to
notice patterns really quickly, and I was actually surprised, but if you get a
sort of [mimes bird and monster noises]. Once you’ve heard that five times in a
row you start to notice it and it starts to pull away from the table.
That’s what we are
designed to do. Human beings are designed to notice patterns. That’s really
important for our survival, and we’re really good at it.
So I sort of extended the
passages, and I was mixing them out on a sequencer, Q-bass, so I made them 20
minutes. But that becomes a lot of work, and then you still notice the patterns
pretty much.
So I started looking
around for something that would do generative sound playback of samples. There
were a few products, some of them written in the past, but a lot of them were
abandoned, or weren’t flexible enough, the sound was dodgy, a lot of them were
too dense.
You put in a wolf and it
pretty much goes “Woof! [pause] Woof! [pause] Woof!” and you’re like “Ah!
Stop.”
Not being able to find
anything else, I’d done a bit of programming in the past, and I found a
programming language that seemed appropriate, and programmed my dodgy, home
version that would do something like what it did.
So of course, because it
was an online world, and I lived in a community, I just shared it. And the
reaction was just amazing, and so strong, and people really really liked it.
I haven’t really explained
how it works. The reason why Syrinscape works well is, what it does . . . take an
element, okay. In fact, should I show you this on the actual interface?
Doug: Sure!
Go ahead. Yeah.
Benjamin: This
is Syrinscape in a bar fight, and I need to turn the volume up so I can hear
it..

A lot of the way this
works is that things are subtle: I’ll use this one, [the sound of breaking
glass can be heard].
What it will do, this
smashing glass element, will just play a sound every now and then, it picks up.
I’ve got a whole lot of samples in there of various different smashes, you need
kind of about 10 or 20 [laughs, more smashing noises], and as it plays back
it’ll actually pick up one of those sounds, it’ll pick up one of those sounds,
put it out in the 3D spectrum in surround sound, at a randomized distance that
I can set up, and it will play that sound.
That little element will
sit there playing, and you can turn on grunts and shouts as well, and it will
just sit there playing. All of these elements add up, eventually, to what you’d
have in a movie as sound design.
If there is a bar fight
going on: You might have someone whimpering under a table, you might have the
sound of people chatting, so that’s all the elements of the sound design. They
are all completely dynamic. All completely randomized, you’ll never hear the
same sound twice and it will just keep going and going and going.
Now you don’t have to turn
those on and set all those. So over here, on the second panel, are presets, and
it will set up this mixer where sliders are moving.
The music will start in a
certain place, and it will just play the fantastic sound of a bar fight in the
background, until you are satisfied.
On the right hand side
you’ve got one shot sounds, which sounds you can actually set off on a sound
board, like this sound [makes a dull thump], which are all punches sounds. Or
this one, which I like of course: The Wilhelm Scream, which every game
absolutely needs.
There are a lot of spells
here. But the main point of Syrinscape is. . . let’s say you’re in the
Witchwood . . . you just click that,
that’s all the clicking you have to do. Syrinscape will just slowly transition
though, and everyone can try this. It’s free to download and everyone can play
with the top two sound sets.
It’ll just sit there and
keep playing, and every now and then a distant roar or growl or whatever. It
won’t fill up the whole room with lots and lots of sounds, but just be really
really subtle.
So we’re about to have a
bugbear battle, so we click on the bugbear battle sound set. And then suddenly
we’re in a battle and the music will play, there we go, that’s a bit louder.
It’ll just sit there as well, you don’t have to do anything, you don’t have to
touch it. I really don’t want to take any attention away from the games or the
players.
Let’s say we’re in a
spaceship, we’re bringing out [space lasers and ships can be heard in the
background]. That’s cool. I don’t know how that’s coming through the speakers,
but it’s coming through over here.
Doug: It
sounds vaguely Star Wars-y.
Benjamin:
You can have thunderstorms, all sorts of stuff like that. Does that make sense?
Doug: It
does. It’s something where you’ll do a couple of presets, or pick some presets
that someone has done for you, and it creates some background ambiance to help
set the mood.
Benjamin:
That’s right. It just runs in the background, and is putting on that movie
soundtrack.
The music that you get,
which plays every now and then, and all the background wind, which is kind of a
continuous bed of sound, and also those individual events that occur every now
and again like distant roars, or wolf howls, or crash of thunder, or goblins in
the distance, smashing stuff up, or whatever you need.
So that’s it. That’s
Syrinscape, it’s available on PC, Mac, and Android tablets and iPads as well,
so people can try it out on all those devices.
Doug: That’s
pretty cool. So I was wondering, in terms of the overall theme of what we’re
talking about this month, do you see a web-based or client-based version of
this in the future?
Benjamin: So
yes, we built it in the unity engine – it can work in a whole lot of different
contexts, there is a web-browser version, we’ve had a lot of people telling us
lately that we should be integrating it with the online gaming systems, because
there are some solutions. . . Roll20 for instance you can play tracks off Soundcloud
and stuff like that.
They’ve sort of got a free
player kind of thing, with integration of premium content in their business
model. This is the same sort of thing.
You download the player
for free to run within a few games, and if you want to buy more stuff on top of
that, you can do that. Integration into one of these devices makes a lot of
sense in the future.
At the moment it is built
primarily for my tabletop game, but it makes absolute sense online. You have it
on a tablet and you can feed it through a mixer.
Doug: Sure.
It just seems like it would be almost a perfect – and we’re talking in Google
Hangouts on Air, and Roll20 integrates perfectly with Google Hangouts, and it
seems like this would be a fairly straight forward inclusion into a Hangout
environment.
Benjamin:
Yeah, definitely. That’s something we need to get on to.
What we’re working on at
the moment with Syrinscape is we’ve got the Fantasy player – all that content
is all set up and being built. At the moment we’re concentrating on getting our
Sci-Fi player out, which has some of those sounds that you heard there that I
played.
And we’re looking at
getting an editor, because in my original version of Syrinscape, everyone could
build their own stuff. It’s very important on getting the community involved,
and building stuff again in this version.
That’s. . . hopefully
we’ve got a beta of that in April. Once again, we can get that whole community.
. . they can build what they want, and be contributing, and they can make it
grow as a community.
Doug: Are
you going to publish a set of Syrinscape standards? Your noise level has to be
this. You have to have this clean.
I’m just trying to figure
out how you can make sure the sound quality. . . for example, you were talking
about. . . let me finish that sentence actually.
I have a tendency to go
from one thought to another, and it makes the transcriptions really odd.
You want to make sure that
the content that is being community provided is at least at certain standard of
quality, because otherwise – fair or not – Syrinscape gets the knock for not
providing an immersive environment because somebody is doing something with
sound effects and flushes the toilet in the background or something.
Do you envision some sort
of standards set?
Benjamin:
Yeah, totally, yeah. I think what we’ll do is we’ll greenlight.
The current concept is –
and this is open to discussion and argument amongst us – that we would probably
let you build anything you want, and that automatically syncs with your server
home online, and that means you can have it on all your devices when you log in
as you.
Then probably what we’ll
do is to be able to propose the addition of what they built to the community,
and then I think we would have people vetting them.
We also have copyright
concerns as well you know. We need to make sure people don’t just go in and . .
. people can use community commons sounds, as long as they credit them correctly
if there is an attribution license, and that’s so great to be able to pass on
that credit.
So as long as all the
sounds are edited, as you say, if the quality is good enough as you said. I
think that’s really important.
Doug: Yeah,
because otherwise I could see where:
“Doesn’t that sound a lot
like the Avengers soundtrack?”
“Yes. . . yes it does. Yes.
. . that’s going to be a problem.”
The safeguarding of IP in
digitally distributed world is difficult; especially . . . Some people don’t
get too exercised when a fifty billion dollar corporation has a song go public.
It’s a different story when having that song go public is one of 15 songs in an
artist’s repertoire, and “Oh, I’ve downloaded this great song!” Well
congratulations, that person is now eating twice a day instead of three times a
day.
As a writer of a book that
has maybe sold 300 or 400 copies, having a few free downloads done at a couple
bucks a pop is a –  relatively speaking –
a big deal.
GURPS
Technical Grappling
will never
have me quitting my day job, but for those who might wish to make a career out
of the gaming industry – although I think many gaming industry professionals
will give a word of advice, which is: “DON’T.”
It’s like joint ventures:
just don’t. You still want to? DON’T. You still want to? It’s like converting
to Judaism – you have to be convinced three times. [Benjamin laughs].
Once you get into that you
want to make sure that, yes, you want people to enjoy your product, but you
also want to make sure the artists are getting compensated both intellectually
and monetarily for the work that they put in.
Benjamin: Absolutely.
The thing is, the community on the whole is really really keen to support
innovation and things that are going to make the game better, and they want to
have a mechanism to do it.
And that’s what
Kickstarters have shown if nothing else. Once there is an idea that catches the
imagination, this community is really keen to put their money behind it. Which
is great.
I think what we’re going
to do is build a subscription model, where they become a supporter and they get
access to absolutely everything that they can possibly get access to. And we
get to have a steady stream, and know how big our base is, and adjust our
business model on the basis of that.
I think that makes sense,
and people are asking for that. People don’t want to have to go to a shop and
buy all the different bits and that sort of stuff. They just want to go “Yep. I
believe in that product and I want to make sure it still exists and we can all
keep using it.”
Doug: Right.
I see where that would go, and it’s somewhere between Kickstarter and . . . Patreon
is the other one where you’re just basically funneling money. . . it’s like
buying a subscription to a content creator.
It’s. . . .instead of
saying I’m going to buy Pyramid magazine, and I’ll buy that issue or this issue,
or that issue or Dungeon Magazine or Dragon.
I’m going to throw $10 a
month to Bob the Game Designer, and if enough people do that he’s got a secure
living doing good content. And if that content starts to be not-good, then the
subscriptions go away, and it’s a very active . . .  “Yay Capitalism! Yay!”
(If you’re an Austin
Powers fan. “Oh, we won. Yay! Hey comrades.” I need to rewatch that movie. The
first time I saw that I nearly busted a gut. I was a huge Ian Fleming James
Bond fan, and he [Mike Meyers] did such a great job of doing a homage to both
the books and the movies that . . . the first one was wonderful to watch from
that perspective. Anyways, I digress; see I told you I digress.)
So you’ve mentioned Paizo
a little bit, you’ve got some great fantasy bar fight going on. I hear that
there is something in the works, and I hear that because you sent me an email
saying “something is in the works.”
So why don’t you tell me
about that?
Benjamin:
Yeah, so I’m a really strong believer in the Paizo model, the community base,
and the OGL concept and everything like that. I really love what’s been done
with Pathfinder, and I love the game world, and love the quality of their art.
Some sort of licensing relationship
with some of the big companies has always been obvious for Syrinscape, the big
one for us was Pathfinder and Paizo, because we feel a real connection with
their business model and philosophies.
We just approached them
and said “We have this fantastic product, we think that people need to have it
on the table and we’d really love to be able to build content for your game and
directly support Golarion, or just directly support all the monsters in the OGL
which is the Dungeons and Dragons-cum-Pathfinder monsters.”
They liked the product – any
digital product that actually turns up
and is done is a bit of a massive
achievement in this industry. There have been many attempts to produce physical
products some of which have never emerged and yeah, I basically went to PaizoCon
and asked for a meeting. Give me 10 or 15 minutes of your time.
And we set down with the
guys and said “Look at this” and they were like “Oh! That’s so cool.” They were
pushing the buttons, and making the roars, and we entered into a conversation
with them, and have agreed to build licensed content for Paizo – and that’s all
official and signed up.
So the last couple of
months have been building whole other content – which I can’t mention what it
is – but once we’re ready for release, we’re doing the final polishing for all
that stuff. Then it’ll start rolling out, and as I said, it’ll be a
subscription base, you’ll be able to get to the ever widening support for every
tabletop experience you want to get going.
Doug: I can
easily see – you can smile mysteriously, because I know you’re probably under
nondisclosure – but I can easily see areas of Golarion each having their own
theme song.
I can see starting with
the most popular monsters, whether it’s a beholder, or a remorhaz, or a dragon,
or a troll, or goblins, those guys have a certain theme song or certain noises:
the goblins getting angsty or getting angry would have a certain background
noise. You can have a troll thump thump thump.
You could really easily
see where something like a . . . you’d load in. . . I just did an interview
with the gentleman from Fantasy Grounds – Doug Davison – you could see, for
example, when you load in these monsters: a bear, 3 dire bats, and a troll, that
it brings in the bear, dire bats, and the troll sounds. And starts playing some
background music.
Benjamin:
Yeah, integration with some of these products is really good.
Syrinscape is running as an
API at the moment. We’re just building the native interfaces, so the skin that
you saw before is just a surface controller, and there is no reason that any
other program or web device or whatever can’t control that API. Yeah.
Absolutely.
That’s something certainly
that . . .  there have been a few chats
with a few people about it about that sort of stuff and once we find the right
match then I think that’s definitely something that should happen for sure. And
it’s really easy to do as well. The elements are there; you just need any
device that turns on the element that’s the goblin noises, and any sort of player
interacting with clicks, or automatically attached to an icon you put down on
the table, are all possibilities for the programming.
Doug: Another
fun thing that would leverage the power of automatic searching as well as some
of the speech-to-text capabilities that are found on iPhones or whatever would
be something where you’re actually at a tabletop (or online) and it’s listening
to what you’re saying. “Yes, and there are three trolls” and it hears the word
trolls and goes out to the database, comes back with crunching sounds or [makes
growling noises] or something.
Benjamin: These
are the “stupid” ideas that people come up with, and people say “oh, it’ll
probably go wrong and play the wrong thing at the wrong time” and somebody
makes the thing, and it works, and it’s like “Way cool, why didn’t I think of
that?”
Lots of people thought of
it, but only one idiot went and did
it.
Doug: Right.
So with that in mind, let me ask: For your tabletop-enhancement environment,
what are you satisfied that exists that enhances your tabletop experience? Can
be Syrinscape, can be anything, but just as someone who is creating content to
make a better tabletop experience and by extension, a better online experience.
What’s good that you like
that’s out there already? What needs to be out there to enhance the experience,
and how do you see that evolving over time?
Benjamin:
Mmmm. So I think I’m satisfied audio-wise because I built exactly what I
wanted. I really want Syrinscape to be a community with shared content, so we
get really great content instead of relying on one central team building stuff,
though as long as you control the quality that’s going to work really well.
What’s still lacking for
me at my table is a really useful, easy way to control the maps at the table. A
lot of the mapping programs are focused for online play which is cool. . . but
if people go and check out the Dicestormers on YouTube you’ll see that what
we’re doing at the moment with maps – and I’ve actually been using PowerPoint
to do my maps to control position and the scale, to apply grids and un-apply
grids, and then to be able to show and hide various different areas in an
effective way.
I was using MapTool, which
is amazingly, fantastically powerful, and to be able to move your digital
miniatures around so that it automatically does lighting and all that sort of stuff,
it’s really cool.
But when you’re using
physical miniatures, that doesn’t really work very well, because you’ve got to
move the digital miniature to match the physical miniature.
It takes a really long
time to do all the walls and everything in it in a program like MapTools. So
there is a lot of prep time, so whether there is a better way of sharing maps once
their built – getting excited now.
So also, when I’m taking a
map from a digital product that I own, say a module and then wanting to import
it into any program projector, the resolution is always a problem.
I absolutely love what Paizo
has done recently, where you can turn off the room numbers and hide the secret
doors. So you have a player version of the map, which I can easily project on
the table, but the resolution is nowhere near what it needs to be, it’s just
because they put in a PDF and they want to keep the PDF size down, so they lack
a higher resolution.
But the really big thing
for me, that I haven’t been able to find online at all, is animated elements to
put on my maps.
I would love to be able to
place down easily on my digital map, on my table, a fire element and just draw
an area and have it sort of burning. That’d be so coo-ool! And also a flowing
river just to designate. . . just draw right across the map and automatically
flow, that would be fantastic. Or to be able to have it snowing and wind.
I’m sort of doing things
like that at the moment, just cobbling together things, but I’d love that to be
there in the future, hopefully I’ll get fed up enough and do it.
Doug: So I
was taking a look at the Battlegrounds demo, and it has some of that. It has dynamic
lighting where you have a fire, and it flickers, and you actually see a flickering
light in two zones. The bright zone and the dim zone.
I’m fairly sure it’s got a
robust dynamic lighting module to it, it seems to be a little bit ahead of some
of the other dynamic lightning introductions.
I do know that Roll20 – I’m
not experienced with it yet – but I think it’s part of their rugged reroll
upgrade, they’ve done some neat things with dynamic lightning.
Benjamin:
They’ve been talking about animated icons for a while. The last time I looked
was maybe a month ago and everyone saying “Well, yes, we don’t do it yet, and
it’s difficult for this reason.”
I totally understand that,
it can take a lot. . . sometimes when you have to reengineer the whole way the
graphic system works in order to incorporate something like a animated gif or
whatever, it can be really major.
I just want one of these
people to do it, and soon as they do, they’re going to go off, if I can just
chuck down fire and burns my players are going to salivate all over the table.
Doug: The
other thing that would be kind of neat, just thinking out loud: They have these
things all over the place in malls, and in our Minnesota Zoo. It’s a projector
that not just projects, it senses, so if you go [mimes a hand swipe] like this
over a projector screen, and it interacts with the images.
It would be interesting to
have such, if you’re doing it on the surface, or if you put an actual miniature
on there it can sense that. . . there is a barcode on there or something, and
if you move it, it moves the map or scales to the map.
You could have an
interactive system, you’re moving your miniatures on the table, the projector
receiver is finding out where they are, and giving it back to the GM’s screen,
so you can have hidden things or put a river here and you actually draw on the
computer screen touch screen and it shows on the map.
Benjamin:
The Microsoft Table Surface thing did that really well, didn’t it? But there
like $20,000 or something. I want that, to take an icon or miniature with a barcode
and draw on a table and say “That’s a shadowed area or whatever.” That would be
so cool.
Doug: It
seems that the capability to not drive it. . . you’d need that special
projector. . .
Maybe you wouldn’t need a [special]
projector, you’d need a webcam, you’d need a [dumb] projector, and you’d need a
tablet that you could receive it to. You’d probably want a full computer with a
touchscreen like some of the new Dell’s. What was it? A 27” touch screen, the
Dell XPS or whatever, and you can do all that and interact with it, viscerally,
and have that experience.
I think we’re coming down
to the end – if nothing else because of the conference call I have in the
morning.
Unfortunately I can’t keep
chatting, although you’re really fun to talk to, but I always give my guests
the last word, so I’m giving you the last word:
What do you want to leave
anyone who’s watching this about Syrinscape or the future or the community or .
. . what do you want to let them know?
Benjamin: Yeah,
look: Just get involved in the community. “Make your voice heard.” It is what
drives us I think, and if any of the stuff we’ve been talking about catches
your imagination, talking about it will make it happen. Workshopping these
ideas online.
So go download Syrinscape,
it’s free, you can try it out, so jump on Facebook or Twitter and hammer me
until you get it looking the way you want it to. And we can enter a discussion
and we can argue about things.
Definitely check out the
Dicestormers, people are always saying “You guys should be known more, because
you’re heaps funny and embarrassing.” Just go on Dicestormers on YouTube and
search that out. Then yeah, make comments and pick up all our rule errors and
make jokes about us. We had someone make a special cut of one of our
Dicestormer videos the other day, because Murray’s character was chopping ears
off things and giggling in a slightly maniacal way. They made a video of just
that one slightly scary moment and we totally love that stuff. Community,
community, community.
Most of all: just game!
Get out there and game more! Because it’s good stuff, and it’s fun, that’s me.
Doug:
[laughs] Fair enough.
Alright, I want to thank
you for your time.
This, just so you know, we’ll
be transcribing this and will show up in a couple of days. I want it to come
out before the end of March, so it’s in time for the Blog Carnival.
Everyone who is watching,
get out there and write posts about this stuff, because it’s part of the “community”
piece: The more people talk, and the more it’s shared, and all the different
videos. . .  You yourself should stop by
the firing squad if you haven’t already, because some of the features you’ve
just talked about, John Lammers talk about some of the things Epic Table can do
and Doug Davison walked me through Fantasy Grounds.
If you’re really into
immersive, deep, epic storytelling, Liz Theis walked me through Realm Works
which is by the same company, Lone Wolf Development, that did Hero Lab. Realm Works
is this huge, scripting, story-driven, mind-map, relationship web. You can do
mapping, you got all this stuff you click on it to share with players. It’s
really neat and for people who do big stories, it’s actually technology that –
and I said this in my post about it – I expected to be unimpressed. It totally
impressed me. When I do my campaigns, I want to do it in this so it’s there and
easy and don’t have to do your prep twice. It was really kind of neat.
Syrinscape is another
capability that you’ve developed to add to the immersion experience for either
people at a table, and hopefully, eventually, people online as well. Thank you
for your time!
Benjamin:
Thank you for having me!

