The Firing Squad welcomes Sean Punch

I had the opportunity to sit down once again with GURPS Line Editor Sean Punch for a 90-minute interview concerning the GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Boxed Set.

The Kickstarter is ongoing – and to back the Kickstarter is to vote for more physically printed GURPS products.

The interview is fairly clear, though Sean and I both talk fast, and there will be some interruptions in the flow.

This is the first Firing Squad video in over a year . . . sorry for making you wait so long!

If you don’t have time for the full 90-minute show (but you should make time for it, because Sean’s an engaging speaker and I mostly just shut up and listen), at least listen to this seven minute long pitch about the DF boxed set, and what’s in it for you, and why it matters to the future of GURPS.

Seven Minute Summary


And for those with more time on your hands, here’s the full video:


Full 90-minute Interview

As always, as soon as I can make it happen, there will be an MP3 file and a transcript available.

Hey, and why not? Here’s the first interview I ever did, and also my first with Sean.


When I heard that there was going to be a big SJG project, and given that I have a certain amount of contact with Sean and the SJG team thanks to being an author for them, as well as doing the fairly well-received GURPSDay compilations, I volunteered to conduct a series of interviews with the SJG team.

+Phil Reed is a busy guy. CEOs are like that, in my experience. While I usually try and do interviews on The Firing Squad, which allows me to dig deeper and probe with follow-ups, that simply wasn’t going to happen.

Phil graciously answered a few questions on the Dungeon Fantasy Boxed Set via email. I’ll be following up in a more content-driven conversation – on video – with Sean next week (though it’ll take a bit to get through my post-production, and then transcription, though the vid will go up before the transcript is ready).

My questions are in bold. His answers are in plain text. Continue reading “Dungeon Fantasy Boxed Set – Q&A with Phil Reed”

Thursday is GURPSDay, and much like Christmas time, I was gifted with the transcript that someone did of the conversation between Hunter Shelburne and +Rev. Pee Kitty (PK Levine, Jason Levine) regarding the GURPS worked-example series After the End.

For an absolutely shameless set of plugs, if you want some comprehensive reviews of each volume, check out After the End 1: Wastelanders (review) and After the End 2: The New World (review) that I did previously.

But what was the interview, you ask? It was part of SJGamesLive.

(I should note that these transcripts, whether it be this one or those on The Firing Squad, are pretty intense piece of work. As an example, the AtE transcript is just shy of 10,000 words long. That’d be about a 12-page Pyramid article, which is on the longer side of things. So there’s a lot of content here.) Continue reading “Transcript: Hunter and PK talk After the End”

This was far too long in coming, but in January, the Firing Squad welcomed +Brian Engard, and we discussed game design, self-publishing, and how to broaden the gaming market, among other topics. It’s about a 90-minute interview.

I interacted with Brian first as a contact about the interview with +Steve Jackson, only to discover that Brian has a ton of notches on his belt, from design work with +Leonard Balsera on Fate Core, as well as Spirit of the Century and Shadow of the Century, and Strange Tales of the Century.

He’s also self-published a very different kind of game, called Becoming, which is part improv theater, part RPG, and likely different than anything that you’ve seen before.

Give a listen!

MP3 Audio File

Text Transcript

Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic): Good evening and welcome to Gaming Ballistic’s Firing Squad. Tonight we are joined by Brian Engard. Game designer and marketing guy for Steve Jackson Games. Brian, welcome.

Brian Engard (Steve Jackson Games): Hi. How’s it going?

Douglas: Good. Thank you for joining me. One of the reasons why I jumped in and wanted to chat with you is because I saw your Daily Illuminator, where you talk a little about yourself and your games. I didn’t really put all the pieces together until I went and got my copy of Fate, and “Ha! There you are.” I know that Leonard was very much involved. Tell me a little bit about Fate, Shadow of the Century, Spirit of the Century, and what’s your history with Fate, Evil Hat, and Spirit of the Century? Continue reading “The Firing Squad welcomes Brian Engard”

The Firing Squad is not out of business – I’ve just been busy. Plus, I raised my standards.