March 2014’s RPG Blog Carnival is focusing on Virtual TableTops and Online Gaming. I invited VTT creators to chat with me briefly about the state of VTTs, and what’s the future of online RPGs.

This evening I sat down for a brief chat with +Doug Davison , President of SmiteWorks, the company that owns and develops Fantasy Grounds.  We spoke for a bit more than an hour, and he gave me a pretty detailed walk-through of the program. We spoke a lot about Pathfinder, which seems darn near fully implemented in Fantasy Grounds, but talked a lot about GURPS support – and in between this interview and its publication, I received and accepted an invite to play with a group for six hours, using Fantasy Grounds to play a GURPS Banestorm campaign.

In any case, here’s the interview!

Text Transcript

Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic): Good evening, and welcome to Gaming Ballistic’s
Firing Squad. This is a continuation of a series of interviews that we are
doing for the Roleplaying Game Blog Association March Blog Carnival. The topic for
this month is virtual tabletops and online gaming, and I am pleased to welcome
to the firing squad Doug Davison from Fantasy Grounds. Thank you for joining us
this evening.
Doug Davison (Content Creator of Fantasy Grounds): Thanks for having me, Doug.
Douglas Cole:
So what is your position and role in Fantasy Grounds? You’re the Lead Developer I believe?
Doug Davison:
I’m actually the President, we’re a two-person company, basically. We both do a
little bit of development, John Gregor is the other developer, and he’s been
kind  of taking over the lead development
role lately, and I’ve been managing the contracting – getting new contracts in
and taking over the web. And some development. Whenever time permits.

Douglas Cole:
Excellent. So how long has Fantasy Grounds been a thing? When did it first go
live?
Doug Davison:
It first went live in 2005, if I remember correctly. It was developed
originally by three gentlemen out in Finland. We purchased the company from
them in 2009. I acquired the company, and then brought John in, and we were
both community members at that point in time.
We were users of the
software in a sense, and we were both developers of software by trade, so we
found how easy it was to extend the product, and to make it customized and we
saw what it needed to be. And John had actually written a Dungeons and Dragons
4th edition rule set for it and I had written some Star Wars Saga
edition rules set for it.
We just kind of on a whim
made a offer to them, and acquired the company and we’ve had it sense.
Douglas Cole:
Excellent. The question that I was going to sort of ask was what lead you to
developing VTT, but since it was already sort of extent, what was so compelling
about it that you wanted to form a company and acquire it yourself?
Doug Davison:
I think it was the extensibility of it. To see how powerful the setup was, to
get in and make our own content.
John had come in and he
had done a lot of work from other virtual tabletops. There is one called
Kludgeworks, I think it’s still out there. We had both looked at Maptools and
the other tools that were out there, and just from a user perspective we both
gravitated towards Fantasy Grounds at some time. I think it was the look and
feel, it was very well polished, I think it was well-designed, and well-planned
from a architecture point of view. As a software developer it just fit very
well for me.
Douglas Cole:
It’s the extension of the rules, you mentioned that your partner had done
Dungeons and Dragons, and you had done Star Wars. Is this something that you
really have to be a coder to extend, or can Joe Blow get in there and make a
rules set?
Doug Davison:
To make a rule set you absolutely do have to be a coder to do much substantial.
If you’re going to take a basic rule set that basically only needs a few tweaks
here and there and add some extra functionality or customize one aspect, you
can kind of go out there and see how those things were done in the past. Lots
of trial and error basically.
I would say to do one from
scratch you would absolutely have to be a coder. XML is kind of used to lay out
the graphics. So a lot of times people will reskin it and they won’t have any
coding background. They’re just able to open up the XML files, see how things
are laid out – we have a lot of documentation and a lot of support for other developers
and artists to go in and modify it.
Douglas Cole:
Okay. Talking broadly about virtual tabletops and gaming aids, what do you
think that the most important features are in
general for
…so what are the best and worst features of a virtual tabletops?
Doug Davison:
I think different people look for different things in virtual tabletops. We
even see that from one rule set to the next rule set.
Some systems really focus
heavily on movement on a tactical grid or combat, it’s all about the automation
or knowing where your character is in relation to the other characters,
monsters, NPCs, and so forth. Some systems, like Call of Cthulhu, are more
story driven, so you want a better focus on being able to do handouts for the players
to set the mood, see the tone with them within the game so that kind of drives.
So that’s one of the
things I really like about Fantasy Grounds. I saw it had the capability to do
most of those things for a each player.
Setup is really important,
you have to be able to setup and run quickly. Ideally you should be able to run
it from the seat of your pants if you want to.
Or, if you are the type of
GM that prepares long things in advance you should be able to prepare those
things.
I think it kind of caters
to Fantasy Grounds specifically because it caters to lots of those different
audiences. There are other virtual tabletops that do one or more of those
aspects and it may be better than Fantasy Grounds. But I think collectively,
that Fantasy Grounds brings a lot of those functions to the table.
Douglas Cole:
So why don’t we take the opportunity to bring up a view of Fantasy Grounds, so
you can walk us through some of the coolest features.
Doug Davison:
I’m going to start off with a view of the players’ screen, from there we can
expand out.
If we were to look from
the…so this is what a player would see within the Pathfinder-compatible rule
set. So the D&D ones will look very similar, even GURPS has the kind of
same basic feel, though with different attributes and skills, maybe the
automation is different depending on what it is.
In a sense, almost every
game system you’re going to play it’s going to have a form of a character
sheet. That’s one of the things that Fantasy Grounds does very well,
especially in rules designs. There are about 25 or so rule sets out there that
are supported.
Here’s an example of where
you got your Strength, and stats or whatever and you can kind of just come in
and fill out your character values. You’ll see that it does have a little bit
of automation with the modifiers. Your modifiers change and you can kind of
change those on the fly.
You see this little dice
box here, you can actually pick it up and when you roll that dice into the chat
window this shares that dice roll with every other connected player. So here it
has the portrait of the player who rolled it, the d20 with the modifier and the
total results and you can kind of double-click on those as well and they will
roll and share it.
There are a couple of
things going on here. One is the chat window which is shared, so as multiple
players are logging in they can say things like “Let’s go” and attack and so
forth. So I think this kind of gives you a running log.
One of our community
members built a chat log scrubber.  So
this is saved to disc after each session and you can post it up at the
conclusion of their games so if someone had to bail out of the game early they
can see what happened. You can edit that out and determine if you want to share
the dice rolls so you only get the story portion is there.
Douglas Cole:
Huh. That’s really neat. One of the things that I like to do, I’ve played
Pathfinder, Swords and Wizardry, some GURPS, even some Trail of Cthulhu once or
twice, while I’m not running the game I like to transcribe. I’ll actually frequently
throw up a blog post almost within minutes of the game being over, and one of
the things that I’ll do is pull from the chat logs because sometimes people put
things in chats that are just cool, or hysterical, or whatever. That ability to
do the chat is pretty cool.
Is there a capability for
multiple chat windows?
Doug Davison:
There is not. But there is some basic support. Like if I was to go through…we
have some general kind of help commands, there is some generic commands.
You can whisper to each
other, to another character, to the GM, to both. You can do a vote, for
instance: The GM can launch and say “Are we ready to continue on?” then it
would basically prop that to each player. So if you had four or five players connected,
you could check and say “We’re all ready to proceed” after your bathroom breaks
and that sort of thing.
You can do those basic
functions that you would see in a MMO or something like that.
Then you also have a chat
window, an action window, depending on what you do you can hold a key – a shift
or alt key – and change the mode. Are you going to emote something or be out of
character and say “I need a break” then you can hold down and go out of
character as it colors it differently.
Douglas Cole:
So effectively, you’ve got multiple chat windows within the same window.
Doug Davison:
Exactly. They all go under the same window.
There is also all of your
dice rolls drop in there.
You can also see a dice
tower here in the corner. Let’s say you got some combat and some skills, if the
GM were to whisper to you and say “I want you to…” you’re trying to sneak past
a goblin, maybe you have to roll a Stealth roll, but he doesn’t want you to
know if you’re successful or not.
Let me give him some
actual ability here. So he’s got a +2 Stealth, he would drop that in the box.
It’ll say I’ve rolled a hidden roll, and I had a +2 to that and then the GM
will see he actually got a seven and he can choose to share that later on if he
wants, or let the story unfold and play out accordingly.
So as the player sneaks
past the goblin or thinks he successful at the last second the goblin swings
out with his hammer and hits him on the toe, or whatever the case may be.
Douglas Cole:
Neat. So you mentioned that it’s got multiple support: Pathfinder is a good one
to support, and you could end there, but it sounds like you have 20 or 25
systems that you could also do.
You sent me a link to a
neat demo on how to export from GURPS character sheet to Fantasy Grounds and I
will link that later. I haven’t seen the full capability of the GURPS rules
support, but it exists, so from my perspective it’s one up on many sets, which
is kind of neat.
Doug Davison:
The installs on these custom rules sets . . . whenever we’ve had a rules set that’s
been out in the community and it’s been vetted to a certain extent, doesn’t
have…it obviously can’t have any propriety content owned by publishers.
We kind of review that
before we post it up on our system. We do have a wiki linked directly on our
webpage with a list of every rule set we have supported. You click through to
that and each entry will have directions to install it and it’s seriously like
a five minute install. You download the files, put it in the right folder, and
click new campaign and you have the option to create a GURPS campaign or D&D
4th edition campaign or whatever.
Douglas Cole:
So as you do campaign creation as a game master, I happen to be working up a
campaign right now “GURPS Alien Menace,” which is going to be a mash-up of X-COM,
Monster Hunters, little bit of the second Aliens movie, kind of Dungeon Fantasy
in space: go to the alien planet, kill them, and take their stuff.
As I’m working the
campaign up, let’s say I import the GURPS rule set, as a game master how do I
do maps or NPCs or bring in…or lets going to pretend I’m going to do all of
that in Pathfinder, because you’ve got that up and it’s easy.
So how do I walk through
campaign locations or maps or whatever?
Doug Davison:
Let me switch right back to the screen share real quick, this time I’m going to
show you the GM’s view, basically.
So this one…if I can
follow that. I don’t know…I think I’m showing you the player one.
Douglas Cole:
Do you have multiple instances of the program open?
Doug Davison:
I do, actually, and that’s one of the things that’s nice for budding GMs or
people who are new to Fantasy Guards. Sometimes it takes a little bit to see what
is a player going to see when I do this operation of the game?
So here, as a example, you
can pull up any of the characters that are logged in. The players…I can see all
sort of stuff that they can. If they have a question about their character I
can see their skills and abilities and here’s examples of having content linked
that is clickable. It pulls up more information about what that skill or feat
has.
I can create my own
character, say I want to play a playable character for a while. I would just go
in and create a new character here. Add a character. Fill out a new character sheet
and when a new player logs in, or an existing player, they can take control of
this character and then run that character.
The nice thing that you
can do from building your campaigns you can build a set of stories. I’m going
to show you a example of one of our stories which is actually a product you can
purchase.
We try to support a lot of
different content publishers. Here is a example of a OGL product – Crypt of the
Sun Lord – this one is actually by the Adventure a Week folks. I don’t know if
you’ve talked to them in the past.
Douglas Cole:
I haven’t talked to them, but Liz Theis from Realm Works (from Lone Wolf Development)
mentioned them several times as really cool content creators.
Doug Davison:
They just did a Kickstarter for Rise of the Drow, and they’re working on
converting that to Fantasy Grounds as well.
But all of these screens
here are really just text. You can type whatever you want. I can come through
and edit this kind of like you would a word documents. You can add document and
say “This is a tomb” so if you’re a big prepper of if you wanted to share this
adventure later, or if you’re a content creator, you can come in and say…you
can make it look professional.
Someone else can come in
later and read all the content. You can organize your GMs notes…let’s see if
there is a adventure hub, all of these are linked to other sections of the…let
me see if I can get to…okay, here is a example of some boxed text.
So they could if they were
on Skype or Google Hangout they could read this when they got to that part – or
a combination where they click this little button and share it with the window.
It writes it out in the chat window so all the logged in players will see that.
And then you can branching
scripts and that sort of thing. If the PCs make a successful Sense Motive roll,
I’ll share this information or that information, and then with your images you
can click and pull up a image…let me shrink this down.
So here you could just
right click and share that image, and now the players will see that. I’m only
showing the one screen on my share…but that basically pops up instantly on the
players’ window. Then you can also choose to share with just individual players
by dragging the image to that player’s portrait.
For instance, if the part
was to split up and go multiple directions and the one guy walks in on a
beholder you can just share that with him.
Douglas Cole:
Surely, no one would ever split the party…
Doug Davison:
No one ever does that, but we support it if they do.
Right.
So here’s some examples,
this one is really nicely organized. If you wanted to add more content after
this section, say a image after this image, you can just type and say “I want a
new image.” Image two or whatever, give it a probably nicer name, then you go
to a list of all your images, and here is a link to the folder, so you could
just store a image you downloaded from the internet. I guess the screen share
is not going to show that one. It just pops up in there. The image instantly
becomes available. Then you just drag it, and it makes that linkable.
Douglas Cole:
Very cool.
Doug Davison:
Then when you’re ready to launch that image, you just click it, and it shows
up. And that one is…I guess it’s just a big burlap sack. I don’t know what that
particular image is.
Douglas Cole:
The inside of a bag of holding.
Doug Davison:
Evidently.
So here is a example, you
have a GM map. The other nice thing is you can link story entries to the map.
So here is area 6 for
instance, if you were to link area 6 to where it says six you could just hold
down the shift key and it’ll make a pushpin. I’ve got that. I’ve got seven.
I’ve got five.
Very quickly, if you
develop all your content in advance when you develop your map you can say “I’m
going to go down this hallway.” You click on it, and this is your room
description and any combats that might occur in that room. Here is an encounter
with a black bear, so in this case if you were developing this, you would
create a new encounter – a blank one – and enter in any monsters you might
have.
You could pull that from
like a library. Here’s the list of d20 monsters that are available. It comes
with a bestiary of d20 SRD content available.
So maybe I want to do a
dire bat, so you drag that into your encounter. If your encounter is not tough
enough by default and you just assign a token…let me show you where…if I can
find a bat. This will work. That will probably look like a bat.
Drop it in there, and say
I’ve got three of those for instance, and you’re ready to have your combat
encounter. Here’s all of your stats for your NPCs, and again you can just
unlock this and type in some new…this is read-only. I’m in a module right now,
but these are clickable so your bite attack adds your modifier with a bite.
You can actually roll this
on the player directly as well. So the combat tab is where a lot of the
times…once you have your NPCs…I’m sorry, I’m hopping around a lot here. Let’s
say they had this encounter with a black bear…
Douglas Cole:
And three bats…
Doug Davison:
Then you just…when you’re ready to run that encounter you click on this button
that says “Add to Combat Tracker” it adds them in, rolls their initiative, if
you have prep and set and then you’re off and ready to go.
On the maps…let me see if
I have a map here too. I need an encounter map. Let’s see. The same thing. You
would basically position them where they are on the map…part this. And then you
could say this … he’s big.
Douglas Cole:
[laughs] This is one of those cases where it’s “How did the dragon get into a
20×20 ft room?”
Doug Davison:
Exactly. Then you’ll see here it’s kind of greyed out – that’s because he’s
invisible. As soon as he becomes visible to the players you can make him as
visible.
The same sort of thing if
you mask it, and as they move in and out of your masked area, you can reveal
parts of the map as you explore. That’s kind of the guys moving around on a
map.
Let me put the player so I
can show you what we consider some of the coolest features. So you’ve got your
player here and here. And then when you’re ready to do this bat’s attack…I
think it’s actually…I’m going to throw out some of these goblins since we don’t
have goblins in this particular encounter.
Douglas Cole:
I love the little dead guy icon.
Doug Davison:
Yeah [laughs]. So we have basically…we’ve scaled it down a bit: there is one
bat.
Yeah. So it’s this guys
turn. Jonah’s turn. As a player I’ll show you in a second. As the GM when it
becomes the bats turn…here is a quick list of the most common things you might
do. He’s really only got a bite attack. If I wanted to see his full stats I go
here. Did he have a perception? Does he success noticing the guy in the
background. Normally I have my screen a little bit larger…
Douglas Cole:
Yeah, he rolled a 29, I think he saw people.
Doug Davison:
He saw them I guess. If you want to share that with players they can see that
in the chat window. When you’re ready to do your attack you just drag your bite
attack, drop it on the target and it’ll come back and tell you you missed or
your hit or whatever.
Let me expand this a
little more. Hopefully it’s viewable for you guys.
Douglas Cole:
Yeah, you’ve got a couple more inches on either side of my screen.
Doug Davison:
Let me make it larger than this. I’m not quite using as much real estate as I
normally do. I normally run it across two monitors is what I traditionally do.
I find that gives me lots of room.
You’ll see that the attack
was just a 12 and it automatically rolled against his Dexterity. In something
like fourth edition, this thing is a God-send for combat. Because they have all
sorts of attacks and sometimes they affect your Reflex or your AC, and the
attack is actually coded for what it’s rolling against on the target. So again
in this situation, you missed and you move on. Had you hit…let me get rid of
some more screens here.
Had you hit you hover over
the damage portion…a 1d8+4, you drop it on the character, see it increased the
damage and now he’s got 18 points of damage on him. It added 11 and I guess he
had 7 before. It allows you to automate combat very quickly.
Let me just move this guy,
I assume he can make it all that movement. As the bear moves down to this guy,
you got your claw attack or a bite attack. You can see as a hover over each one
I can pick up and roll it separately. That can be your one claw attack for
instance, or your bite attack and it’s really as you type it in.
So if I wanted to give him
a new attack, let’s say he’s got a tail attack maybe some spell that gives him
a tentacle tail or whatever. Say tentacle and use the same format – so it’s
1d6+8 and it’s actually tentacle +9.
Now as I hover over I got
a tentacle attack. I can drop that and it shares that I got a tentacle attack.
Another thing that is nice
from a GM perspective is you got your modifiers. So if for some reason it’s a
+2 modifier on the next roll for whatever reason, that same attack it’ll roll
it and share I got a tentacle attack +2, if gave me a total of +11.
Those things will add up
and it’ll give a whole series of different things you might add on for
different things. Especially like 4th edition D&D and Pathfinder
there are all kinds of things…say I’m Power Attacking and let’s say give him
another modifier or combat advantage or whatever.
It’ll give a +2 to that,
so as I add these things in he’s got a -1 from that, but a +2 from flanking so
he has a net +1. So let’s say he’s also blessed, so I’m going to add a bless in
there. Because typically you’ve got wizards in the party throwing…
Douglas Cole:
Oh sure…[crosstalk]
Doug Davison:
[crosstalk] Buffs and debuffs and all those things add up so this kind of gives
you a running total of all the modifiers on your next attack roll.
Douglas Cole:
And it looks like each little dot is an individual modifier you can look at.
Doug Davison:
And you can remove them the same way too. I load all of these up, and the GM is
looking at the same screen and he’s saying “You got all these things, you need
to take off your flank attack” or whatever and I remove it and now I have
blessed offset by my Power Attack which is a -1. So if you want to add it back
in you add your flank and when you roll your attack it should demonstrate…so
here is the attack roll. It’s basically a Power Attack, you have a -1 from
Power Attack…
Douglas Cole:
Oh, it labels it all. That’s neat.
Doug Davison:
So everybody knows how you got to your magic number. Sometimes we all
know..we’ve gamed with players who’s math doesn’t quite add up to the same
result you have.
So that kind of alleviates
that and it does it all on the fly.
The other thing that’s
nice, it looks for the keyword “And” so here is the full attack option for this
character. So it has 2 claw attacks and a bite each with a modifier and stuff
going on there.
So as you can see it’ll
pick up 3 dice and as it roll them it’ll tell me which ones hit or miss. In
this case it was a critical hit. It rolled automatically. I don’t have my
critical hit table turned on. That’s a table you can customize. It
automatically  roll on that and tell you
what the result is.
Douglas Cole:
I wonder if the GURPS rules set automated the critical hit table or not.
Doug Davison:
They do actually, I saw that there is a extension for that. So if you go to our
wiki and go to our GURPS page there is a extension with a table.
So what that will
typically look like will…to activate a module. These are the various modules I
have loaded already. You just come in and this will show you all the things
that you have installed that are compatible with this rules set.
One of the things about
Fantasy Grounds is that we had several hundred add-ons that are various
products. Some of them are supplements or settings, some of them are different
monsters, it might be a adventure that is pre-done like from Adventure a Week. Or
expedition free press has one of these in here – I think I have a default
critical hit tables I’m going to load that in.
Now you will see it added
a new little section basically within my table list. So now I got my critical
hit. Here if they roll a one through four it’ll say “Yes it is a critical hit”
or a 5 or 6 will make you roll on subsequent tables. You can have like change
tables…let me see if I can get a 5 or 6 it should roll automatically on my next
one…it’s rolling lots of ones.
Okay, here we go. I
finally got a five or six and it rolled on the subsequent table and it told me
the critical effect was a parry which occurred. You get an automatically parry
on the next attack. Here you can customize that the same way. You can make your
own list basically, any kind of table you want.
Here’s a example where I
put in Dungeon Low Level CR2 creatures, if you’re just trying to figure out
here is a random encounter table. You can just put in that you want to roll
d100, and if you roll one to six makes it 1d6 dire rats so you can make all the
tables in your game of choice, that’s functionality that’s built into every
rules set.
Douglas Cole:
So if I wanted to do that is that something that’s more graphical or something
you’ll have to code XML yourself?
Doug Davison:
No, thankfully this is something you can do directly from in the system. So if
I wanted to add a new table you just come in and “Add” and here I can say “How
many rows do you want?” I want a four row table for instance. I want a
two-column.
By default it says d8, so
you can come through and say “It’s windy outside” or “It’s raining” or
“Snowing” whatever the case may be. And when you’re ready you can just say
“Roll it.” You can put in a name and call it “Weather, Randomized” a
description or whatever you want to make. This determines if you want the
result to be hidden, so as a GM if you want to roll things and not share the
result with the players. Then the GM will see it in the chat window. All the
other players won’t see that in the share window. And it’ll let you share it
out which you can always do.
Douglas Cole:
How can you change the dice? So let’s say that for example, just
hypothetically, wanted 3d6.
Doug Davison:
That’s a good question actually, 3d6…now you’re testing my ability to remember
here.
If you keep adding
rows…let’s make this a 12. I think this is a single dice roll unfortunately. To
do a 3d6 you could do your regular 3d6, by just picking up the dice and rolling
them here. AS far as having a nice look up table that’s something that this one
is really just focusing on a single dice roll. Yeah, I think that is. That is a
good extension, I’m sure that there would be…there are a lot of game systems
now that I think about it there are a lot of game systems where you are rolling
2d6 or 3d6 or whatever.
I know we have some rule sets where you roll dice and drag it to a table lookup so that would be fairly easy for us to do as well.
Note: After the interview, Doug Davison sent me an email:

I’ve been filling out a bunch of tables for a Castle & Crusades add-on today and one of the tables is a 2D12 with a lookup instead of a straight d8, d10, d20, etc. This is actually supported in our table roller and I just didn’t realize it during our presentation. You simply add the lookup for values 3 through 18 and then include a description or note to drop 3d6 onto the dice icon. It will write the lookup result to chat log.

Here is a screenshot of dropping a 2d12 roll onto the table I referenced.


Douglas Cole:
Right. For example, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the d30 Sandbox
Companion. That is something by New Big Dragon games where you could
create…it’s almost like you can automate a entire hex crawl with d30 rolls.
I actually, automated in
Excel, very very quickly, an adventure generator. There are I think ten columns
or something like that. What’s the key NPC, what’s the trigger, what’s the plot
line, blah blah blah, it’s something like five hundred trillion combinations at
the touch of a F9 key, so it seems like maybe this would be something where,
depending on how sophisticated the die-rolling could get, you could have an
encounter generator which is a series of…it just seems like especially for on
the fly stuff, it would be possible to automate something like that. “Generate
me a encounter” and bam it would go through a series of die rolls and give you
want you need.
Could it even do that and
then automatically populate in the combat tracker the creatures that it rolls
up?
Doug Davison:
It could. It’s really just how much automation you want to put in ultimately.
One of the things I’ve
been recently coding on is with Green Ronin has an advanced bestiary and they
just had there Kickstarter on as well. One of the things is really cool about
it is that it has templates. You have a NPC or series of NPCs and a series of
template you might want to apply to them. Like a skeletal version of a goblin
or a lich dog or whatever the case may be.
So that’s something that
there is a need for. You ‘re going to have to go through this series of rules
and steps to modify the base creature to a new creature, the way I coded up in
my own mindset, was to have one section where you drag and drop your templates
on one side, and drag and drop your NPCs in the other, and hit this button and
it spits out the new version on the bottom. So it’s creating new characters,
new NPCs, and all of that stuff on the fly.
Here you have your
encounters, here is your NPCs, here is an encounter, so the same thing, there
is a list of all these encounters.
This is something that at
one point in time we wanted to be able to have a list of this type of object
stored in here and when we hit this button, it’s going to do all of these
automatically. I’m just going to drop them all into the combat tracker.
All of these things could
be combined into one, the code is probably there it’s just calling the code.
From a programmer’s
prospective, you just create a extension in a certain format, and stick it in
the right folder, and it will load that extension in addition to the base rule
set, and you can have multiple extensions loaded too.
Douglas Cole:
One more GURPS question, do your program support hexes, or just squares?
Doug Davison:
It does, it supports hexes and squares.
Let me see if I have any
other maps here. So I’m going to pull up…this one is obviously…this is a GM
map. Let me grab a higher resolution. So this one is a higher resolution.
This is obviously square
grids, so first I’ll show you really quickly the square grids, you come into a
map you download from the internet: it obviously has a grid, but our program
doesn’t know anything about what size the square grid is, so you apply a layer
on top and there is a set grid layer.
So typically you go from
the top of one corner down to the bottom of another one, and it rolls our grid
over top of it. It’s really that simple, and then when you have your NPCs
moving around, then they scale and fit just perfectly.
The other thing you can do
too, if you want to make them larger or bigger on a curved token…
Douglas Cole:
That’s what those numbers are. One point seven grid squares.
Doug Davison:
Yeah, exactly. So can do all that sort of function pretty easily.
And then you can also
clear that grid off and you can set a different type of grid. Change grid to
hex grid. And this is going to look a little silly, so set the hex grid, maybe
it’s still 75 pixels if you can get to there. And then it rolls out and now you
got hex grids so as you’re moving around you’re inside the hex system.
Douglas Cole:
I think I saw you set facing on the bear earlier.
Doug Davison:
Yeah, I did actually. It comes with a lot of tokens built in. Like our
character tokens. If I were to use a top down token instead…let me get rid of
Jonah and replace him with the top down version of him, Jonah is going to be a
human female spellcaster all of a sudden.
Douglas Cole:
She got hit with with a polymorph.
Doug Davison:
So now, Jonah will…I drag Jonah to the map, as I mouse wheel, Jonah moves. And
you can zoom in our out. She’ll scale with it, now that I zoom in and out.
That’s called a locking token scale, and you can zoom in and out, and as I
zoom, if I want her to fit perfectly in one of those hex grids I can make her
bigger or smaller, and once I lock it, then all tokens of that size will shrink
or grow in relation to the map. So that makes it real easy to move around.
Douglas Cole:
So one thing that’s with GURPS at least, because it’s typically a one-yard hex
– and this is not all GURPS all the time. It just happens to be the system that
I think in. One of the deals though, is I wrote a book about grappling, I take
Jonah and throw him down, all of a sudden he’s two hexes long.
Is there a facility for
multiple tokens depending on posture or anything like that? Without going
through all the different choices that you just did.
Doug Davison:
I’m not familiar with one, other than you could shrink them or grow them a
little bit. So you could switch out the token, if you had two versions of the
token, and had one of them with him prone.
Douglas Cole:
Exactly! I was wondering if you could have Jonah with your top down token, your
prone token, your kneeling token, and you could just toggle between them
without having to do click drag, switch, whatever. That would be kind of
awesome.
Doug Davison:
Yeah. Definitely, from a programmer’s perspective, what you would probably do
is you would make – instead of just having one token spot where Jonah is. You
see he has a single token option?
I would imagine you could
probably add a tab with all the different lists of tokens and you’d link that
to a script. You can do various things, I want the main option, to go prone,
stand, kneel, all that sort of thing. You could play around with those and link
that code up. And say, go back to the base character that token is used, switch
what graphic is rendered.
Douglas Cole:
Okay, so that would be something where if you wanted to have a table of four or
five different . . . you’d have the top down token that’s standing, got a prone
one with blood in the background or something, which would be unconscious or
dead, right click the token, pull up the token menu and boom, click click done.
Doug Davison:
Absolutely.
Douglas Cole:
You’d obviously need to script it. That’s really neat. Honestly, this has
been…Fog of War or vision blocking or illumination or any of the classic…
Doug Davison:
What we typically have is…
Douglas Cole:
You mentioned masking earlier.
Doug Davison:
Here you go in and you’ve got your layers, it’s a layer on top. You see where
it says ‘enable mask.’ From a GM’s perspective you drop a map on it, then mask
on it, the GM can see where everything is. It’s kind of like a fogged-out
version of it. The player won’t see anything until you cut it away. As you cut
away portions, it’ll expose that part for the player.
They don’t see the same
level of detail, in the background that’s the GM’s version. In the background
they have a bit more information.
As I expose more…that was
the wrong idea to do. It takes just a second and it cuts away that part of the
map. You can also free-form cut too. We figured most of the time you’re going
to be drawing nice kind of squares, but you can hold down your shift key and do
circles or whatever the case may be, and you can expand out that way.
One of the features that
is one wish list, I know that some other virtual tabletops have, is the
lightning linked to the specific characters. So if they’re carrying torches, or
maybe they rely on knowledge about if the character has dark vision or whatever
and locked sight on doors.
We’ve opted for…what we
think is a simpler set up, you just load a map, the same as if you were playing
tabletop. There is a wall there, you character from where they are located
can’t see through that wall.
Douglas Cole:
Right. So there is a certain amount of player agency to it.
But you could also probably
link an unmasking 20 ft circle that was linked to a token.
And that would be a
cheesy, but effective way of doing a circle of light.
Cheesy is the wrong word,
it would be simplistic, but effective. You’ve got good vision up to this point,
and that would be kind of neat. Another thing that you could probably wind up
doing because I see that you got a opacity feature built into the GM map, is if
you had perfect vision for 10 or 20 ft and decent vision for 30 or 40 ft you
could probably scale down the opacity to represent penalties and stuff.
Doug Davison:
Absolutely. Let me show you real quick this is another one of the GM features
that is pretty nice.
As an example if you’re
going to set up a encounter in advance…let’s shrink this a little bit more.
Let’s say as they enter this room you want to have that famous encounter with a
dire bat and two black bears this time.
You can see on the fly I
change how many tokens there are. I’m going to preplace these in advance. Here
is where the dire bat would start in that combat encounter, and maybe in the
next room I’m picking up and dragging the token to start. So that would allow
me to load them, and preload them in, and when I come back out and delete all
my foes.
Again, when you enter that
room, it knows that this is pre-linked with that map, and that will save
between sessions. So I close off, I’ve done it the day before or whatever, I
just hit this add to the combat tracker and it automatically places them for me
where they start out on the map.
Douglas Cole:
And they are invisible.
Doug Davison:
They are invisible. What I can do in the background, again, he’s in the same
room, I can share them out and make them visible on a per-…let me see if I can
make both screens work, I’m going to make the dire bat visible so you just
click on that and it shares it. Zoom out a little bit.
Douglas Cole:
I just realized how big that dire bat was…that is a ginormous bat.
Doug Davison:
You can do it individually by turning them on or off. You can make everything
visible, or invisible.
Then the player, the nice
thing about that. Sorry, it’s a little bit more toggling when your showing the
player and GM view. The thing that the player can do is say “I want to do a
cone attack” so they’re going to do a cone…
Douglas Cole:
Ahh, built-in cone attack.
Doug Davison:
Yeah. You do that sort of stuff. You’ve got…
Douglas Cole:
Can you do different angles, I’m sorry I didn’t see.
Doug Davison:
So to start over you, say corners, you can do a cone, a circle, or a square, there
is definitely one of the cooler features, but it does it in your dice color. I
have a character with blue dice so if you had three or four players connected
it, it’ll do their effects it in their own colors.
Douglas Cole:
Cool. That is a 90 degree cone, can you do a 45 degree cone?
Doug Davison:
Right now, this is a Pathfinder one and the cones are always set…
Douglas Cole:
Always quarters. Okay.
Doug Davison:
If you have, like in Savage Worlds it has different shapes of cones in
different format. That would have to be something built into that specific rule
set to support it.
This one here, you got
those, and squares, if you’ve got something that emanates, you can set it, pick
it up and move it around where it is on the map. So if it’s a fog that drifts
or whatever, you can move it as time goes on. It’ll tell you the size in that
game system.
So the nice things, are
that you got this character, which let’s see if I have someone who has a attack
here, normally you’d use a spell, but I’ve got a fighter loaded unfortunately.
So let say they wanted to
target these three creatures. So I’m holding down control and then just
clicking on the target. Let’s say I do an acid arrow against each of those. So
it rolled an attack against each target that I had targeted, and tell me which
ones hit or missed or whatever.
When I roll my damage it
does the same thing and applies it.
If I were to look on the
GMs perspective now, there should be some damage applied. The black bear was
damaged for 6 and the dire bat was damaged for 6. But the other black bear was
missed, so no damage was applied.
So when you’re doing your
fireballs or that sort of thing, it’s very easy to target everything that
you’re going to shot at. It’ll automatically deselect the ones you missed and
you’ll just roll your damage.
The spell functionality is
something we invested a decent amount of time to. Again, to go back to your
player, Jonah, I think, is a wizard, so here you got a fireball attack, so you
do that same thing, but it’s going to do 5d6 damage and it’s a reflex save of
DC 17. I’ll do it one more time here, if I target each of those three
characters. The first thing is to make sure you’ll hit ‘em all, then you target
them – let me move those out of the way – when you roll your attack, it rolled
the dice, and it’s behind the window, but that middle bear is no longer
targeted, it made its reflex save. As I roll my 5d6 damage, it’s going to be
fire damage, so it’ll also check resistances. So if the creature had resistance
to fire, it’ll automatically deduct that for you. It takes a lot of those
minutiae out of the game and allows you to play faster. The characters are at a
different level.
Douglas Cole:
I see that your little power bar has dropped to half and the color coding.
Doug Davison:
That is an option you can turn on or off, and if you want to share it with your
players. As an option, you can come in your preferences and you can say what
level of detail do you want.
Here’s the tokens for the
GM. Do you want to show effects (you can turn them on or off)? That’s another
thing, if a spell has a sleep or dazed effect or whatever, it’ll automatically
place that as an indicator telling you that the creature is dazed or whatever.
You want to share that
with the players, you want to share the health.
Here is a tool tip, now it
will only show the health when I however over it. Here is a example, you can
just show a dot, it’ll change colors to orange or red or whatever and then off
or a tool tip. As you hover over it it’ll say “I’m healthy.” This person is an
enemy, you can change it to a bar or dot or tool tip. Heavy damage, light
damage, moderate damage.
Douglas Cole:
Cool. That’s certainly neat. I guess that’s…is there anything else kicking
around on the game that you really want to show us?
Doug Davison:
One other thing that’s really pretty neat. That gives you the basics, there is
a ton of functionally that I can talk about for hours and hours and bore
everybody to death.
But the library is one of
the things that we really think is critical.
As your building
characters – let close down a bunch of stuff here to make our screen a little
clear.
One of the things that’s
really nice is when you are building your encounters in advance, or one of your
characters gets a new level, and you want to add a new ability for instance.
I came come over here, is
it a feat? Yeah, it’s a feat. I can right-click and say “Create Item” and I can
say “Fancy Dance Move” that I just learned and describe what Fancy Dance Move
there. You can put the game description there or your notes there.
If there isn’t support in
the system already within Fantasy Grounds, that’s not a limitation, you can key
in stuff as needed, drag and drop from outside sources.
But . . . if it’s
something that’s in from the Pathfinder SRD you go to your basic rules section
and pull up your feats. There is a list of various feats, you can scroll
through, and each one of these has got the description from the SRD, what that
specific feat does and what it means when you have or don’t have it.
But you can also search,
“I’ve got a power something” as you type the first couple of characters it
narrows the list down so now I’ve got Empower Spell. Now the character has it
so in game time if they want to use it they just click on it.
That’s your basically
functionality. On equipment, it’s the same sort of thing, if you have a inventory
item and you use it.
I want to pull up a new
weapon I just bought here you can look and see different types of weapons, or I
can pull up a search and say it’s a spear so type the first couple of
characters and now…is it a long spear, short spear, or whatever. You drag it
over, it’s a lot of drag and drop functionality.
Here it has your
encumbrance, it’ll update your encumbrance for you automatically. Your basic
stats and critical modifier.
When you’re ready, if you
look on the actions, he now has two versions of a spear attack that they can
use. They can do a generic attack where it just uses there melee modifiers, or
they can do a thrown version, so you can toggle it so it’ll determine what
it’ll use. It’ll use the DEX modifier or Strength modifier.
Spells are the same thing,
you can drag and drop spells over from the library. You’ve got some of the
nicer things I think are the bestiaries, which I think help. All of your
demons. All of your dragons, giants, whatever. You have them kind of at your
fingertips with all their attacks preloaded.
Whenever you have an
encounter, like Adventure a Week guys, what they did on theirs, it’ll put a new
tab. This is my custom campaign, there are the monsters I’m running, but if I
want to see the monsters in this module, here is all the monsters that are pre-statted
out when they bought that module.
It’s the same thing if you
were to buy the PDF, they’re all pre-keyed in and this has all the same content
and save you the time for entry of having to go in and do those. Here you got
extra descriptions, here they have a strategy of what that creature is going to
do when you fight it. That’s a skeletal wolf for instances and the token,
they’ve linked it in with our tokens.
Douglas Cole:
Neat. That ties into…before I go to that last kind of question . . . so what
are you working on right now that you think is something that is future feature
(as opposed to a creature feature or maybe they are the same thing). That your
program is going to be implementing when you successfully code it?
Doug Davison:
We’ve got few things in the works and the biggest thing right now…we just made
it through a really big push that put in a ton of new features to manage your
entire party at a glance, party inventory funds, sharing experience, that sort
of automation for running a entire party of characters, in addition to the
individual character awards and so forth.
We’ve reached a good
stopping point, we’ve done a lot of consolidation of our older rule sets. We
have what we call a core RPG that’s a very basic vanilla system that you can
use to roll dice, share maps, images, tokens, that sort of thing. It’s kind of
in a game agnostic fashion, but the nice thing about it is we’ve also recoded a
number of the rule sets to build off of that one, so now we can look at adding
a special feature or function, we can add to that core rule set and it’ll
automatically roll out to each of those other game systems whenever that makes
sense.
So we don’t have to recode
it and say “What does that look like in Castles and Crusades, or what do that
look like in Pathfinder, or GURPS, or whatever.
If GURPS – and I believe
GURPS was built off of the core RPG, it was rebuilt basically to use the same
features – so if we add a town manager feature or a shop builder, or something
like that – and there are actually extensions that do that that a user has
built.
As we add those it’ll roll
out to everything all at once.
The other thing that we’re
doing right now is we’re trying to get this all packaged up and ready to go on
Steam. So we think that…it took us about a year to go through their greenlight
process, and to get the necessary traction for them to approve it, so now it’s
been approved and greenlit.
We need to take a break from
doing enhancements just for a little while, and rack this up with Steam so we
can expand it out to the six million or so users that are always active on
Steam any time of day. Hopefully that will explode us from our user base now
that’s in the 20,000s – I think we have 27,000 thousand users – to really get
it in the living room. That’s what I’m really excited about. The Steam machines
have the option of running on your TV, and using consoles type remotes and wireless
mouse and keyboard, then people could really seriously be playing dungeons and
dragons around there living room with their old college buddies or whatever the
case may be.
Douglas Cole:
That’s actually a good point in a way, is one of the things that I really do
like about…for example, Roll20 on Hangouts, which is a system that you know we
play a lot, or Hangouts in general, is the video. You got people on the bottom
of the screen talking like you and I are talking. Is that a feature that is or
will be enabled on fantasy Grounds?
Doug Davison:
It’s one of the things that…we actually use Google Hangouts or Skype – Normally
I use Skype;  I think John uses Google
Hangouts.
We use those same
features, it’s not integrated with the app it’s not a web application, but we
run it side by side.
I think for running
anything in virtual tabletop, any virtual tabletop you can look at, I highly
recommend getting just another monitor, if you’re running on your laptop, plug
a monitor in your laptop, so you got the extra screen real estate. I like to
keep Skype or something running on the side, and you can choose if you want
video, or don’t want video and keep Fantasy Grounds focused on the game
content.
We felt like it would pull
us away from the automation and some of the other functions and features we
could be adding. To do something that frankly, it would come out worse than
what the professionals could do from Skype and Google. So we don’t want to
compete with them and those things are always going to be getting better, and
we don’t want to limit ourselves.
For example, let’s say we
want Google+, it’s really good right now, but who’s to say that another service
won’t come out a year later that’s better and faster and has more functions and
features and whatever else.
Right now, by having it
separate it allows people to choose what they are comfortable with.
Douglas Cole:
Sure. So you mentioned it exists on computers and is going to be available
through Steam, I assume it’s not going to be free, if I have myself and six
players, how much is it going to run me and them?
Doug Davison:
Sure.
There are a couple of
different options, typically our older model was everyone needed a license, so
you would have GM licenses and Player licenses. The difference between those
two licenses were could you do content creation other than your character sheet?
If you only wanted to do
your character sheet, run your character in some combat, with some general
notes and track items that you have then the player version was your choice.
That today we have on sale
for $24, there is one license, there is no subscription. Every version that
we’ve come out with all the way to Fantasy Grounds 1 and even before John and I
took over the company, has free upgrades to the latest version that we have
available. We’ve done that since 2005, every edition, thousands and thousands of
hours of code have gone out to people who have bought it at any point in time.
The GM license allows you
to host a game, and have players connect to it. You get all the campaign
management functionality, you get the ability to create your own stories and NPCs,
pull in your own images and maps, build your own library of content. Those run
$39 right now and each person would buy one.
We do have some GMs who
have players who don’t…they don’t think their players would spring for a
service like this, or they choose to take the burden on themselves, they buy
something called an ultimate license and it’s $150, but then the players
connect for free and that way if they have…some people will do that if they
have multiple groups of players they’ll run or if they’re always inviting new
players to the game, they don’t have to worry about cost being a barrier entry
to their games.
But I will say that
regardless of whether you could talk your gaming group into playing on a VTT .
. . one of the things that when I first came to it, I couldn’t talk my local
group into playing, because I was moving from Champagne-Urbana (in Illinios)
back to Kentucky, where I grew up, and I had a fantastic gaming group in
Illinois’, but some of them just don’t have computers or they didn’t want to
play it online, so I bought Fantasy Grounds as a GM license myself, and I
connected and played with people I’ve never ever met in person – even to this
day I’ve never met them in person – and I’ll say I made the same lasting,
bonding friendships that I’ve made with people at the local gaming store.
There are a ton of users
out there, and a bunch of other players who have gamed at different times, and
all throughout the world. I’ve got people in the United Kingdom that are
playing, and Brazil, all over the world. I see people every once and a while
people from Timbuktu, that’s really a…there really is a Timbuktu, and people
really do game there.
It’s interesting to see,
and there’s tons of games out there, and Fantasy Grounds is one option, but any
virtual tabletop would be surprised to see to what degree you can really play
the game and have the same sort of experience and what better experience you’d
have in person.
Douglas Cole:
I think that brings us to the…I think you summarized it well, the future of
virtual tabletops and online gaming in general, is you’ve characterized it as
just broader. There are tons of people that are gaming. Lots of availability.
Link up to almost any game as long as you obey some basic social contract
rules.
And in a way I guess the
Fantasy Grounds has started it, but do you ever think that the publishing of
games and the gaming software will be more closely linked?
Obviously the Adventure a
Week module, where you can buy a digital adventure, and just pop right into
Fantasy Grounds, is the closest I’ve seen to that. It’s a fully implemented
module.
Doug Davison:
That’s definitely something we see a lot of opportunity in the future.
We’ve had conversations
with the guys at Paizo and Wizards of the Coast as well. Adventures and
modulses. We’ve built a lot of those libraries of stuff ourselves. So it’s
definitely something we do with other publishers.
We’ve got 16 o 17
different publishers we do that with. So they could be something from a
adventure module or library modules are really nice. Call of Cthulhu have tons
of splatbooks type of thing, you can go through and read all about a specific
setting, maybe it’s a time or era or whatever and put it directly in the tools.
So people don’t have to have a PDF version and key it all in, or whatever,
because really keying in the data can become a barrier to playing online because
it takes a whole lot of time.
Douglas Cole:
That’s actually the next question, before I give you the last word.
It seems to me the real
barrier to entry for people who are not XML coders, would be some kind of
automated scripting tool or tools that would enable Joe User, like myself.
I’m 42 years old, I can do
some coding. I used to. But I don’t know XML. I think the last real coding
experience I had might have been visual basic.
I’m sure I could do
coding, learn how to do it, but I’ve got a little girl, and I’ve got other
things to do other than write programs.
I would love to be able to
go “Boom, Boom, Boom” and do monsters or do characters and upload maps, or have
some customized rules or I really like the new firearms rules that Hans-Christian
Vortisch published in Pyramid and wouldn’t it be nice to go “Click, click,
click, drag, go,” and remove that barrier to entry for the casual gamer.
Doug Davison:
Absolutely. That’s really got to be key, that’s where I think that Fantasy
Grounds really stands shoulders above a lot of the competition.
Especially in the areas
where we have game systems that are supported, either in the official rule sets
that we’ve developed, or with one that the community members have developed.
You get so much out of the box, where it has all that functionality. It might
not have every single feature of a game system implemented. But it will get you
up and running in no time.
If you look at that and
you look at what is it like to play that same game around a table, you don’t
need everything to be automated, and I would caution against that – especially
in the very beginning. You just need to be able to roll the dice. Even if you
were to game on a system there was no system to support for whatsoever, just
load up the core RPG and share your images and your maps and your stories, and
then the dice is still going to be..you’re going to roll the dice just like you
would around the table.
That shouldn’t really
limit you from doing that. I wouldn’t 
encourage people to look at this and say “Well, it can do all these
things in Fantasy Grounds” and the very first thing they try to do is code?
No, that’s not the right
approach, and in fact I would recommend you get a system, you look at all the
ones out there, is there a system supported that I do want to play.
I would encourage you to
play in the game system for a while or play in that sandbox because that will
also show you how things are implemented. You don’t want to start developing
your own version until you see OK, well, this works really really well in this
system. Let’s see how they did it in Pathfinder and I can see how it would make
sense here. You don’t want to jump in the deep end from the very beginning, you
want to get your feet under you to begin with and using the features that are
there, and then look and see what do I really need to expand and ask yourself
those questions as you go forward.
Douglas Cole:
Exactly.
As I’m contemplating my
own campaign, what I’m going to want to be able to do is, either within Fantasy
Grounds, or some other program, I’m going to want to map.
And very clearly I can
bring in a map, I can darken it up with masking, I can put a hex grid on it.
Then I’ll have to import
characters, and I know that there is a GURPS Character Assistant to Fantasy
Grounds tool which I saw online, which is kind of awesome.
Doug Davison:
That other thing is it’ll give you a blank character sheet for a GURPS
character, and you just fill in your own stats, all of those are typeable
areas. And it looks like they coded them up so you could do your 3d6 dice rolls
automatically.
Douglas Cole:
Yeah. I saw that. I actually got a note – that someone logged into the YouTube
feed and left a comment – saying that an upgrade for all the different features
that you and I have been discussing are in the works for the latest GURPS
rules.
Doug Davison:
Sometimes, you’ll be amazed – and I’m always amazed at what the community
members do today, a lot of them are professional programmers, or graphic
artists, or both. This is their hobby, the development of these automated
sophisticated systems, they get as much joy out of these as they do playing the
game sometimes.
Sometimes just getting on to
the forums and saying “Hey, this would be really cool if you did that.” If they
have a audience for it, it’s amazing what people will put together.
I’ve seen people write…one
guy wrote a extension which was very very clever, someone made a suggestion on
the forum and said “Wouldn’t it be cool if you could speak in the chat window
in different languages, and all the people that knew that language on their
character sheet could read it.”
So he made something so
you could speak in Elvish or Dwarven or whatever, and you change which language
you’re talking and it writes out Elvish-looking script into the chat window if
you don’t know Elvish. And if you do
know Elvish it puts a little tag so that you know that you’re speaking in
Elvish, but you can read the text clear.
How cool is that? My mind
is always boggled seeing what people do and how creative and how talented
members of our community are. And a lot of it comes into the tool.
A lot of times…one of our
users made all sorts of stuff, he actually skinned out our 4th
edition rules set and a lot of our graphics. He’s actually created stuff and
said “Hey, this is what I’ve done for my own personal use. If you guys like it,
feel free to use it.” And so we’ve said, “Okay” and we’ve integrated it with
our system and shared it out with all of our users and now it’s a option. They
can say I want the “stone” version with its skin.
That sort of thing gets rolled
up a lot, especially if they are going to invest time developing something like
that, they just want to see it used.
Douglas Cole:
Right. The amount of money I’ll get from any one Pyramid article or my
Technical Grappling book is fairly miniscule relative to the satisfaction of
getting a good play report.
Doug Davison:
Absolutely. We do have the option, if people want to sell something. We had one
player that built…we didn’t have templates implemented, so he wanted to have
all the summon monsters in the table, so he went through and entered all the
NPCs and statted them all out. “Hey, you guys, I use this for my game, do you
think that the users would like it.”
So I said “Yeah, sure.”
And helped him get it loaded up to our store and he sells and every quarter I
send him royalties on that. So we have that option if people choose to go that
route, or if people want to share them for free they can do that too. I think
we try to cater to both audiences.
Douglas Cole:
That’s really cool. So I always give my guest the last word, and I think it’s
about wrap-up time, we’ve been chatted for a bit and I’m very interested in the
Fantasy Grounds and I’m going to have to figure out which VTT I’m going to be
using, and I know I’m going to be using one because I don’t have a gaming group
here.
As we wrap up here, what’s
the last word that you want to give people who are interested in Fantasy
Grounds or VTTing or if you want to talk about anything gaming related (just
not religion or politics).
Doug Davison:
[laughs] I’ll avoid the religion or politics, although sometimes gaming get’s just
as heated I suppose.
Douglas Cole:
I was thinking about the same thing, yeah.
Doug Davison:
I would ultimately say that a lot of the systems you can go in and download and
try them. I would urge people to try out Fantasy Grounds, I hope that they
would. Our demo is free, they can download it and run two instances of it and
connect to each other. It’ll give them a taste of if the application is good
for them.
We also have a ton of
YouTube videos, where they can go and follow along.
I would just encourage
people to . . . if they haven’t tried virtual tabletop gaming yet to give it a
shot.
And try multiple things.
Don’t just try one game system or one virtual tabletop and say “It’s not for
me” because the experience is significantly different from us or Roll20 or d20
Pro or MapTools, each one of those environments caters to a slightly
differently audience I think. Some of them are easier to get off the ground and
running, but others have more features and you need to find the one that fits
for you and I think it’s worth doing the investment if you take a week or two
and try all the different ones before you make a decision.
But if you do join Fantasy
Grounds you’ll find that there is a very friendly community and we would be
happy to have you.
Douglas Cole:
Okay, I want to thank you for your time and joining us and the detailed
walkthrough of Fantasy Grounds. I enjoyed it.
It was good to see the
GURPS support that’s out there, and I’ll link to that to both the wiki and to
the video that you showed me where the GCA export, because honestly for GURPS
making a character is a very front-loaded expedience.
Swords and Wizardry or the
old d6 Star Wars – 5 minutes and you’ve got a character and you’re ready to
play.
With GURPS – you can do that, but often you’re buying,
and optimizing, and then you’ve got a pretty good character ready to go, and
then you can just play.
But to go through and do
GURPS character assistant and BOOM here is a import, and you can drag and roll
dice and all that stuff is very exciting capability for front-loaded systems.
Doug Davison:
Yeah.
Douglas Cole:
So it’s something that I certainly learned about Fantasy Grounds, and thank you
for walking me through it, but again, thank you for your time, and as new
features or anything come out, then the Firing Squad always has a spot on the
wall.
Doug Davison:
Great.