I really liked the visual impact of the images I added to Steve Jackson‘s and Hans-Christian Vortisch‘s interviews. So I decided to keep doing them.

But it adds overhead. I can estimate as I work through +Brian Engard‘s interview – which was 90 minutes long – that I will spend about 7 hours in post processing of the video alone for every hour of conversation.

Additional time above and beyond what +Christopher R. Rice spends in the preliminary transcription will be spent adjusting the text – as a result of 14 years of trans-pacific conference calls with coworkers with variably accented English, I have a ridiculously good ear for this. I’d guess about 3 hours of editing for every hour of conversation (again, above and beyond the 3-10 days for the raw transcription, and it’s usually closer to 3 than not).

So to get it right takes time. The only thing I could think of to speed time to viewing would be to do a rough-cut video where I remove any long pauses, bathroom breaks, or other interruptions. Then include the text transcription and post-production video as time allows. My predisposition is obviously to release the post-production video first with an MP3 file, and either at the same time or shortly thereafter throw down the full text transcript.

But I’m interested in opinions and thoughts.

I do have something like four confirmed candidates for interviews in the works. All are published authors for GURPS and other works.

I’m always interested in suggestions as well, and would be simply thrilled to hear from someone in WotC with whom I could chat about D&D 5, because I’ve been enjoying the hell out of it and would love to speak about the present and future of the game, as well as design choices, etc.

In any case, if you are wondering what’s this Firing Squad thing . . . well, take a peek.

For various reasons this took a bit. Holidays, dead computers, oh my.

But the text transcript of my interview with +Hans-Christian Vortisch is now available. 

It was a fun interview for me to do, and we covered a lot of good ground. 

If you haven’t seen it, heard it, or watched it: now’s your chance!

Happy New Year, and happy GURPS-Day.

I was asked recently how I do my interviews. I answered this a while back from a logistics point of view, but I was asked a bit about the tech and tools, since the interviews go fairly well and people were curious.

First, check out the logistics part. There’s some important stuff there.

The Hardware

I use a Microsoft Lifecam Studio HD as my webcam. In truth, I recently updated drivers on my system, and now it still will capture video, but I can no longer control the camera zoom. This seems to be an issue MS has been told about but won’t/can’t/hasn’t fixed yet. It’s annoying but not crippling just yet. I’m considering upgrading, but I really don’t want to. Logitech stuff works flawlessly for me, so if I go, I’ll go that way unless research shows there’s a much better option. Continue reading “Firing Squad: Tech Talk”

Earlier this week I sat down with +Hans-Christian Vortisch , who has made a solid game writing presence being the go-to guy about firearms, especially makes, models, and usage.

We talk about his history in gaming and how he came to write about games, as well as an awful lot about firearms, both using them and modeling their use in RPGs.

Hans’ name has come up in many of the interviews I’ve done on the Firing Squad, and always in a way that gives a nod to his vast erudition regarding the subject.

I have been personally involved in playtesting two of his works, as Lead Playtester for High Tech (with +Shawn Fisher ) and Tactical Shooting.  Both experiences were positive and a heck of a lot of fun.

We speak for about 75 minutes and could easily have gone longer (I woke up at 5am to interview him – he’s 7 hours ahead of Minneapolis time). If the video looks a bit jerky at times, we experienced some communications lag, so I chopped out some weird silences.

So if you have a bit more than an hour to spare on this Thanksgiving Day, in between football and a tryptophan coma, give a listen!

MP3 File Audio Only (click to download)

Text Transcript

Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic): Good morning and welcome to Gaming Ballistic’s Firing Squad. I am joined today by Hans-Christian Vortisch. Author of GURPS High-Tech and GURPS Tactical Shooting, as well as several supplements for Call of Cthulhu.

The interesting thing about this particular interview except for maybe my recent interview with Steve Jackson himself, your name came actually came up in every single interview that I’ve done. Especially with the Steve Jackson Games staff. You’re kind of legendary so to speak for your breadth and depth of experience and knowledge writing about firearms in role-playing games.

Before we get really into it, I’d like to ask you a couple of questions about how you got into both role-playing games, and your personal interest in firearms.