Douglas Cole:
Thanks a lot.

Gaming Ballistic’s Firing Squad was joined by +Liz Theis from +Lone Wolf Development to discuss their soon-to-be-released campaign management tool, Realm Works.

I was introduced to Liz and Lone Wolf through +Ed Healy and +Joey Turco of +Gamerati, who saw my notes about interviews for the RPGBA March Blog Carnival on VTTs and Computer Gaming aids.

I knew of Hero Lab, but honestly didn’t make the connection from Hero Lab to Realm Works to Lone Wolf Development until my interview with Liz was nearly over. Bad interviewer, bad!

Still, I will admit that I was skeptical of the value of the program going into the interview. After I was done, I think it’s worth more than a hard look for anyone who might be contemplating doing either fiction writing or any sort of game with many relationships to track. The way the system is laid out, your game prep, all the notes you take, can be revealed, or not, to the players line by line if you like. The same ability exists for maps.

But don’t take my word for it, watch the interview. I think you’ll be persuaded that this tool has a useful place in your gaming quiver.

 

MP3 Audio File

Text Transcript

Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic):
Good evening and welcome to Gaming Ballistic’s Firing Squad. This is the continuation of a series of interviews with virtual tabletop, online gaming computer aid, content creators, and boosters. Tonight, we are joined by Liz Theis, developer for Lone Wolf, and we will be talking about Realm Works: a campaign management and planning facilitation tool.

Which is not a virtual tabletop, but seems really neat for structuring, running, and remembering what the heck you are doing in any given campaign.

So Liz, thanks for joining us this evening.

Liz Theis (Lone Wolf Development):
No problem. I do want clear the record though: I’m not actually one of the developers, but I work closely with the developers to communicate what Realm Works has to offer – and I’m a game master myself so I think I have enough cred to share with you what Realm Works is all about.

Doug: Absolutely. You’re one of these evil marketing types.

Liz: Yeah. It’s true.

But like I said I am a GM, I’ve been playing role-playing games…I think I was three when I played my first game. I was a unicorn. I was awesome [laughs].

Doug: What is not to be awesome about being a unicorn since only yesterday my daughter told me that I was . . . Evil Darkside Moon or something. Something from My Little Pony.

Liz: Oh. Very nice.

Continue reading “Firing Squad Welcomes Liz Theis discussing Wolf Lair’s Realmworks”

The text transcript of my interview with Kenneth Hite is now live! Sorry it took so long, but there was a lot to go through and life got a bit busy this past weekend!

It was great to revisit my time with Ken by listening to it again, and for those who read faster than we talk, or want it in bite-sized pieces, I hope you enjoy the transcription.

This is a long interview, and an equally long transcript. I’ll go back over time and edit in links and fix any errors in spelling or transcription – feel free to point them out where they exist. The transcript is 19,750 words long, or basically a 24-page GURPS e23 supplement. So please enjoy it. Or even contribute to the Gaming Ballistic Interview Fund if you want to see more of such. OK, plug over. I give you Ken Hite.

This week,+Kenneth Hite generously accepted my invitation to sit down with me and chat about a limited part of his body of work.

I’ll admit to no small amount of trepidation at the opportunity. Ken’s knowledge is so encyclopedic that I wanted to make sure that I’d done my homework – so I purchased some books of his that I’d not had a chance to read yet, and tried to study. I’m 42 – it’s been a long time since I studied.

In any case, not only did we sit down, but he spent over two hours with me. Because the video is just shy of 120 minutes of pure awesome, I’m posting it before the transcript is ready (though it’s in my mailbox already, thanks to+Christopher R. Rice‘s diligent efforts), so you guys will get the weekend to listen to it, and then hopefully I’ll be able to put up the transcript late in the weekend or early next week.

Unlike previous Firing Squad interviews, this one is somewhat heavily edited. I cut nothing of Ken talking – but if you notice that here or there I seem . . . choppier than usual, it’s because I felt that it was best to have less of me and more of him.

In any case: ladies and gentlemen, I give you Ken Hite.

MP3 File – Audio Only

Text Transcript  

Note to readers: This is a long interview, and an equally long transcript. I’ll go back over time and edit in links and fix any errors in spelling or transcription – feel free to point them out where they exist. The transcript is 19,750 words long, or basically a 24-page GURPS e23 supplement. So please enjoy it. Or even contribute to the Gaming Ballistic Interview Fund if you want to see more of such. OK, plug over. I give you Ken Hite.

Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic):Good evening and welcome to Gaming Ballistic’s Firing Squad. I have the pleasure to be talking with Ken Hite. The prolific writer of many books including Night’s Black Agents and GURPS Horror, which we will be talking about tonight.

As well as the imagination-inspiring Day After Ragnorok. Which I will admit that I have not read in any great detail, but was so cool and Leonard Balsara when I talked to him, mentioned it, which I want to talk to you about eventually.

But just to get going I wanted to welcome you and thank you for joining me on the interview. And really start off the questions with Trail of Cthulhu.

It’s a game in Cthulhu Mythos featuring the GUMSHOE system. I played it briefly, but before I get into the mechanics, it seems like you have long been a fan of the Cthulhu Mythos.

What draws you to it, inspires you about it, and urges you to write a fairly complete roleplaying book about it.

Kenneth Hite (Master of Horror):First of all, thanks for having me own the Gaming Ballistic vidcast or whatever you call it, Doug. I appreciate the invitation.

As far as the Cthulhu Mythos, I think there is a combination of things I enjoy about it. The first is that it is everything that I enjoy and it’s all in one pile. It’s secret history, it’s conspiracy theory, it’s magic, it’s occultism, it’s horror, it’s philosophy, it’s hard science fiction, and it’s all piled up into one place.

So that just is a powerful body of concepts to tool around in.

Also it expands across all time and space, which is handy if you are trying to tell stories and it’s exponent is probably one of the two or three most influential creators of pop culture in the 20th century. And the 2nd greatest horror writer in American history, so just the sheer quality of material (at least at the top end of it). It beats any other fictional universe you want to name. I don’t think anyone else is out there trying to expand Yak’to’pa’fah county or something. Although I’m prepared to be wrong on that [Doug laughs].

There is not a lot of Hamlet fanfic is what I’m trying to say. The Shakespeare verse is fairly hived off, whereas the Cthulhu Mythos is part of our nerd-universe and is growing ever greater.

So I guess those are the sort of reasons to go after it on that level.

And then, why Trail of Cthulhu, it was just the moment at which Simon got the license for Call of Cthulhu from Chaosium. He thought, “Well, I’d like to get a known Cthulhu guy to do my game.” And asked me to do it.

And of course I’m a freelance writer and Simon is a tremendously . . . well he’s a good publisher, but he’s got a reputation for probity and treating writer’s right and doing a good job with a book and producing a proper book with good illustrations when he’s supposed to.

So for all those other reasons, anyone in their right mind would have signed on to do a game for Simon certainly.

 

Douglas Cole Yeah, I will definitely admit that the book itself is wonderful to read and that is one thing I’ve enjoyed on both Trail of Cthulhu and Night’s Black Agents that the books themselves make great reading, which is always fun.

Kenneth Hite It’s sort of my job as a writer, is to make sure people want to read the thing. It doesn’t matter how good your game design is, or how good your ideas are if no one wants to read them. So that’s sort of step one: Write prose that people want to keep reading.

Douglas Cole That’s a great point. I think that’s one thing that I’ve been dinged for a little bit on the grappling book that I wrote for GURPS: It’s dry. It is 50 pages of rules from front to back.

Kenneth Hite In fairness, once you’ve opened a book for GURPS called “Technical Grappling” you should know the line of country that you’ve entered. It’s not like [flails arms] “Oh my God, where is the love interest?!” No, it’s pretty much all going to be “+2 to grab the neck,” that’s what it’s going to be for 50 pages. [grins]

Douglas Cole Right. And if you were looking for a love interest in that concept, well there is grappling involved…

Kenneth Hite Yes [grin widens, Joker-eqsue].

Douglas Cole Yes, but this is a family show.

Kenneth Hite Again, the rules have not been written, thank God.

Douglas Cole Indeed . . .[gets a mischievous look in his eyes] Uhhh, you know what, even if they have been, my brain will not wrap around that.

Two things actually, you’ve got your Cthulhu Mythos and Shakespeare. I think one of the interesting things, is that Shakespeare tells great stories, but there is a beginning, a middle, and end to the story.

The nice thing about Cthulhu is it is sort of beyond time and space, and including the Venn Diagram, it is both expansive and non-Euclidian. And it’s spun off some really interesting tales: Hellboy is sort of, or effectively a Cthulhu tale. At least, the movie borrowed significantly from, what seemed to me to be the Old Tentacle Horror imagery.

Kenneth Hite Well certainly, when you look at the way the Mignola draws the Ogdru-Jihad and some of the Hellboy beasties. And Mignola has made no bones about the fact that he is a huge Lovecraft fan and thanks Lovecraft is vitally important.

Part of it is that one of the things that Lovecraft did was that he made the tentacle the signifier of horror in a way that it wasn’t before he wrote.

If you look at people writing horror before him, the signifier for otherworldly horror or horror from outside of our conventional space was a hoof. Even as recently as William Hope Hodgeson, his horrors were porcine. They were pigs.

That of course is a call back to the good ole imagery of the Devil. That he’s an animalistic creature with hooves, whether they be pig hooves, deer hooves, or whatever kind – but they aren’t tentacles.

Pretty much the only guy writing before Lovecraft that does that same thing, M. R. James does it a little bit in Count Magnus, but he doesn’t do it as consistently, I guess, as Lovecraft does. James’ horrors are all over the map, whereas Lovecraft is really hitting that terror of the seafood imagery.

Douglas Cole Do you think he was allergic to shellfish or something? What brought that about?

Kenneth Hite Oh, he definitely thought he was allergic to fish. Whether he was or wasn’t obviously at that level of psychosomatic problem, he’s not fond of seafood and had a very strong physical reaction to smelling it. And when you live in a seaport town the way that he did, he must have been sort of confronted with that frailty, or that danger, every time he walked outside possibly.

Douglas Cole It’s interesting because a rap that I’ve heard on Peter Jackson’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings is that “We get that you’re afraid of falling, can we have some other challenge.” And Lovecraft of course, being Lovecraft, managed to take that and do it in a lot of ways and it’s always scary, whereas at least the visual from the Hobbit stuff seemed to get a little . . . over-the-top and intense without inspiring the same fear that it must inspire in Mr. Jackson.

Kenneth Hite Well if anyone had ever died from falling, then it might have inspired the fear, but when the dwarves are falling 80 stories and bouncing, then it’s hard to maintain any tension in the scene. We’ve now established, in canon apparently, that the only thing that can die from falling in Middle-Earth is the Balrog…which seems odd, but what do I know?

Douglas Cole Even that didn’t kill ‘em it – it was the standard sword in the chest that did it. Which mostly does it for most things.

Kenneth Hite It’s a widespread weakness [Doug laughs].

Douglas Cole I’m going to turn briefly to a couple of questions on the mechanics. Did you write the game mechanics for Trail of Cthulhu?

Kenneth Hite The game mechanics are from Robin Laws’ GUMSHOE engine.

So Robin’s GUMSHOE engine debuted in Esoterrorists, and I adapted Esoterrorists and Fear Itself which had come out by then to Trail of Cthulhu.

So sort of trying to recreate as much as I could Sandy Peterson’s original 0th edition of Call of Cthulhu and that became what I called the “Purist Mode” in Trail. And then the slightly more run and gun Choasium-Indiana Jones-Robert E. Howard style mode of Call of Cthulhu is what I call the “Pulp Mode.” The book contains sort of two sets of dials you can use to tune your game for exactly what you want to do with it.

Douglas Cole Yeah, I remember back in high school, that was 1987-88, I think we Ran Call of Cthulhu back then. We played effectively in both modes, because we played a game that was sort of “Pulp Mode” and we went insane and I had to kill a fellow character because he was going nuts and I froze and crushed him and watched him thaw and went gibbering insane after that and that was good fun. And we also played I think it was called . . . Cthulhu 20th Century…

Kenneth Hite Cthulhu Now was the name.

Douglas Cole And it was basically you know, the interesting thing was, and I think we’ll get into this a bit with Night’s Black Agents, is if you give people a machine gun that works and all of sudden horror is a little less scary.

Kenneth Hite It depends on the horror.

Douglas Cole It does.

Kenneth Hite You can have all the machine guns that work you want that work in something like say, Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hell House” and it’s going to be even scarier because now there is mentally disturbed people with machine guns.

Douglas Cole Oh, on the…[laughs] Oh. They’re shooting at you…oh [laughs] That works too.

So I guess the two questions I sort of had, one is about mechanics and if you’re not into the mechanics or whatever, that’s cool.

But I love the concept of the investigative skills: I think that anything I’m going to walk away with GUMSHOE that’s the one. Because “it’s not the clues, it’s what you do with them” makes a ton of sense.

Kenneth Hite That’s the sort of core insight of GUMSHOE, one splitting things into skills in which failure makes the game boring, and skills in which failure makes the game interesting. If the only chance you have for failure is the second half you’ve already made your game 50% less boring . . . which is a victory.

Douglas Cole Agreed. The thing that struck, and again I’m not a rules expert in terms of GUMSHOE. But it’s – at least I think the way the general skills work – if I’m a doctor and I’ve got Night’s Black Agents and I think it’s Medic . . . though I think the resolution mechanic in Night’s Black Agents seems slightly different to me than Trail of Cthulhu. So if I had 8 points or whatever in Medic I was kind of 50/50 for anything I’d want to try for that adventure.

Or is that a misinterpretation of how it works?

Kenneth Hite Well Medic is a special case because there is a special iteration of it in which you spend points of Medic to heal people’s injuries as a First aid type ability.

Douglas Cole So Medic was in Night’s Black Agent’s – was Medic also in Trail of Cthulhu…

Kenneth Hite First Aid was in Trail of Cthulhu. But the differences between Trail of Cthulhu and Night’s Black Agent’s we’ve gotten feedback from people who’ve said we really not being able to heal people anymore.

So that’s why if you look in Night’s Black Agents, you can still heal once you’ve gone done to zero – it’s just less effective. But the general notion is that a more normal general skill, like say shooting, if you spend points on a roll you have a better chance of success, right?

Douglas Cole Right.

Kenneth Hite And that’s true across both. The difference being that in say in Call of Cthulhu if you have 75% Pistol, you always have that same 75% which means you always have a 25% chance of failing your shot, right?

Douglas Cole Right.

Kenneth Hite But if you have, in GUMSHOE, you have 8 shooting points, you like you say, you begin usually with a 50/50 chance of hitting, because most things have a target number of 4 on a d6.

If you spend three points of your right you are guaranteed to hit, and if you spend 1 point you have a better chance to hit, and then if you spend no points you are still at as you say 50/50.

So what’s happening in GUMSHOE is its rewarding narrative decision so you decide when you get that hit and when you don’t. Whereas in Call of Cthulhu game you might wind up hitting the exact same number of times, but they are randomized. In GUMSHOE you’ve picked where you are going to shoot, which follows the narrative model of GUMSHOE, whereas Call of Cthulhu has a strong simulationist quality that comes out of Steve Parens reaction to DnD, ultimately, because it comes out of RuneQuest.

Douglas Cole Yeah, Fair enough. I think when I was playing Trail of Cthulhu with the GUMSHOE system, the thing that struck me in general about that particular skills mechanic – and nothing that I’m going to say applies to the Investigative Skills mechanic which I understand, I agree with, and I love – But the general skills stuff – if you’re a great doctor or whatever – wait, forget the doctor because that’s a special case.

In Night’s Black Agent’s and maybe it’s there and maybe I just glossed over it in Trail of Cthulhu, but Night’s Black Agents had very clear refresh rules. Has very clear refresh rules.

So if you chill out in a safe house for 24 hours of game time, you can be a awesome shooter again.

Kenneth Hite Trail has similar refresh rules, but it has less opportunity to refresh than Night’s Black Agents, because in Night’s Black Agents you’re playing Jason Bourne, that’s sort of your default guy and you have to be really awesome.

So one of the goals in Night’s Black Agents is to feed that economy of general ability points, giving you lots of ways to get them back and lots of opportunities.

Whereas in Trail, you’re Randolph Carter at best, you should always be wondering “Is this my last chance? Am I going into this crypt and that’s going to be it for me?”

So the feel of Night’s Black Agents is different from the feel of Trail of Cthulhu, and then in Night’s Black Agents game, obviously the GM can adjust or sort of change up the horrors in a way, and get the horror back if that’s their goal. But the fundamental nature of your character should be ultra competence in Night’s Black Agents and not so much in Trail of Cthulhu.”

Douglas Cole Yeah. And I think that it’s funny. I think that I would have an easier time going back to Trail of Cthulhu having read and understood the drama-forward that was articulated in a better way in Night’s Black Agents. Maybe it was because it was easier to read or I enjoyed the material.

Kenneth Hite It’s also because the game came out four years later.

We had four years of not just playtesting, of playing, playing Trail of Cthulhu. Giving us feedback. Reading people on blogs. Reading people on forums. RPGnet. Yog-Soth-Thoth.com. Or whatever.

Finding out from the users what they thought worked, and what they didn’t think worked. What they missed in the rulebook. There are rules that are right there in the Trail and they never noticed them until we pointed out and said “Hey, man, check this: Page 69, guy!” Or whatever.

It’s questions of organization. It’s questions of clarity. It’s question of Robin and I taking turns rewriting basically the same material over and over and over again. Robin’s really good, and I’m no slouch. Just us.

We’ve basically been polishing the draft of how to play GUMSHOE for five year now. It’s not surprising it got better. Regardless of the difference between NBA vs. Trail as a game.

Douglas ColeSure. Something that has been talked about and some of the other interviews and just as a topic. How do you make and sell and make a living making roleplaying games?

It’s sort of a niche of niche. Roleplaying games is a niche of overall gaming and every individual genre. Night’s Black Agents book and the other pieces, are complete games. It’s not: here’s a Basic book and a genre expansion, say the way GURPS is and I know GURPS is going to try that with the Discworld Game.

Kenneth Hite Well they did it with Transhuman Space and they did it with World War II also. They’ve done it every now and again.

Douglas Cole They have. Is there any thought to taking a step backwards . . . or maybe it already exsists. Is there a GUMSHOE core, and then you can expand it.

Kenneth Hite No. There is a GUMESHOE SRD because the system is now open. But that is not a play a game from this document document unless you are a game designer or a gearhead – a guy who really wants to get under the hood on stuff.

Our thought has always been, like I said, that we always want narrative-forward, narrative-first.

GUMSHOE games are all about emulating a genre or style of story. So Trail of Cthulhu is all about emulating Lovecraftian Horror Adventure, or Mythos Horror adventure. Horror mystery. Night’s Black Agents is vampire spy thriller.

If we ever come up with a game that requires us to alter or twist or bend out of shape some of the core GUMSHOE rules what we don’t want to do is say “Go back to this other book and ignore part of it.”

Douglas Cole Right.

Kenneth Hite What we want to do is present a core ruleset, and then let people look at the game as a organic whole.

Doing a GUMSHOE corebook would irrationally prejudice the status of GUMSHOE the moment that Robin and I put that book together. Whereas what should be given credence is what it says in the actual rule book you’re playing with. Because Robin has looked at it and said “Do this really feel like Jack Vance Space adventure?” Or I’ve looked at it and said “How do I make this look like the four minutes in the middle of the second Bourne movie that I’m really trying to emulate?” Right?

Douglas Cole Right. That makes a lot of sense and I think one of the hard things, and I’m running into this even in my meager thing. People are like “What about this rule?”

And I turn it around and I’m like “What do you want it to be?” And I get “That’s not the answer I’m looking for!” And I’m like “Well look, if you’re doing something that is really gritty realistic and you want someone wrestling around to take one-hundred and twenty turns of GURPS time, because you have a two-minute round and everything’s going on there, then you are going to want to do it this way.

And if you want this to be like Black Widow from Iron Man 2 flipping around twelve guys while Happy the Happy Puncher beats somebody to death, or gets beaten to death in the background, then you are going to want to use these set of cinematic rules and you have to pick.”

And the one thing, one of the many things that I do like about the Night’s Black Agents and Trail of Cthulhu are presented, is that it is a complete game and some of the work is taken out.

And as I get older Ireally appreciate pruning. As a GURPS author, I offer a toolkit for people to choose from because that’s the way the system is. As a player and a GM, it’s nice to have things done to help you.

Kenneth Hite Both Trail and Night’s Black Agents have like I said, dials that allow you to pick and choose.

So you can play a Night’s Black Agents games that’s more like Natasha Romanov and less like Happy, or you can play a game where people are more…low key spies. They’re more like George Smiley or Paul Christopher in terms of being a desk guy and not a super solider.

And so those are dials that exist within the game, but the game has a very strong default assumption. Part of my job as a writer was to make the reader aware of this default and to make everything feel like “If you don’t do anything, you’re going to be playing this kind of game” and that kind of game that you’re going to be playing is, like I said, Jason Bourne vs. Dracula.

Douglas Cole Right. Which is all kinds of awesome.

So one question I do have – or one comment – is one of the things that strikes me about GUMSHOE as a broad set of rules, is that with the drama forward and with your ability to spend investigative points to sort of promote . . . You can spend points and make a NPC that was kind of an also ran, if the players are so inclined and the GM agrees, you can sort of say “I’m going to spend two points in this” and all of sudden the person of which you are asking a question can be promoted to a major NPC.

And as I was playing Trail of Cthulhu, it struck me as: This could be a hard game to run. It’s, on the one hand story-forward, but you really have to be on your toes when you are running it.

I don’t know if that’s unique to this style of narrative gaming, or if it’s just GMing a good story is always difficult, and when you are focusing on story you are not just…”Here’s 12 orcs and you have to kill them and where am I on the hex map (or square map if you’re playing Pathfinder or something like that)”

So maybe it’s just a harder thing to do, because writing is hard and storytelling is hard than it seems.

So do you have any comments on whether this is an easy game to run or a hard game to run or what modes are approachable versus something where it’s going to leave people scratching their head or frustrated?

Kenneth Hite Well, I think that there . . . obviously our goal, I think everyone’s goal as a game designer is to make a game that is easy to run or at least fun to run.

And what’ hard for you to run is going to vary from player to player and GM to GM.

I found 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons relatively hard to run because there was so much rules mastery to climb. And if I ran this sort of what you were talking about 120 rounds of fist furious action GURPS, I would find that hard to run.

When I run GURPS I run it much more rules lite. I pull it way back. If I’m going to go deep into the tactical woods somewhere, it’s because there is some sort of monster that rewards that sort of tactical game play, and it’s going to be more fun for the players to see them get eviscerated one round at a time, as opposed to run a GURPS game but not with the vary technical sort of rules sets.

And I think that every GameMaster is maybe different. There are people obviously, thousands, tens of thousands of people who have no problem running DnD 3rd edition or Pathfinder because they are doing it right now.

It’s just a matter of what you are willing to get mastery over.

I think as awriter it pays me more dividends for me to get mastery over story-creation, so I find Trail of Cthulhu or Night’s Black Agents easier to run because they reward that story creating habit.

If you are in the habit of looking at story and saying “What do we need for a story to happen,” Running a GUMSHOE game is like falling off a log because it’s just that simple. You make a story, you figure out where the players get into it, you find out, you figure out how they get from A to B and you put guys with guns along the path. And that’s a session. You’re done.

I think that there are mechanics that you can use to make running GUMSHOE easier for people who think that way, and that’s why I tried to put things in like the Vampymrid and Conspyramid to give people a roadmap through.

And that’s why we’ve introduced, we’ve blown out the spine to give that standard structure for the adventure like there is in the back of Trail and the back of Night’s Black Agents.

If you just keep in mind that every gamemaster is going to be different, and every gamemaster is going to need different things, the trick is to write a game that sort of, at the very least supports all styles of gamemastering, and ideally provides more support for the area where the game itself shows off.

In GURPS, the game really shows off when everyone knows the fiddly +2’s, so writing a supplement that’s GURPS Technical Grappling is a great thing.

In GUMSHOE really shows off when the story seems rich and vibrant and forward moving and that’s why when I wrote Night’s Black Agents, there needs to be a mechanic so the bad guys can do stuff and I need to do it so the people who haven’t been spending 20 years of having Nyarlathotep slap people around come up with something. So that’s what I did.

Douglas Cole Yeah just to give a visual that will be fuzzy enough for people can see it [holds up book to camera] so that is the VamPyramid. There is a couple other great little mnemonic devices. There’s the conspyramid, which was really a fun piece, where you say here are all the different levels.

The Association Map seemed to me to be a wonderful thing to tell a deeply layered story.

Kenneth Hite Yeah.

Douglas Cole. . . and . . . Go ahead.

Kenneth Hite That comes from…if you look at like the Wire, you look at any show at which people are trying to find a bad guy there is always that bulletin board in the corner with the pictures and the string.

I think that is a great element of those kind of stories and I wanted to reward players for having that kind of element. My players in the Alpha playtest refused to do it because they thought it was too much work. That’s why there are mechanics in there that bribe players who do it.

So if you put the bad guy into the Adversary Map you get rewarded depending on how many connections you’ve found between him and the other pieces of the universe.

So that I think was…it’s put of my goal for making things feel like the source material in a way.

It also turns out to be a really great way to generate story ideas because players that have been using Adversary Maps the GMs come back to me or they go online and say “I really don’t have to write a game at all because the players are just following their own leads now.”

As a director of Night’s Black Agents, or any kind of GM, that’s like gold to you because you can spend all the time coming up with atmosphere, thinking of special powers of the mind, monsters, or doing something else to make the story interesting because the players have already feed themselves the hook.

Douglas ColeI like the . . . Black Ops, S. John Ross’s Black Ops. I thought that was tons of fun.

Kenneth Hite Yes. One of my three favorite GURPS books of all time.

Douglas ColeI like Jason Levine’s Monster Hunters, which is just really Black Ops in 4th edition. Or you could easily fit Black Ops into Monster Hunters. I love the Buffy the Vampire Slayer stories, and Angel, and that kind of blending of modern day and the supernatural because it’s not boring run-of-the-mill. And you’re not going to have to worry about the terrorist of the week and I don’t need to…

I can live in that world and I’ve done tactical gaming with the GURPS and whatever and for me at least it’s greatly enjoyable. But sometimes it’s fun to be stalked by zombies or attacked by werewolves or yeah you can shoot all you want but you’re shooting at your own shadow.

And the nice thing about the Adversary Map and the ConsPyramid is it’s a great way to just sit down and say “I’m gonna draw a couple of levels here and this is how things work out.”

And here is a deeply layered story and in any one adventure the odds of people – the players – leaping three things and finding you effectively in a mental hex crawl, where you are totally unpopulated, and you’ve got this black sheet of people and they’re looking at you and the pizza’s getting cold and the beers getting warm – unless you are in England is not a good thing. And you just left with nothing to do and the nice thing about this is it doesn’t really take much. “Here are these”…a couple of relationships, pick out two or three relationships per box and it expands geometrically and you’ve got a year and a half of storytelling, plus the stuff the players do to themselves because like “Oh man wouldn’t it be awful if…”

Kenneth Hite Mmmhmm. Yeah that’s I think I mention in either Double-Tap or Night’s Black Agents that if the players have decided the super-tanker is full of blood, then the super-tanker is full of blood, and it’s up to you to figure out why that happened. Because it’s just too cool if that’s what happened.

Douglas Cole Yeah. There is a blog that I follow. He’s a new guy. I call him Mr. Insidious – but I think he calls it Insidious GURPS planning. He’s basically running a GURPS espionage game that has all these layers.

And it was impressive to have a story that was so deep. It felt like a episode of a Bourne Movie or a episode of Alias, which sometimes it gets so deep it’s like “Oh, Dear God,” and sometimes it’s not, and you’re like “Oh! I didn’t see that one coming” And it’s an awful lot of fun.

Kenneth Hite That’s one of the differences with the ConsPyramid, again, the narrative first model implies an end.

That there is a end to the story. There is a point at which Bourne has gotten everyone in Treadstone, there is a point at which you’ve staked the last vampire.

And as opposed to Alias which is just literally flailing around till they get canceled or the X-Files or Lost or these other serial TV that don’t have any notion of where they are going after they run out of ideas.

With Night’s Black Agents you know that there is an end point, and the players know that there is a end point. So what might seem pointless, they know that that ConsPyramid is narrowing to a point up here – so this point up here is Dracula or Elizabeth Bathory or immortal Joseph Stalin or something that is gonna be drinking people’s blood, and they are going to finally take that out or die trying.

That’s a different – I think that is a different kind of feel of either terrorist of the week or mummy of the week if it’s not a part of the story.

Picaresque storytelling is great and there is nothing wrong with it. But for a thriller you lose pacing and you lose momentum if there isn’t a place you are going to I find. I certainly find when I’m watching it.

Douglas Cole Right. Let’s see, so I’m gonna ask you – I’m probably gonna leave GUMSHOE and Night’s Black Agents for a little bit. I wanna do GURPS last. I do wanna ask since we are talking about storytelling and awesomeness and all that.

I have to ask: What led you – what inspired you to take the peanut butter that is World War II and the Asgardian legends that is the chocolate, and mix them together into Day After Ragnorok?

Kenneth HiteI think the main thing that inspired me was the deadline.

That began as a Suppressed Transmission called “Reality Ortha: The Day After Ragnorok” and it was one of those deals where Steven . . .

Steven Marsh is the most long suffering and patient of people. I feel really proud of just lifting him up into Buddhist Heaven. [Doug laughs] He is not going to come back around the wheel again, just for having to edit me for the majority of a decade.