Hans-Christian Vortisch (RPG Author, Epic Bearder, and General Badass): I really started playing in the early 1980s with a German game called Das Schwarze Auge. It’s pretty much like Dungeons & Dragons. Standard fantasy, pretty simple mechanics and all that.

Then we played everything that was available: Dungeons and Dragons, Traveller, Shadowrun, Star Frontiers, The Morrow Project, Twilight: 2000, Ninjas & Superspies, Rolemaster, MERP . . . everything. Star Wars; the original, the first edition.

And somehow I always gravitated to those games that featured firearms – they were more fun to me. Call of Cthulhu, Traveller, Star Frontiers, stuff like that.

It was just more fun to me, because I liked the fantasy genre and we played a lot of Middle-Earth Role Playing game . . . but somehow the modern or sci-fi settings were more interesting to me.

Well, I liked those most and started reading up on stuff. Somehow, I’ve got a vast collections of books. [both laugh] It just happened that way.

I didn’t really shoot when I was young – that was interesting. I had an air rifle and toy guns and stuff like that, of course, but I didn’t really get into the practical side of it until I was much, much older actually.

I always applied this sort of academic process to the whole thing. I always researched everything diligently without actually having … I hadn’t shot a machinegun or anything like that when I started working on this. But I read up on it. How it’s done. How people do things like that. It’s not just the technical specs, but everything. Continue reading “Gaming Ballistic’s Firing Squad welcomes Hans-Christian Vortisch”

I interviewed +Steve Jackson, who of course wrote and published the game system for which I write, GURPS. +Jeffro Johnson said nice things about the interview.

Steve and I covered a lot of ground, much of which could have elicited an even larger response than I made during the interview itself.

I’m going to excerpt parts of the transcript, and say what comes to mind. Hey, it’s a blog. That happens

***   ***   ***
I’m going to rewind a bit. I’d alluded to SJG being one of the longest going concerns in roleplaying, and referenced an interesting story about how Gary Gygax was in, and then out, of TSR. That was this: The Ambush at Sheridan Springs, by +Jon Peterson. It seemed pretty rigorously documented, and didn’t read to me like axe-grinding. Regardless, it is an interesting tale of how creative control in a company with shares can be held and lost.

+Steve Jackson‘s annual Report to the Stakeholders (2013) always starts with the same line:

Steve Jackson Games Incorporated has one stockholder: me. (Steve Jackson)

I have to wonder whether one of the reasons to keep total creative and ownership control has to do with industry collective memory over D&D. On the other hand, Steve Jackson Games has always been Steve and his employees, from what I can tell, and the Wiki page, if correct, shows Steve had his own reasons to keep total creative control.

Honestly, it’s one of the reasons why I wrote what I wrote when I penned the post Joint Ventures, Licencing, and Pit Traps. Or, in the words of the immortal philosopher Major Vic Deakins:

I put these boys together because they are highly trained, and they are motivated – like me. This is what I do, Mr. Pritchett! And this is battle. Battle is a highly fluid situation. You plan on your contingencies, and I have. You keep your initiative, and I will. One thing you don’t do is share command. It’s never a good idea.

None of this changes the basic fact. Steve Jackson Games has been around as a going concern, under the same commander, since 1980. Whether you like or hate Steve’s methods, games, or shiny Tesla . . . to paraphrase another movie: He is still here.

Doug: What would it take to revitalize the tabletop face to face roleplaying scene . . . I would include Google Hangouts – almost all the gaming I do these days is over Google Hangouts, video chat with four or five people You’ve got the Roll20s or the Fantasy Grounds, Maptool or whatever.
What do you think would need to happen to …I don’t know if we’ll every see 50, or 100 thousand-copy print runs if you ever did. What would it take to make it more viable to expand a roleplaying game instead of maintain it.
Steve: Well it’s not like I haven’t given that thought.
Certainly really good virtual table-tops are going to help a lot. I’ve been thinking about virtual tabletops for oh, maybe 20 years? And a couple of times I have gotten set up with people who were working on projects like that, but they’ve always cratered usually before they were worth talking about in public.
A really really amazingly good VTT, even if it were only for D&D, would help roleplaying a lot – although it wouldn’t necessarily help D&D’s competitors, it would tend to inspire those competitors.