But he would have – he would send me a email and he’d go “Is this going to be a week we are gonna get a Surppressed Transmission?” and I’d say “Sure. Yeah. Absolutely, not problem!” and . . . I forget when the deadline was. It was like Wednesday night, but I’ll say it was Wednesday night was the deadline. I know because it bounced on Friday, right? It used to drop on Fridays. I guess in theory it was Wednesday night, but in reality it was Thursday night [Doug echoes: “In reality it was Friday morning!”].

I would sit there, and watch the clock tick, and I would think “Oh man, if I don’t have something…he’s going to be not sad, but just hurt.”

I would desperately try and think of anything to get the ball rolling. For me, the Suppressed Transmissions would always begin with those quotes.

If you look at my things I really enjoy that quality of the old White Wolf games, where they were just full of the evocative quote material, and I thought that was a fun way to sort of kickstart everyone to go into the right direction was to use that sort of opener quote.

So I began as I would read blogs or read anything, and I would save really juicy quotes in a quote file so that if I found myself dry, I could take one of them and say “Alright you’re going to be a Suppressed Transmission for the day”

And the one I would up finding…let’s see if I can… [rummages through nearby books]. Where are you? There you are. [Holds up a Day After Ragnorok] it’s right there in Day After Ragnorok.

Douglas Cole Okay, yeah.

Kenneth Hite It winds up opening the inspiration section at the thing. Or no, it’s in the…yeah it’s in the opening of the Serpent Fall.

This is from a U.S. War Department Counterintelligence Assessment that was written in February of 1945. So they’re trying to get inside Hitler’s head and figure out if he’s going to surrender, or what he’s got planned and this is right after the Bulge. The V-weapons are going crazy.

So they don’t know what’s going on. This is their Counterintelligence Assessment “The Nazi myth which is important to men like Hitler requires a Gotterdammerung.”

Right? That’s the quote, the US Army wrote that.

So if you take that literally, what that means is Hitler has to be planning for the Gotterdammerung, for the end of the world, right? That’s something that he’s gotta have in his backpocket.

If you’re doing the end of the world for the Nazis it has to be the Teutonic/Norse mythology end of the world. Ragnorok.

From there it was just one little step to “Okay, Hitler’s plan is to bring about Ragnorok” and this is not something original necessarily to me. David Brin did it in Thor meets Captain America and other stuff, but I think I’m the person that pushed it all the way to the end where he actually does try to end the world.

And to mention David Brin again, the secret message is: “the Nazis were shcmucks,” [Doug laughs] so obviously something goes wrong with the End of the World. What defeats the End of the World before it gets started?

That makes me think, okay “The Midgard Serpent shows up. That’s the opening of the End of the World. He rises up out of the sea. Thor, in the original myth, smites him and is killed dead by poison.” What’s going to kill the Midgard Serpent? “

So I thought “Okay, the atom bomb will kill the Midgard Serpent. They’ll fly a B-29 right into the Midgard Serpent’s eye and detonate the atom bomb and burn his brain out.”

And that image then, I’m thinking, okay. Once you’ve done that you’ve still got the Midgard Serpent’s body, this is not reallysolvingthe problem.

So when the serpent falls across Europe and destroys and kills millions of people and you got a trillion ton snake suddenly lying across Europe and Africa. That’s where the story begins for me.

Because that’s send of wonder. That’s high concept sense of wonder. That’s worth doing something about.

Once I had that image of the dead serpent lying across the world I began to think “OK, that I can write. I can get 2200 words out of a dead Midgard Serpent lying across Europe.” As you can tell, eventually I got considerably more than that.

As I was writing it I kept thinking “What’s the core story?” Thor, when he destroys the Midgard Serpent has to be defeated. So what destroys the United States? So when the Midgard Serpent falls it creates a super-tsunami, right?”

Douglas Cole Eastern Seaboard.

Kenneth Hite Then there is also a rain of radioactive serpent venom out of the sky, as the atomized head of the serpent…the rain of the serpent flows in an anomalous polar-eastery and rains down across North America.

So now the entire continent is springing up with monsters. So in North America, you have a new Hyborian Age, you have Conan the Barbarian 1948. Submachine guns and Sorcery.

On the other side of the equation, what happens to the rest of the world? Well, Stalin grabs everything he can, and then I had to think why isn’t Stalin now freezing to death in the world’s worst drought?

So I said we need a secret weapon for Stalin, and that was the Frost Giants obviously. The Jotunn will be on Stalin’s side. So they’re keeping the Soviet Union from freezing to death, for their own purposes. In writing it I ran across a myth of the Sarcarssian peoples of the Caucasus Mountains, which are called the Narts, these are sort of heroic giant figures, which someone else has believed to became the origin of the Knights of the Round Table (which is nonsense), but I came across the Narts reading that book.

And so I thought if there is a Narts connection to the Jotunn then I can do that. Sure enough online I found a guy named . . . what’s his name? Carlorusso’s “Prometheus among the Sarcassians” he’s drawing a parallel between Prometheus and the Narts. Since Prometheus is dead in the Caucasus Mountains it’s the same sort of story.

I’m able to get my apocalyptic material of the giants against the gods there.

What happened to the colonies of the British? Australia and India are what’s left. Where is the British royal family on midsummer’s 1945? Well, Prince Henry – or the Duke of Gloucester – Henry Duke of Gloucester is in Australia. He’s the only survived member of the royal family and he becomes King, so now we’re rebuilding the British empire in Australia? Now we have James Bond and Quartermass, and that ‘Britain is the only important country after the end of the world’ feel.

And all of this is going on trying to get to 2,200 words or 2,500 words so I can send it to Steven so he will be able to dump it into the proper format and put it up.

And that’s where that came from. That sort of desperate urgency. The reason that there is so much stuff in that world is because first of all I’ve sort of trained myself to create worlds in that way. To take the central concept and build out, but also I needed to fill it with sexy goodness to make Steven not mad at me.

Douglas Cole Well that’s a lot of sexy goodness for 2,200 words.

The interesting thing to me as a…we’ve talked a little bit about the ConsPyramid and the Adversary Map, and what you’ve just sort of mapped out is just sort of these concentric rings in a way, or spokes in a wheel. You start with this central concept and you say “Okay, here is something. What does that imply? And here is one or two other things and you proceed somewhere between linearly or geometrically.” And go and go and go.

And you’ve got that spoke and you’ve got however many things and that’s kinda cool and you’ve got a lot of plot seeds there and you just go around the wheel, so to speak.

And all of sudden you’ve got this awesome game world that supports multiple play styles within this world and because you started from a core concept its self-consistent.

I’ve certainly learned something just from listening to how you did that about how to create a interesting game world and story. [Laughs]

I’ll be darn well sure that that’s the next time I plot out a game world, that’s what I’m gonna do. Start with a core concept and say “What does that imply?”

I think it has a lot in common with the sort of science-fiction-y: “If you change one thing. What one thing. Faster than Light travel or often Faster Than Light travel and X.” What happens?

Kenneth Hite [grunts affirmatively] But even with those, they have to decide what core story they are telling.

Douglas Cole True.

Kenneth HiteI could have done… the one thing is Ragnarok half-happens. But if I don’t know that in North America I’m doing Conan – I get, I don’t say I get. One can get design paralysis.

Because I don’t know what happens in North America but it’s like nope, I know what I want. I want this to look like the Hyborian Age. I want there to be a bunch of little tiny city-states. I want there to be no government. I want there to be snake-monsters everywhere. I want wandering mercenaries to be in a sellers market. I want those things to be in a Hyberoan Age, and how do I make that happen to the eastern two-thirds of the United States, and then every decision I make that’s world-building feeds that play and play-style.

I want Britain to be sort of like it is in those 1940s and 1950s stories, that thin red line against Soviet Communism, that thin red line against the Japanese Empire. I want a British spy to be an important person in this world. I want Professor Quatermass to be a important person in this world. Though I had to call him Professor Childermass because he’s not public domain [Douglas laughs].

But the notion is that you have to decide what kind of story you are telling, and then make plausible decisions that reinforce that story, because that’s half of it.

Certainly making a plausible decision is crucial and it’s why I always start with Earth when making a game world, because I know how the Earth words, I live there. It’s documented. It’s the best documented game world in existence. Even the maps are better [Douglas laughs].

But I find that you have to both have a sense of how the Earth’s things react in normal circumstances, and also a sense of what story you want to tell so that the parts that you put into the book reinforce that story.

Douglas Cole Although it is interesting to think when that goes pretty well. And I’m going to offer my own opinions on that. Well, I think, is Babylon 5 where you had a beginning, Straczynski had an end, and you got there with only a couple of network interferences, where he had to compress all of season four and five into season four and then say holy crap what stories do I want to tell in season five.

I thought it was one of the best pieces of continual science fiction, and too your point you, you got to the end of the ConsPyramid, you got to the top. You were kinda sorta done. He had some extensions, but it was good.

Where things went array and I think this is either where poor decisions were made or whatever. Battlestar Galatica. Season one was awesome, maybe the second season the first half was great but after that it lost its way, it felt a little bit like all 172 books of the Robert Jordan Wheel of Time series. Where Jordan had the end, he knew what that last scene was going to be and he knew what that beginning was going to be and then he just kind of . . . went places. And it wasn’t always directed.

Like what you described was fairly directed. Here’s my core concept, here’s the Hyborian Age [Ken grunts affirmatively] and such and such between them. As opposed to were going to kind of go around here [mimes a winding path with hands]. It was interesting to see what could go well and what could go poorly.

Kenneth Hite Well, if I was being paid as much as Robert Jordan was, I would have taken a lot longer to get there too [both laugh].

Douglas ColeBut itkilled him.

Kenneth HiteMy market rewards concision, not aimless drift. Trust me; if someone wants to pay me for aimless drift, they’ll see I’m more than capable of it. I just don’t think it’s something the audience wants.

Douglas Cole Do you have an eidetic memory or anything like that? Because you seem to make all these wonderful connections, and you pull them out of the air. And obviously this is your life and what you do, and its good to be good at what you do [Ken chuckles]. It’s how you get there in a way, is that a skill that you have built upon or a little bit of both.

Kenneth HiteI have a trick memory. When I was younger, and before I was drinking, I was probably eidetic. My mom used to claim I knew where on the page something was, which is a sign of a photographic memory.

I can’t take any credit for it any more than I can take credit for green eyes. It’s just a genetic quirk. I think that I have, natively one of those brains that does well on the SATs – the Templars are to the Madam Morris Murder Cult as the Space Shuttle is to blank. One of those type things [Douglas laughs] and then…

Douglas Cole Because there has to be a question on the SATs thatno one can answer.

Kenneth Hite But it’s that kind of analogic thinking I guess. Or analytic thinking to a extent, it’s more analogic, but I think my brain just does that well because I scored really – and again literally this means nothing except for getting into undemanding colleges – I scored well on the SAT. That’s how my brain works.

Because like you say this is my job and it’s also my hobby, I’ve sort of tried to train myself to think like that, and so when I look at a piece of source material, or a piece of geek fun, or a comic book, or a story, or whatever. Part of my brain is now analyzing it and is now looking for both for how it does or doesn’t build as a structure, and what sort of universal joints are in there that could be pulled out given a half spin and plugged back in.

So when I looked at Star Wars in 1,000 A.D. in a Suppressed Transmission, that’s just a matter of knowing enough about 1,000 A.D. to fit Star Wars. And that was tied in because Christopher Lee talked about owning the sword of Charlemagne or something like that. I was like “Well, there we go. Now I have a connection.”

And again, it’s just that matter – you know, I think actually the Star Wars thing was a different one. I think I did Lord of the Rings in 1,000 A.D. which I called Ring of the Lords now that I think about it. [Douglas laughs]

But yeah, it’s just a matter of keeping a eye out for things thatcangive you enough of a connection that you can connect them to other things, or stories that or rich or nubbly enough that you can lay them out and fill them with other stuff that people can still recognize it. That’s why, for all of its flaws, Star Wars really works for that. But it’s all generally going in the same direction as the Jedi order or something. People say “Oh, that’s the Jedi. That’s so cool.”

Douglas Cole Right. Right. As your looking through source material, as you’re reading these blogs, is there a particular turn of phrase or – keywords is the wrong word – or you know…I’m analogic thinker as well, unfortunately I have a tendency towards tangency because even at work, at my day job, which is all science and rigor and all that stuff. Ooo! Wine [gets handed glass from off screen].

Kenneth Hite Oh, you get a beverage.

Douglas ColeI have a great wife.

Kenneth Hite Hey!

[Chuckles]

Douglas Cole Out of curiosity, vaguely globally, where are you right now?

Kenneth Hite I’m in Chicago. The greatest city in the world.

Douglas ColeI went to grad school there – or close by.

Kenneth Hite So, not at UFC then? At Evanston?

Douglas Cole Yep. I was at Northwestern.

So are there turns of phrase that you are looking for as you’re reading some of the source material. Where you are like “Oh, that sets me off in a tangent” or “Oh, that’s something I’m going to be able to connect as something else.” Or is it really just having a prodigious background in oddities and you’re like “Oh, this reminds me of this either because of a turn of phrase, or picture, or temporal event” – how does that work, when you connect this dots like that?

Kenneth Hite Well, some of it works just on a thematic level.

You are looking and if you got two guys who are fighting over who gets to be king – that’s a pretty common story. You can see it in the wars of the Roses, you can see it in every presidential election, but it’s also in King Arthur. Right?

Douglas Cole Sure.

Kenneth Hite Now you’re okay. Once you’ve identified as some kind of squib as the story of King Arthur, you can keep a eye out for it. Then sure enough you’ll see it a lot.

Or a love triangle. You can tie any love triangle into King Arthur. You can tie any father/son conflict into . . . most of British history, but also into Star Wars.

You’ve got these super common, Polokav-level common plot elements that once you – if you want to read reality as fiction, you can recognize them plenty plenty of times. In reality we’d be saying “If this were a movie we’d be saying: Come on, asecond World War?Alsoagainst Germany? And the guystillhas a mustache? What the hell?!” [Douglas laughs]. “Oh yeah, of course Germany’smuch biggerthis time, even though they gotbeaten. They’ll probably have some super-weapon, oh look at that.”

You’d look at that and say this is tiresome unrealistic fiction, but that’s because fiction comes out of our limited experience of the world.

So I think if you start recognizing those historical patterns, you start seeing them everywhere. And a lot of that is just reading history that is at a sort of at a high-enough (the camera is high enough) that you are not reading down to individual quotidian lives, you’re looking at the larger movements of the story. And it may still be an individual quotidian life, it’s just Napoleon’s life or Queen Elizabeth’s life, so you just have to follow along with that.

Then another part of it is that some people or some concepts have a habit of being good and sticky – so the Templers can be fit into virtually anything. Anything you’re reading along with you can mention the Templars and [you’ll be like] “I can now tie that somewhere if I need too.”

Sometimes people do you the favor of deliberately living their lives along mythic lines. Alexander the Great tried to pattern his existence after Achilles, and after Hercules. You’re really really helped out when you’re trying to do anything weird with Alexander the Great.

Napoleon tried to pattern his life after Alexander the Great, there you go, you have a lovely second order of thing. Himmler thought he was a reincarnated Henry the Fowler, so you’ve got a connection there if you want to make it.

It’s just a matter of being aware of things that are going to recur a lot. The Ulmecs are really really interesting, but they don’t show up in a lot of stuff that isn’t about Mesoamerican history. Queen Elizabeth and Shakespeare and John Dee show up in all kinds of things that have nothing to do with Tudor England.

So you just have to have sort of a eye out for what shows up a lot. Then read widely. Don’t just read in the area you’re interested in because then you’re only going to read stuff you are interested in. Read science fiction,andhorror,andfantasy, read comics, watch movies. Be a broad consumer and not a narrow consumer and you’ll wind up seeing that more things are beginning to pattern match –especiallywhen you start looking for them – because we’re as a species genetically programmed to pattern match. That’s how we feed ourselves for three million years.

Douglas Cole Right. You know one of the best and worst things that ever happened to me was a brief one-hour seminar on film at Rice University by the master of Hanszen College at the time, Professor Dennis Houston. He loves westerns.

Kenneth Hite As he should.

Douglas Cole As he should. He was like, let me show you this . . . he had this great voice [mimes his old Professor] “Let me show you this! Watch what the camera does. It moves . . . and you see the badge . . . and you see the ring and you see this . . . and this all happens. Nothing that you see on the screen is there accidently. Everything that you’re watching was put there by the director. It all has meaning. There are no random cut scenes in movies. They’re edited.”

And I was like “Oh my, God.” I can’t…I’m so rarelysurprisedanymore by film and TV, that when it happens it’s a wonderful thing. But, it’s like “Oh, crap. They just flashed to this guy when they were talking about the secret conspiracy. Well now we know who the betrayer is.” To your point about…

Kenneth Hite There are ways to do that better or worse. I don’t know if you’ve seen American Hustle – I don’t wanna do any spoilers – but if you are in the habit of watching things for that, at the end of American Hustle you will very possibly have one of those moments where it’s like “Oh, they warned me, but I thought it was one thing, but now I realize, that they actually warned me.”

Or in Brick, The great Dashiell Hammet in a high school Brick, very early in the movie there is a line that gives away the entire mystery. But again, anyone who has read Dashiell Hammet the mystery was pre-given away because Dashiell Hammet only had two endings but it used one of them.

But because the movie is the way the movie is, you don’t parse that as the solution until it’s revealing itself to you at the same time it’s revealing itself to the director.

So what I’m saying is a good editor, or good director – first there are plenty of bad editors or bad directors, and there is all kinds of stuff in there accidently.

Douglas ColeI suppose so, yeah.

Kenneth Hite But also a good editor and good director will feed you the solution in such a way that you miss it and when it comes back you kick yourself.

I think that’s the whole message of House of Games. I’m going to tell you what I’m going to tell you, and you’re still not going to understand it until it’s too late. Black Swan is the same way. The Darien Aronasky film. He’s literally telling the same story five different ways, and every time he tells – when he tells you the last one – because you are so invested in the story, you are in the moment and you are surprised even, if you are not actually surprised.

But again, if you watch a movie of Othello, you’re not like “I hope that nice Desdemona gets away.” You know that’s not going to happen, right? The difference between a good version of Othello, and a bad version of Othello is that in a good version of Othello you stillcare. In a bad version you’re like “Ah, whatever.”

People say oh, you can’t give away the ending. Any time you watch a Shakespeare play or any time you watch a movie from a book you’ve read the ending is given away because you knew it, right? When we watch the Lord of the Rings “I know he’s gonna get his finger bitten off and Gollum is gonna go into the volcano, I know how that’s going to end, there’s no point watching.”

No! The point to watching is how is it gonna be sold to you. How are you gonna be feed? What are the music cues gonna be? What is the performance gonna be like? How is Frodo gonna react? How is Elijah Wood gonna play it? Those are the mysteries that you are watching the movie to see, and if it’s a good movie you’re gonna want to see it over and over again.

In theory you know how it ends, right? But you don’t, because you want to see it develop.

Douglas Cole You know, that’s a good…I have a whole wall of movies (not behind me), that are basically popcorn movies. I aminordinately fond of Thor – I’ve written on it on my blog.

It’s partly, you know, I can watch it. Watching Anthony Hopkins as Odin (or Odin as Anthony Hopkins) depending on how you put it [Ken laughs] is a wonderful thing and he did it very well.

And I can watch it over and over and over again, whereas if I look at a movie like Black Hawk Down – I read the book, I knew how it was going to end – I think I’ve seen it once or twice. And the same thing, honestly, with Saving Private Ryan – it was such a intense movie that I didn’t feel like going back to revisit. Not because it was a bad story. They werewonderfulstories, but the impact was so high the first time I didn’t need to re-experience it. Where watching Avengers for the 764th time, I can just enjoy the candy of it.

Kenneth Hite it’s the difference between a pleasurable impact and a painful impact. I’m not going to say one is superior and one is inferior. In general, you don’t go back to the things that made you uncomfortable. And the question is to what extant is great art supposed to make you uncomfortable?

I, conversely, have watched Black Hawk Down a lot because I think it’s a fantastic piece of filmmaking, and also because it’s a riveting story and a great war movie. My wife for example won’t watch Chinatown a second time.

Douglas Cole Okay.

Kenneth Hite Again, it’s a great movie, and phenomenal story. Robert Town did a great job, but it’s a very emotionally harrowing thing to watch. So, yeah, I haven’t watched Chinatown a lot of times either myself.

Douglas ColeI think the thing that really got me about Black Hawk Down, is I can handle pretty much everything except for the injured solider, because I have this thing about veins. And that didn’t…yes, I still get squicky when I have to think about that scene.

Kenneth Hite And that’s a different question entirely. It’s just a squick factor, you know. As great a movie as Groundhog Day is I can’t watch it all the time, because it has Andie McDowell in it. It’s the same thing. Open vein . . . Andie McDowell. [Douglas laughs].

Douglas Cole My wife was the same way for a long time, until we watched the movie Sliding Doors – she would not watch Gwyneth Paltrow inanything.

Kenneth Hite That’s a different question… Gwyneth is…well – we’re not really doing a film blog maybe that’s a issue for another…

Douglas Cole One of the things I do on my blog, is periodically I have the Apropos of Nothing. Role-Playing and media entertainment is just different kinds of having fun, so you know the concept of taking a film and doing as a roleplaying game.

The question I was actually going to ask, because you queued it in my mind, is what kind of things make great stories, and what kind of things make good stories for roleplaying games?

Do you distinguish in your mind “Oh, this is a great story that I can tell” versus “Oh, this is a great world in which I can tell stories?”

Kenneth Hite The key thing for what I think I a world in which you can tell stories is that the characters haven’t already been written for you.

In 99% of roleplaying games, maybe 90% now, but in the vast majority of roleplaying games, you can’t assume the players are going to play the 5 iconic guys from the show.

If you’re making a Star Trek game – as I’ve made two of – you can’t assume people are going to be Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Ohura, and Sulu. You don’t know that they are going to do that. Even if they were doing original series Star Trek, they might be doing Scotty, Chekov, Mr. Leslie, and Chief Officer Kyle or something. You have no idea what they are going to be doing.

And you certainly shouldn’t be doing that in a world of your own creation, because it’s just very very narrow. It’s limiting.

Most writers, for perfectly understandable reasons, make their characters really central and really interesting and really memorable. So when you’re looking at something like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan is fascinating and interesting and powerful and neat, but his Africa is kind of a blank slate. There is sort of jungle, and some natives, and every now and again a lost Roman city. But there is nothing about Tarzan’s Africa that isn’t true about anyone else’s Africa or H. Rider Hager’s Africa.

Barsoom is a factor of John Carter, not really a factor of Barsoom. The Hyberian Age without Conan you could write stories set in the Hyborian Age, but nine times out of ten you’re just writing Conan fanfic because your barbarian is “His name is Nonac and he’s a whole different guy and he’s from the East, not the North.”

But it’s the same thing. But the great thing about Lovecraft – to take this back around to the Mythos – is he’s the guy who literally thought that the charactersshould be meaningless. Because that was the point. Humanitymeaningless. His cipher characters make the game universe . . . pop!

The background really comes alive for Lovecraft, in a way that even for Tolkien, who was one of the best background guys in the business – There is really only one story and that’s the story of the Fellowship and Frodo destroying the Ring. If you’re playing in that Third Age, and you’re not destroying that ring you know you’re like a B-role story, that meanwhile a bunch of guys in Angmar were doing something. It’s like whatever.

That is the problem with that, and while Middle-Earth is a great world to adventure in, I think it’s harder to pull out what you do if you’re not destroying the ring.

Where the Star Trek Federation is a fine world to adventure in, it’s harder to pull out the what if you’re not the one starship that gets to break about the rules all the time and meet godlike aliens and have all this stuff happen to it.

So I think that a world that is a good place for gaming is a good place for other stories to happen.

If you look at say Harry Potter, and you can imagine stories that are happening and are good and compelling and as interesting as the story of the Boy Who Lived defeating the worst wizard ever, you can tell stories in it.

Or of course you can think about deliberately dropping your gaze or telling stories that are not epic world-beater stories.

World War II: you’re doing a game set in World War II, you’re not going to be the guy who kills Hitler, because spoiler: That’s Hitler. You know you’re not going to be the most important guy in World War II, because thereisno important guy in World War II and that will let you think of a individual story for your setting.

But a bad setting for games, even if it’s a great setting for stories, is one where the stories in the world are so intertwined around one set of characters that it is difficult to impossible to figure out how to separate them. You can’t game in Anna Karenna – the world while it’s the Russian aristocracy, the story is just about one woman making an idiot choice and suffering for it.

Douglas Cole So I think to sort of steer – not steer – but to bring to the last topic. I do a lot of writing about GURPS, and it’s from where I do.

I want to talk about GURPS Horror and Madness Dossier if there is anything you can say about it. There is also a question that a friend of mine asked which is “What part of the original Scott Harring 2nd edition manuscript did you adopt or co-opt, what did you do yourself and how did you get from 2nd edition to 3rd edition in the Horror book?”

Kenneth Hite With GURPS Horror – first of all, a little unfair to J.M. Caparulla, because he of course did the second edition, Scott did the first edition.

I think that what I did at the time, I took my book, Nightmares of Mine, which had just reverted to me after Iron Crown went bankrupt.

The goal was to take all of the horror advice in that, and turn it into GURPS Horror using GURPS Horror which of course I based much of the horror advice in Nightmares on because it’s a really great book.

To take what we took out I believe was mostly just the settings. We took out the 1920s setting. We took out the Victorian setting. Because the notion was that those would have their own GURPS books.

There has been a GURPS…there was a GURPS Cliffhangers coming out at the same time and GURPS Steampunk was in development when I was doing Horror 3rd. The notion was we didn’t need those settings anymore.

Pretty much, most of the meat, and a lot of the words from 2nd edition, and a lot of the words Scott wrote, and certainly some of the pieces of advice I merely really restated in Nightmares of Mine, I left in their original GURPS version.

What I did was I took that little tiny thin book…Steve told me to take out a third of it already, and I replaced it with the larger 128 page 3rd edition book. And when it came time to do 4th edition it was just a matter of build onto that and add more stuff.

Basically as far as I’m concerned…like I say in the introduction to 4th edition, the heart of that book is Scott’s first edition book, and it’s still beating in the 4th edition book. I’m pretty sure if you went over it with a highlighter you can find paragraphs that have moved from 1st to 4th unchanged.

Douglas Cole Sure. Sure. Just looking over it…unfortunately I can’t flash up my 4th edition hardback because it’s in the mail. I am scrolling through the uhh…

Kenneth Hite What?! [rummages through books].

Douglas ColeI am scrolling through the PDF file, I really will admit it’s clear from what you just said that it’s a great horrors about fear and…yeah. There you go [Ken holds up GURPS Horror 4th edition]. Awesome. Good.

Kenneth Hite That is…

Douglas Cole It is pretty. It is pretty.

Anyways Chapter Two: Things That Go Bump In The Night is pick a monster . . . and then Fear of Taint, Fear of Nature, Fear of Madness, Fear of Mutilation, Fear of Starvation, Fear of the Universe, Fear of the Unnatural.

Everyone of these reflections, and there are a half dozen more, every one of these reflections on fear, panic, death, scare . . .the things that populate a horror episode are gone through, and the thing that’s wonderful about this is its got a mini-bestiary and there are stats . . . for zombies (p. 90) since Sean just wrote a entire book on them. Yup, zombie, -111 points, so there are templates.

Kenneth Hite There are abunchof templates.

Douglas Cole There are character templates as well as monster templates.

Kenneth Hite Yeah.

Douglas Cole One of the knocks that GURPS gets, and somewhat unfairly, is that because they are not collected in one place its “Oh, GURPS doesn’t have a bestiary.”

Kenneth Hite GURPS hasthreebestiaries.

Douglas Cole Well, 4th edition does not have aformalbestiary. But what it has is Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1 and acrap ton of stuffthat get put in appropriate genre books that you can extract.

Kenneth Hite In the zombie part, there are the zombie as well as lenses for fast and slow zombies under zombie. Then b-movie zombies, which are the non-fantasy version your good ole living dead. Voodoo zombies which are both a undead voodoo zombie and a zombified human template. And so of the zombies there are…depending on how you count lenses there are three or seven different kinds of zombies. So I think that’s pretty good.

And Fear of Death also contains the Mummy and the Lilitu which was a new monster for 4th edition, I think. And the Lilitu contains underittemplates for the Ardat-Lili, the Cihuateteo, which is the Azetec version of the aerial vampire spirit of a weeping woman, the Classical Lamia from Greek myth, the Lamashtu which is a specific demon, and the good ole Strix.

So yeah, there is a lot of stuff (and that’s just under Fear of Death). Yeah, there’s a ton of monsters in GURPS Horror, and that was part of the remit because yeah, you’re running horror so you want to have that.

Douglas Cole Yeah, I think that it’s a great plug for both your book, and a great source of . . . I guess representational piece.

What is it for? Is an orc…what does a orc represent the fear of? Is it fear of madness? Is it fear of barbarian? Is it fear of the other? Is it fear of lack of civilization? Is it fear of random violence? So you say okay this is my monster and it’s going to represent fear of blah and you pick up the book and you say “Okay, am I talking about a fear that has been identified here?” and you haven’t missed much, and you can’t take something directly, then certainly you can improvise.

Kenneth HiteA lot of these monsters can be cast as different kinds of fear. The werewolf can be the fear of nature, or the fear of sex, or the fear of madness, and it just depends on how you want to play it, and how you want to spin it. I just had to put them somewhere. And even that came out of 2nd edition, which may have come out of 1st edition, I don’t have my copy of 1st right nearby where I can double check.

But there is a bit in there where it talks about what does the vampire really represent?

Douglas Cole Yes. That was definitely in 2nd edition. Yup.

Kenneth Hite If you’re doing a civil war vampire, maybe he’s being followed by pigs instead of rats, and if he’s a nuclear holocaust vampire, maybe he’s being followed by glowing cockroaches or something.

So I thought, that’s a kind of neat concept, how do I really blow that up and play with it in 3rd edition. Well since he’s said this once kind of off-hand for the vampire, why don’t I say it really loud, but not just for the vampire but for all the sort of standard monsters? Find all the fears.

When I expanded 3rd into 4th I was able to add more fears again when people said, “Where is the fear of hunger, that’s a pretty big fear, starving to death.” It was more than I would come up with, like the fear of the state, I wanted to have the men in black in there as a monster, because by that time I had suspected that GURPS Conspiracies was not going to come around any time too soon, so I wanted to make sure my Men in Black got in there.”

Douglas Cole Yeah, then there is of course the…in a horror game like Trail of Cthulhu, or whether you’re doing it in GURPS or anything . . . A horror story is hard to tell without certain willing conspiracy from the players.

The advice that’s given in there is…What’s your favorite piece that you put in there to take a campaign and make it horrific . . . or even an episode. That’s the nice thing about horror, is it doesn’t always have to be all horror all the time. You could even say that the second Aliens movie could…the first Aliens movie was a horror flick. The second movie was Action/Horror, but easy to tweak out.

Kenneth Hite Yeah. I think that my favorite piece of advice, is the one that you call up because it’s the more important piece of advice. Horror is different from other kinds of games. Everyone has to want it to happen or else it doesn’t happen.

You’re tapping into . . . not just a emotion, but a emotion that is so much more powerful when shared. And so that notion that horror is a collaboration not a contest is the fundamental insight to run good horror games. If you don’t have that, it’s very hard to run horror no matter how much other advice you follow. And if you do have it it’s very hard not to be able to run horror no matter how much other advice you don’t follow.

That’s why I made it front and center in Nightmares of Mine, which I think is the reason everyone really liked Nightmares of Mine. And then when I turned that into GURPS Horror 3rd edition I made it front and center in GURPS Horror for 3rd , and I’m fairly sure I got pieces out of that in GURPS Horror, and pieces out of that in Chill, and talking to John Hines, and to everyone else who’s tried to run horror. It’s really elementary. It’s fundamental foundational stuff and if you don’t have that you’re just not going to be able to run a horror game.

Douglas Cole You know that’s the other thing that is true not all groups – not just the players – but the characters; and Peter Dell’Orto just did a interesting blog post about the difference between player and character and when writers of games started to really make that distinction. Because that was blended in the first iterations of DnD . . . but you can have a group of characters and say you got six players and whatever, each of them have a character.

Four of them have recognizable fears, and two of them are either not played that way or just don’t have any hooks on the character sheet. You’d almost have to seek out the players and say “Look, what is your character afraidof?”

Kenneth Hite Those players may be signaling they’re just not the type that want to be part of the story. They like playing sidekicks, they liking playing hangers-back, they like playing people or being at the game because it’s cheaper than a movie because they just want to watch the story unfold or maybe they are someone’s boyfriend and are just along to keep their inamorata happy. I think as long as you’ve got four out of six players with hooks – that’ll fill any reasonable campaign as long as the other people are willing to be scared and aren’t going to be on their phone or making Monty Python references or whatever kids make now that Monty Python has been gone 20 years. Whatever kind of useless reference people are making nowadays. As long as they are going to be involved in the emotional content of the story, its less than important there be a hook about them.

Douglas ColeI agree, agree and I guess…

Kenneth Hite As the game goes forward they’ll feel more confident, or accidently take part in the story such that you make them the hook. “Oh remember that timeyoutouched the amulet? Well guess what…”

Douglas ColeI guess the last question – you’ve been very generous with your time for which I thank you – Madness Dossier, rumors and playtest . . . is there anything you can tell us about that.

Kenneth Hite Madness Dossier right now is in the magical production hands of Nikki – whoever does production…

Douglas Cole Nikki…

Kenneth Hite They’ve got it. I did my bit where I picked the quotes to go in the quote box, and I have done my final final final edits based on typos, and space filling, and things like that. So I think my part is done and it’s up to Steve Jackson gristmill to grind it fine as they decide they want to.

I guess in terms of content I have no real problem teasing stuff, if you have more specific questions. But basically it’s the Madness Dossier campaign back from the old 3rd edition [GURPS Horror], and instead of being just three pages or whatever it was, it’s now expanded too I think 48, but I’m pulling up the PDF, and I’ll tell you in two shakes as soon as preview decides it wants to pay attention.

Oh no, look at that. It’s 64 pages! So it’s a 64 page PDF, and it’s a GURPS book – you know what those look like – it sort of follows what they called for in the GURPS Organizations model.

There is the standard stuff about an organization in GURPS. There is different stuff for the kinds of templates, people who are put in charge of…that a part of Project: Sandman. I guess I should hit the high concept for people who haven’t seen GURPS [Horror] 3rd [edition].

Douglas Cole Yeah! Please do! I have GURPS…this. For some reason because this was for 3rd edition I thought this was Horror 3rd edition and I have 4th and I have 2nd and I was looking around on my… Madness Dossier, Madness Dossier . . . not finding it! It’s all over the internet and I can find references to it and how awesome it is, but the edition I missed. [Ken laughs]

Kenneth Hite[Gently mocking] If Douglas Cole doesn’t have it [Douglas laughs] it is not available to everyone.

I guess the basic concept is that around World War II, the US and British governments operating independently discovered that their world was a previous universe. And that previous universe had been edited out of existence when our universe replaced it about 535 A.D. in what I call the Ontoclysm. In a big reality quake, and if you look at GURPS 4th , Dave Pulver took reality quakes out of Horror and made them a part of GURPs 4th physics, and then I took them again out of GURPS 4th and put them into Infinite Worlds for people to follow along.

A reality quake is like a earthquake in which you have one history, and then the earthquake comes along and shifts all the ground around. But since it’s a reality quake, your history is changedretroactively. So the bronze age and the past, and everything we know happened since 535, before 535 A.D. has only been true since 535 A.D. and it’s a concept I took from Mary Gentle’s novel Ash, but it’s also obviously from Boris Hauses Plon Ukbar Orbis Tertius, and I think the most fan accessible version of that isDream of a Thousand Cats, in Sandman –where if a Thousand Cats all dream that they are the dominant species on the planet, it will have always been true. But what happened was that a thousand humans dreamed that they were and humans being dominant has always been true.

And so that’s sort of the notion of a reality quake. So this reality quake in the previous version of history – the true version of history – there are these monstrous entities known as the Anunnaku (which is a Sumerian term) who ruled the world. They ruled humanity and programmed us to obey them by programming our language to contain the core of own subjugation. The Language Sumerian is a perfect control system for human brains, or it contains a perfect control system for human brains.

So after the reality quake happened, our languages still have these control surfaces in it – until these irrupters, these beings from History B – began seeping into our universe and trying to control us so they would be able to bring about a reverse of the Ontoclysm and snap History B back into existence in place of our history, which is called History A.

So the – like I say around World War II the British and American governments figured this out and set up a secret, joint-task force called Project: Sandman whose job it is to keep the Red King asleep – to keep the Anunnaku asleep, and not in our reality.

And so what they do, is go around and they find people who’ve begun believing in the old history, and they change their minds or they kill them. They find irrupters and kill them and cover up any evidence that they were ever there. They use memetics, they use neurolingustic programming, they use subliminal messages, they use the Anunnaku’s own control system against their foes which is perilous on both moral and practical levels, and they’ve begun to develop wetware hacking where they hack your brain with a computer to change the way you think.

So it’s basically a heroic conspiracy of people who are using the worst kind of mind control and subversion, but in a fight against a truly cosmic world-ending evil. It’s the same old standard Western narrative, right? You have to pick up the gun, and be a barbarian, in order to keep the civilization safe, but done in a sort of William S. Burroughs/George Louis Wariz metis and that’s what it is. It’s a mind-space techno thriller I suppose.

Douglas Cole Did this appear in…did David do something with this…I remember this plot outline. I remember the term irrupters. I remember a lot of this stuff and I’m trying to remember where I read it.

Kenneth Hite It gets mentioned in 4th edition very briefly and then it’s more mentioned in Infinite Worlds, but it’s not laid out even to the degree that it was in Horror 3rd.

Douglas Cole Okay. Okay I’m trying to remember if maybe there was a Pyramid article on that.

Kenneth HiteI don’t think Dave has done a Pyramid article on that…

Douglas Cole It would have been Eidetic Memory column, or something like that.

Anyway, because the concepts are familiar to me. And the Anunnaku and irrupters and all those phrases, and I know that I’ve heard this stuff, and to have that expanded into a 64 page campaign book is really neat. Can’t wait for it. I’m a bit of a collector so I’ll be…

Kenneth HiteWell, what kind of collector can you be if you don’t have Horror 3rd? I mean come on.

Douglas ColeI somehow missed it. That might have been from a time that I was doing enough playtesting that I was getting a lot of books for free. Hard to say how that works. It may have been that I wasn’t doing edition pieces. I’m more of a collector now that I have more money. So “one last question:” Night’s Black Agents.

Kenneth Hite Here’s Horror 3rd… [holds up book to camera].

Douglas Cole Excuse me?

Kenneth Hite You’ll recognize it when you see it. This is 3rd edition Horror…

Douglas Cole Yep.

Kenneth Hite Night’s Black Agents. Right.

Douglas ColeNight’s Black Agents, in my mind, would make a great GURPS campaign. It’s got all the tactical crunch, it’s high-powered. It would make either subgenre of Monster Hunters or as a standalone and you could even pull in Sean’s Impulse Buys to do some of the Investigator skill stuff. Would there be any ever possibility of making a spinoff or are you doing most of your creation in GUMSHOE world so you’re a freelance writer so you write where there is interest.

Kenneth Hite Well, I mean, first of all Night’s Black Agents is, I don’t own it. I wrote it for hire. Pelegraine owns that property so Simon would have to license it to Steve, and Steve I’m fairly sure has been turned off to licenses to other peoples games…

Douglas ColeYes..

Kenneth Hite Pretty comprehensively, so that would be the first problem with it. The second is as you note, there is a lot of GURPS in it. In my Designers Notes, I list probably a dozen GURPS books. A lot of GURPS books.

Douglas Cole Okay. That’ll teach me to fail to read the bibliography.

Kenneth HiteI dug through and shout out to Gun Fu, Tactical Shooting, High-Tech, Covert Ops, Special Ops, SWAT, Action, Undead, Monster Hunters, Blood Types, and Horror all of which I went and dug into very thoroughly to make sure that my game contained everything you could do in those games, or at least enough of a grit that you could feel like you were doing everything you could in those games.

I think if you are a GURPS player who absolutely doesn’t want to play any other game, you can buy your copy of Night’s Black Agents and then run it in Monster Hunters.

You take Monster Hunters, you take Horror, you take Blood Types or whatever, if you look at the way I build up the vampires as modular collections of powers, obviously that’s how GURPS builds everything.

Douglas Cole Yeah, as I was reading through it. I sort of read through the book twice, and the first time I read through it I was like “Okay, what are these investigative skills, and what would they be” and then there were some of the pieces, this would be a reputation, and this is going to be an advantage, and this is going to be something else. It’s a easy convert if you want to spend the time to do it, I agree.

So that’s…I have to ask because I had a great time as lead playtester on Tactical Shooting. Did you enjoy that? Do you enjoy the crunch parts of the book, or all you read is story elements.

Kenneth HiteI always lovereadingthem because by and large they are good examples of how to do game design.

I think the core GURPS engine is a great engine, and I love it and I’ve always loved it. When I see people try and mod things with it, it’s usually worth my time as a game designer to see how they’ve modded it.