One thing that was clear to me through our conversation – he likes the concept of the VTT, and he returned to it more than once in the discussion. Or I did. Maybe both.

There are, of course, several good VTTs out there, and I interviewed several of their creators (Epic Table, Fantasy Grounds, MapTool, and of course Roll20). There are also several other creative aids, such as Syrinscape and RealmWorks
I’d be curious to know what Steve as a man and as the head of SJG thinks about the four VTTs that I talk about above. I’ve played deeply in three of them: Roll20, MapTool, and Fantasy Grounds (which I use to run my Alien Menace game). All of them are capable of running GURPS in them one way or another. +Peter V. Dell’Orto and I playtested some things for a Technical Grappling DF game in Roll20. +Nathan Joy and Emily use MapTool – I suspect largely because Em is a script-goddess and she can do things easily and very GURPSy with MapTool. Fantasy Grounds is pretty gorgeous and will flourish running GURPS.
On the other hand, all of that is “within your own gaming group” stuff, because to encode the rules is to encode someone else’s IP and give it away for free. That’s, bluntly, a big no-no.
Phil Croft asked a question on the GURPS G+ group about interest in a GURPS VTT, based on this interview. He also started an unfortunately pessimistic (not his fault) thread about a GURPS VTT in the SJG Forums. 
I figured that I’d offer up my own thoughts on this matter, in one spot.
GURPS VTT: Breaking it Down
I love the VTT, and I especially like it over a channel that allows video calling. Hangouts is, so far, the very best at this, and the implementation of Roll20 within Hangouts it the best of all. 
What you need to do is have the following features, I think – because SJG protects their IP with admirable vigor, and also because the GURPS fanbase (and staff!) are an ornery bunch each with their own interests and feeling on what is a perfect game.
IP Control: you need a way to tie the rules being used to the collective purchases of the group playing. This means that you’d want to sign in to your hangout, launch the GURPSVTT application, and likely have to sign in to your Warehouse 23 account. The program would access your physical and electronic purchases, and enable the rules modules for each game supplement you bought.  I’d probably do it such that only one person around the table had to have a copy of each book (that’s how social reality works in a face-to-face game as well), but if one of you didn’t own a copy of Tactical Shooting, you would not be able to use any automated features for rules, styles, or encoded equipment.
House Rules: There would need to be a scripting language that would allow users to write and test their own house rule modifications. In order to comply with the IP Control, it may well be that you can only run such modules by hosting them on a SJG server and accessing them through there – with a list of all the W23 people who can use it. That way, a troll can’t script up a complete version of the Basic Set, and make it available for free.
The IP protection and house rule capability should go a long way to ensuring that the automation of rules that got at least one implementation in Fantasy Grounds fairly deeply de-GURPSified would stay under SJG’s control.
Character Sheets: I’m a big believer in a playable character sheet for these games. The character sheet in the game of Fantasy Grounds I played in was really cool, for example, and has a lot of neat functionality. That could have been unique, though – I got invited to a one-shot by a scripting expert for the game.
In any case, even if there isn’t a formal character sheet (though there should be), there needs to be a module written to take GCA sheets and export them in a format that can be easily digested by the program.
Finally, there should be internal support for quick-and-dirty NPC and monster creation. I mean clicking a “Create NPC” button, being able to toggle or edit basic attributes, drag skills over from a list, and say “go.” Simple tokens and monster stats should be easy to plunk down, so that you don’t have to bust out GCA and stop the game utterly if you want a quickie improvised encounter.
No Path Dependence on Object Tracking: One of the frustrating things about Fantasy Grounds, much as I enjoy it, is that it’s primary focus seems to be the Encounter Tracker. Or maybe it’s some sort of event thing. But it’s definitely not the map. In order to get a bunch of guys down on the page, one needs to do things, and one must do them in a very specific order. 
This is not friendly. If I put an icon on the map, everywhere else it might be needed (the turn order/initiative list, the list of PCs and NPCs available, whatever) it should be duplicated. If I create an NPC, I should be able to put a token on a map, and have it automatically be available (if not in order) on an initiative list. I should be able to center the map on a clicked NPC from the NPC sheet OR the turn order list. Etc. Basically don’t make any one function THE key to getting icons in there. But if you must, make it be the map. 