Now if it’s on a topic I’m really interested in, like shooting, I read GURPS Tactical Shooting and I think that’s a terrific idea, but I don’t think I’drunit because it would slow down a gunfight to a miserable crawl.

If you’re having to do all that calculation in your head and apply all those modifiers all the time its just going to…you know, the gunfight at the OK Corral should last as long as the gunfight at the OK Corral. Or maximally it should last five times as long as the gunfight at the OK Corral.

If you’ve spent more than 15 minutes having a gunfight, you’ve done a gunfight wrong. Because it no longer feels like a gunfight anymore – you might as well play a war game now because that’s what you are doing.

So in my own personal gaming style, I don’t have a need for those rules, but I like reading how they’re done. But that’s because I’m a designer, not because I think that level of detail is necessary, because otherwise we can’t have a gunfight! We don’t how to adjust for windage! Because that’s ridiculous if it’s so windy that it’s really gonna do it add a general +1 and keep going on with your life.

But I think that I have to know that material and then when I’m reading something…obviously Hans-Christian is God’s gift to guns from Germany. So anything he says about guns is going to be worth reading just on its own whether there are GURPS rules or not so there are sort of two or three reasons to read something like that. And then a lot of them are just pretty fun reads, and everything Sean [“Dr. Kromm” Punch] writes is certainly well written and interesting, and clever, and so I just like reading Sean’s prose. I’m not sure I’d want to read any papers he publishes as a physicist, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to read everything he writes for how to shoot people in the face.

Douglas Cole [laughs] Yeah, that is one of the nice things that he’s done. In an interview with him, he talks about it very deliberately which is… He’s done, although I wrote a very technical grappling book and we’ve got Tactical Shooting and there is all kinds of crunch that exists. He writes a lot of stuff that is sort of story, and for a game that gets a bad rap for the core simulation he’s really tried to build up a “You can just tell fun freewheeling stories at any point level using this system.” I don’t think people give it a lot of credibility.

Kenneth Hite Yeah. You can and I certainly have. Every time I’ve run GURPS I run it. I love running GURPS, and every time I run GURPS, I run it at exactly the level of detail that I want and I deliberately ignore the level of detail that I don’t. If it’s something you have to – like Vehicle building – I usually have a friend who is a bigger nerd than me and I say “You are the lucky winner get to build a spaceship so off with you, go build it then come back and show it to me.”

Douglas Cole That’s one of the things that I enjoyed very much – It’s surprised me how much I enjoyed it, but again as I got older and got less time . . . There is a surprising amount of fun in David [Pulver]’s Spaceships. You know, pick 20 segments of mass. Just pick’em . . . and get on with it.

Kenneth Hite That’s the old Traveller way – bulk units or whatever they called it back in the day.

Douglas Cole Okay. I played a very limited game of Traveller and honestly I don’t even think we played because my characterdied in creation, and my friend and I went and played a videogame. On the Atari 2600 or whatever it was, maybe a Commodore 64.

Kenneth Hite Spaceships is like the next logical iteration after the vehicle construction stuff in GURPS World War II. It’s kind of like that but, since it was constrained to follow some real world performance there was still some sort of jiggly-pokely best if you do it in a spreadsheet that I like in my vehicle construction rules.

Douglas ColeThat’s actually there’s a whole . . . any . . .

Kenneth HiteI don’t like them.

Douglas Cole That’s actually gotten me in a little bit of trouble, in that I almost always design when I think about rules I pull out the Excel. When I read a book, I pull out the Excel. If I’m going to drink nutrition shake, I pull up Excel, because I just need it.

But that’s one of the things that occasionally gets me in trouble. I have this mathematical stuff. “Okay, if I do it this way it actually works out and scales right” and then I put that into a sheet …this actually happened to me in Technical Grappling…if you do this, and round normally it’s all good. Peter, unfortunately – far to late – “Why didn’t you just do it byfives?” and I’m like “Aw, hell.” [face palms]

If I would have had this round from ‘you get to 15,’ and then change and then you get to nineteen and you’re still the same, and then you get to twenty and you change and you can wing it and go.

Whereas the way I’ve technically done it in the text the bracket around 15 goes around 13 or 17 or something like that, and that’sjust meanto a gamemaster or a player for that matter.

Last piece, and then I’ll sort of give you the last word and then go. In Night’s Black Agents there is a whole box text about grappling, and it tied into something I thought was fun, which was, and obviously I’m biased, the TV Tropes section on grappling: “Most grappling rules suck because most grappling is really hard to do and is different in other combatant.”

I actually riffed off that in my Designers Notes “It’s really not.” But I wanted to offer up in future, how would I do grappling in Night’s Black Agents, and what I would do is some kind of attack where if you succeed you temporarily lower the other guys Athletics pool, since that’s sort of a proxy for [GURPS] ST and DX.

Kenneth Hite If you’re lowering their Athletics pool, it has almost no impact on the actual course of the game, or the course of the fight, because you’re not spending from Athletics.

Douglas Cole You’re right – you’d have to lower Hand-To-Hand and/or Athletics. So ST/DX…that would make more sense, you’re right.

Kenneth Hite Yeah. In so you’re either lowering Hand-To-Hand and Athletics or Hand-To-Hand and hit Threshold. I suppose you could do that if you wanted there to be a special… Let’s turn this around on its head.

Douglas Cole Sure.

Kenneth Hite Let’s say I was doing a GUMSHOE game based on Gerard Kirsch’s phenomenal book Night and the City which is about the wrestling scene in sordid Post-War London. You’d want to have more of a differential between grappling and other kinds of fighting, because there are going to be more wrestlers involved in your game, right?

Douglas Cole Sure.

Kenneth Hite Or maybe a GUMSHOE Luche book, then that sort of differentiation might become important, because you’d have three stages of a fight.

In normal roleplaying fight or a normal GUMSHOE fight at least there is: either You can still fight, or you are out of the fight. The Health clock is not a measure of how many liters of blood left in your body or whatever. It’s a clock of how long you can stay in the fight.

So being grappled moves you towards the getting out of the fight…[Douglas speaks simultaneously with Ken]. So that’s why I say in the grappling box which you are nice enough to call out. An armlock is the same as punching someone in the head. Both have the same chance of taking someone out of the fight and if you’re really really good at either, you’ll do it.

Douglas Cole The whole point, to your point, if I’m trying to restrain you I win when you can no longer fight back.

You’re not unconscious and your health pool refreshes as soon as I let you go. And that just becomes a dramatic device. Say I’m grappling this guy but I’m not damaging him not breaking his limbs, I’m literally tying him up till he can’t resist. I’m tying him up or capturing him, so I can interrogate him later.

So what happens is you get to negative thing, he’s out of the fight he’s pinned or helpless or whatever and then you let go and he’s health pool instantly refreshes, or whatever pool instantly refreshes, and he could run away but he’s morally beaten and so he’s not going to.

Kenneth Hite Right.

Douglas Cole As you say this stuff, you’re like “Look…” and the same thing as I was looking at this, and the same deal as I’m like…getting hit by a .50 BMG, which is 13,000 Joules is really only one point better than getting hit by a 9mm pistol, and the guy who wrote the old article in 2004 about converting real world stats to GURPS ballistics and all that stuff . . . cringes a little bit. But then I’m like the important part is “Are you still in the fight?”

You know if you’re doing fisticuffs with someone and you roll 1d6 for damage and it’s -1…-2 for fists. Yeah, the damage potential of poking someone in the nose and shooting them with a .50 BMG overlaps. Nobody cares, and if youcarethen what you need to do is find the cool narrative thing that makes it cool, rather than makes you pink mist.

Kenneth Hite If your goal in the game, and everyone agrees that you should have a anti-material rifle that is a instant kill if you hit, that’s easily enough done in GUMSHOE instead of roll health you are instantly killed.

But the trouble is most players are smart enough to know that we don’t have the only anti-material rifle in the world. In fact, if you run the numbers almostall anti-material rifles are in other hands, and we don’t want there to be a instant kill device in the game that takes us out of having fun. And it never happens to Jason Bourne more importantly, as he’s parkouring around Paris, there is a guy a quarter of a mile away that’s like “Okay, whatever. Boom.” He’s knocked off the ridge line and he’s dead.

Thatnever happens! There are compilations of clips on YouTube where it’s like the number of places where a cellphone wrecks the story? You could do a much longer list of places where a sniper wrecks the story.

Douglas Cole Right. Absolutely.

Kenneth Hite Actually bulletproof heroes in popular fiction is not that high, and the number of component snipers in the real world is really very high. I don’t think one is unrealistic and one is not unrealistic really serves anything, because there aren’t going to be snipers that kill you form a mile away in a normal game that is attempting to emulate thrillers anymore then there are snipers a mile away killing Jason Bourne.

Douglas Cole You bring up a great point. Which is why you’re a pro at this and I’m interviewing you.

You bring up a great point which is . . . the reciprocity of it. If you want something where you can reach out 1500 meters and instantly touch someone [snaps fingers] and they are gone, that’s great and you know what . . . that works on mooks.

But the reciprocity of it if you can reach out 1500 meters and do that someone can do it to you. And it’s the old “rocks fall, everyone dies,” or even worse “rocks fall, and this one guy dies,” and he gets to go for pizza or beer because he’s done for the day.

Kenneth Hite Yeah.

Douglas ColeNot conduciveto a social environment where you are getting together with friends.

Kenneth Hite And not conducive to story, because what you want for a story to happen, you want players to take a active hand, and move forward into the world, and they have the perfectly rational expectation that if we set foot outside our bunker, someone will shoot us in the head from 1500 meters, they aren’t going to move outside the bunker. They’ll say “Nope. We’re going to sit inside our bunker and order in pizza and we’re never going to leave, and we don’t care how many vampires are out there, because we’re going to get a lot of garlic on the pizza so we will be safe.” [Laughs]

Douglas Cole The places in like George R. R. Martin’s books where the trope is subverted. You’re going through one of the books – almost all of the books – I haven’t read the whole thing because I was still in the middle of a Wheel of Time when he was…I can’t do this to myself twice.

So my wife has read all of them, and I was reading the first one, The Game of Thrones, and I’m getting into the thing and I was like “Oh yeah, this Ed Stark guy is a great character and blah blah blah…WHAT?! I didn’t see that one coming!” Where’s the hero, where’s the whatever. Oh. OK. Ow!

And interesting, and he does it over and over again. And the only time you can do that is effectively as a writer you have a ensemble cast of a hundred and it doesn’t matter. Especially when apparently you get to see these guys again anyways, but unless you’ve got a list of characters you can just pick off, “Yeah, you stepped outside, and you walked into vampires and his throat was torn out. I hope that your platoon mate can replace him.” It makes a good story but it has to be done well. You have to have the backup character.

Kenneth Hite You can certainly make a bloody killfest in Night’s Black Agents but it should be a fun bloody kill fest.

Douglas Cole Right.

Kenneth Hite Having your throat torn out by a vampire is way sexier than being shoot by a vampire you haven’t heard much less saw.

In my playtest I..we had pregen characters that were Serbian thugs, basically, Serbian mafia. We ran a fight between those guys andonevampire to demonstrate to my players what one vampire could do. And of course he wiped the floor with them.

In the fiction, this was something that happened in a closed circuit camera. They’re player characters had previously bugged that Venetian Palotza because they wanted to see what happened to it. So they get to watch as their pregens are torn to pieces by a vampire and they’re like “Oh, okay. That was very serious and very big.”

But it’s different, because they know that the whole game now is find out when vampires are near and how we kill them first, and howwecan be the guy 1500 meters away.

Because you’ve established a unimaginable horror, but the game is to constrain it now.

Whereas being shot in the head, we know what that is. We live in Chicago. We hear people get shot in the head who never even did anything. But it’s a different kind of a story, if you know the bad guys just hired a sniper. That’s not fun. That’s not interesting, and it doesn’t reward play.

Douglas Cole Right. Okay. One quick question. Does Suppressed Transmission exist in any form right now? Do you fire that kind of thing off any more, or is that not where your energy is channeled these days.

Kenneth Hite The closest thing to a Suppressed Transmission that’s happening now isKen Writes About Stuffwhich is my monthly thing from Pelgraine Press. It’s about twice as long or three times as long as a Suppressed Transmission and half of the Ken Writes About Stuff every other month is a examination of a Lovecrasftian creature from all possible angles.

So there are Deep Ones, Ghouls, Hounds of Tindalos, Shoggoths, and Mi-Go that have been done so far. I’ll be doing Star Vampires next, and so that is half of it.

The other half is either GUMSHOE sort of rules examinations, where and I take a topic and provide a edge. To help your little GURPS heart there, Douglas, I’ve done a GUMSHOE zoom on Martial Arts, a general way to put Martial Arts in any GUMSHOE game. And then mind control to put mind control into any GUMSHOE game.

Douglas Cole I’ll have to admit I saw the something, the note about the GUMSHOE martial arts and I’ll admit I haven’t read it, but I’ll admit I was fascinated about it, and I had a minimal amount of time with Trail of Cthulhu and I’m like “I have no idea how you do martial arts with a system…detailed martial arts system.” The kind of detail I was used to with GURPS Martial Arts. How, or even why, would you reflect that in a system like GUMSHOE?

Kenneth Hite And you would do it because you’re doing it in a story space that is a martial arts story. Like the Bourne stories where the escrima fight is a real important part of the movie, so you want to reflect that so you want escrima to feel that when you’re doing a standard beat down.

You doing a martial arts game maybe you’re doing one of those wuxia stories where everyone is a Shaolin kung fu master wandering around, or you’re doing it in a… In Trail of Cthulhu if your characters have gone to Japan or China, and suddenly martial arts is part of the universe…any time you want to tell a martial arts story, as well as whatever other story you want tell you can bring that out.

It doesn’t add a lot more complexity, it does add a little more obviously, but it’s not GURPS Martial Arts even though I went to GURPS Martial Arts and mined it heavily, like I did Ninja Hero and mined that heavily for it.

But it’s not that complex. It’s an attempt to help everyone bring martial arts flavor into a GUMSHOE fight. It basically gives you free refreshes for saying awesome martial arts things, at its most basic, and that’s really the core. What people want to do is not calculate how many action points they have left, and can I get in a jumping kick. You want to be able to say “I do a jumping kick and kick that guy in the head.” And that’s what that rewards.

Yeah, that’s GUMSHOE martial arts zoom right there.

There is also a sort of Suppressed Transmission style looks at Deglocka, the Bell Project, the Nazi bell. Which is the anti-Grail myth of the 21st century. And a campaign frame Moondust Men where you are playing UFO investigators in the 1970s attached to the Air Forces top secret project Moondust.

It’s that kind of…and a look at the city of Mumbai, which is not really a Night’s Black Agents…not really a Suppressed Transmission thing a sort of broader look at something as opposed to a narrow cast thing.

I think the closest thing you can get right now to Suppressed Transmission is Ken Writes About Stuff from Pelegraine and that may get a little more Suppressed Transmission-y or maybe it’ll stay about as Suppressed Transmission-y as it is now.

Douglas Cole Okay. Excellent. As always I like to give my guest the last word. First a preemptive thank you and I’ll do it again after you’re done. Do you have anything to add or say or what’s coming next or what you like or where the industry needs to go. Wax lyrical about stuff! [Ken chuckles]

Kenneth Hite Well I mean, waxing lyrical as people can tell, is sort of my default state. I’ve plugged Ken Writes About Stuff, which is what I wanted to plug and I’ll mention that I’m still writing stuff for Pelegraine if you want to follow me, most of my stuff is coming out from Pelegraine and you should take a look at those games and take a look at any of the Pelegrain games that pique your interest, and hopefully I’ve written something that will feed that.

I’ll be a guest of honor at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival and CthulhuCon in Portland, Oregon in April and if you’re watching this before then you might want to go to their Kickstarter and throw them a couple of bucks there are kinds of hoodies and chotskies and stuff if you’re not in Portland or you can pay to make your Portland experience a better one if you plan to go. So that’s a worthy cause.

Let’s see what else is associated with me. I’ve written my fourth mini-mythos book for Atlas games and that should be coming out, not super soon, but probably this year so if you enjoyed “Where the Deep Ones are” and “Antarctic Express” and “Clifford the Big Red God” and “Good Night Azothoth is On Its Way.”

Douglas Cole [laughs loudly and with obvious mirth at Clifford the Big Red God] Sorry, I have a four-year old.

Kenneth Hite Yeah. An ideal book for your four-year certainly.

Douglas ColeI do have…I’m blanking. There is a zombie book that is like “Mommy has festering eyes. Do you have festering eyes?” and it’s a great little parody of a classic, and I got it on my desk at work ‘cause I don’t have it here.

Kenneth Hite The fourth in my series of Lovecraftian Children’s Books is coming out from Atlas Games fairly soon.

I can’t immediately think of anything else I can super-easily plug. You already plugged Madness Dossier quite nicely.

Key Long, my OSR Trade Fantasy Sandbox from Flame Princess if you’re OSR player. Lamentations of the Flame Princess player. If you’re ever dreamed of recreating Vahalla Rising in a Fantasy analogue of Cambodia then this is your chance to do that.

What else? Where the industry needs to go? It needs to go faster where it’s going already, which is to say distributed distribution so you get as close to individual creators connecting with customers, and you start cutting distributors out of it. I think a good retail store is absolutely a part of that connection, though, because they make customers you didn’t know you had yet.

A game store like EndGame or The Source or really top end game store is always going to be part of the mix, and any creator worth there salt is going to try and keep them in the mix as much as possible.

It would be nice if the new DnD brought more people into the game stores to buy stuff and we’ll just have to hope that Mike has done a good job at that.

I think the faster that we can get to the place that all the rest of media is going, then the happier we’ll be when we get there. Because that’s going to be the only stable ground, I think, for the foreseeable future.

Douglas Cole That could easily kick off to another hour long conversation about the fusion of tabletop gaming and computers.

Kenneth Hite That’s a whole different question.

Douglas ColeIt is an entirely different question. Gaming aids where there is a way to replace the face-to-face gaming or supplement it. I can’t have a face-to-face group, I want one, but I can’t.

Right now it’s easy for me to come home, do my work stuff, so the virtual tabletop replaces that. But there is all kinds of great things where you can take advantage of the medium. But that is a entirely different conversation. We won’t go there we’ve been talking for a generous two hours of your time for which I would like to thank you.

Kenneth Hite Although if you are interested in tabletop and computer interface, you can also go to Storyscape, the Kickstarter that my buddy Robin Laws is doing for Slabtown games, which is a tablet-based game, that will have all the fiddly math in the tablet so no one has to remember it, not even a GURPS player. And will make it possible (eventually) to build out a broadly universal game experience from tablet play and their Kickstarter could use some love and maybe you could do a interview with Robin, maybe not a two hour video interview, but maybe something.

That gets Robin to talk about Storyscape because I know he’s really excited about that and I know that anything that comes out from Robin will be pretty terrific. So that might be something.

Douglas ColeI would be HAPPY to do so actually. It’s one of these things where it’s funny because on the one hand I know that creators love to talk about their stuff (as well they should) and for me, as someone who is somewhat new to the blogging thing, I’ve been doing it for a year. It’s – Gee, is Ken Hite gonna spend an hour of his time, or two in this case, which was awesome, with some random guy just talking about stuff, and what I’ve found is that yes, they will.

Kenneth Hite You’re not some random guy, like I said I recognize your name from GURPS contributing and tactical wrestling and the rest of that it wasn’t completely average, but yeah that’s what I’m here for.

Part of that future of direct connection between creator and audience is to you know, let people see the creator, and hear what they have to say. That’s where I thank you for bring me on and giving me a place where I can talk for two hours uninterrupted to your readers, and that’s part of the fun as well.

While I’m plugging people’s Kickstarters, not yet, but in the very near future, the Swedish game magazine Fenix, where I write a column every two months, and I guess that’s the other place you could see a Suppressed Transmission thing from me, is that every two months I do a column for Fenix which is quite often a setting, a full setting. It’s 4,000 words of a setting, and that has a sort of Suppressed Transmission-y feel to it although there are fewer darling quotes because I didn’t want to keep reinventing that particular wheel – there are still some.

They are doing an Indiegogo to do a best of Fenix magazine in English, my stuff is already in English, but they’ll be translating a lot of the other great Fenix content from Sweden, and they do a great job. It’s one of the best general gaming magazines around, it’s just in a language that only 9 million people can read, so they’re trying to expand their remit a bit. So if you are looking at this in Feburary the Indiegogo campaign is probably up in running or you are a Swede or someone who reads Swedish or just someone that thinks 4,000 words of my prose is worth subscribing to a magazine you can’t read, you live in Europe then I recommend Fenix. The people who run it, Tovin Anders are really great people and are total Alpha gamers in Sweden.

Douglas Cole Excellent. So again, I want to thank you for your time and I guess that wraps up a really fun two hours.