Abstract Map Support: For those who simply don’t use tactical play, it still might be good to have a default abstract “battle map” that might look a lot like the Conflict Action Map from the Ancient Odysseys RPG (thanks to +Erik Tenkar for finding it for me). 
Now, I might have some suggestions on ways to make this a bit more GURPSy or friendly for different genres – but the fact remains that this “map” inserted as a default option in a VTT package would make a lot of things really easy to do when it comes to quick and dirty encounters. Or you could simply allow a tool to be used to group fighters into encounters – a sort of instant Venn diagram of death.
Multiple Monitor Support: Please. For the love of glob. Please. 
Native Posture Support and Multi-hex figures: It can matter in GURPS whether your lying down or standing up. This support wouldn’t have to be fancy. A primary token for a human might be a simple one-yard hex with a guy in it. Like the dude to the right.
If our alien is two hexes long when he lays down, then I would like the icon to switch to something like the one to the right. It needn’t be a full-on graphic – though it could be – but a setting that notes that a lying-down guy is 1×2 yards wide x long would be awesome.
The Basics: You need tokens of some sort, some basic rules coded in (start with target select and a size/speed range penalty table, for example). A turn-order tracker is nice. A way to note states and damage. A die roller.
Awesome lighting effects are not necessary, but GURPS in tactical mode has a very real and very important facing dependency that needs to be captured, and doubly so in Technical Grappling, where facing can matter even within close combat (the same hex).
Nice to have would be extendable weapon tokens or some demarcation of reach weapons, etc. 
The VTT Parting Shot
Ultimately, you’d want something that started, likely, with a robust scheme to ensure that SJG could feel safe that a marginal product line from a profitability standpoint were not further marginalized by making piracy the go-to way of experiencing the game. Remember – there are people’s lives and livelihood at stake here. This isn’t “oh, Paizo can afford it if I pirate this one book,” since that’s (a) bullcrap (b) criminal no matter the scale, and (c) misses the point completely. 
By Steve’s own comments, GURPS is still out there because a small but loyal following can ensure that the staff time spent to work it is recouped, and that’s probably about all. Bite into that, and you probably kill the game. 
But make no mistake: I think (and I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am) that SJG would get behind the right VTT if it was proposed by a professional, in a professional way, with the right viewpoint on the project. 
Programmers, for all the algorithmic and mathematical awesomeness that can be involved, in my experience are a bit like the stereotypical creative genius. Interested in a project’s start, but not its finish. Feature creep is the rule, and bug fixing and documentation are torture and not interesting. So wrapped up in the nifty architecture diagram of how the network/structure/input-output flows should work that the user experience is neglected. And so very convinced that their way of coding is the only right way that they might as well be die-hard one-true-system gamers as well (and probably are).
Are you a programmer whom I’ve offended. I’m mostly sorry. But the above matches my professional experience over two decades now (and today is my birthday, so there you go) with many programming projects. Steve gives that a brush pass as well: “And a couple of times I have gotten set up with people who were working on projects like that, but they’ve always cratered usually before they were worth talking about in public.”

I think a GURPS VTT would be awesome. I think Steve would think that one would be awesome. But the programmer would have to be dependable, predictable, a true expert, and willing to be guided and directed by someone who has kept a firm hand (death grip?) on his company since its founding in 1980 and is unlikely to let go short of retirement. 
Sales would likely be decent – GCA was the top seller on e23 before we lost the ability to track sales – but you’d likely not be selling 100,000 copies at $5 (to the writer) a pop. So this super-professional project would likely be a labor of love – the way GCA has been.
That being said, with the right program, I think it would get enormous fan support, including scripting and coding modules. Look at how GCA is supported – and while I have issues with the program, creator support isn’t one of them. I asked once if my little article on half-stat defaulting could be coded in, and in a day or two, it was done for me.