Last week I sat down with +Richard LeBlanc and +David Welborn of New Big Dragon Games Unlimited to discuss, largely, the d30 Sandbox Companion. It’s been #1 on the RPGNow “best seller” list for some weeks in a row, and after +Erik Tenkar and +Tim Shorts raved about it, I decided to check it out.
My reiview was decidedly positive.
I asked if they would like to sit down and chat, and chat we did. Two hours worth. So buckle up, as we talk about the Sandbox Companion, telling stories, what’s next for New Big Dragon Games Unlimited, and a whole lotta background.
I will admit this interview wandered a bit. Richard and I both engaged in some serious tangency. Still, if you watch (or read) to the end, there’s good stuff in there.
As always, I’ll upload pictures and links as time goes on. Please let me know if there are any egregious issues that must be fixed! And also as always, if you want to see more of these, such as next week’s conversation with +Kenneth Hite, a small donation to the Ballistic Interview Fund would not go amiss.
Without further ado:
YouTube MP4 Video Output
Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic): Greetings, welcome to Gaming Ballistics’ Firing
Squad. We’re here with Richard LeBlanc and David Welborn from New Big Dragon
Games Unlimited. They’ve graciously agreed to join me and talk largely about
the d30 Sandbox Companion. Which has taken the role-playing by, at least in
miniature, by storm.
Where did it hit on RPGNow
Richard LeBlanc (New Big Dragon Games): That’s where we released the PDF, through RPGNow, and
I think as of this evening it was going back and forth between #1 and #2 today
with a maps release for a couple of bucks. It’s hard to compete with six maps
for two dollars.
I think we’re right now
back in #1, but it’s been 3 weeks straight since its release.
Sort of the role-playing equivalent of the New York Time’s Best Seller list I
Richard LeBlanc: You know what? It’s funny I think DriveThruRPG must be the more OSR
oriented because they track OSR sales separately. But we did this release
through RPGNow . . . but yeah it’s sort of like the Wall Street Journal, but
So tell me a little bit more about this…
Douglas Cole: I reviewed it a little bit
about it on my blog. Erik Tenkar read it – raved
about it. Which lead me to take a look at it and I looked at it again.
So tell me a little bit
how the sandbox companion came about. It’s a really interesting idea, and we’ll
get into why it’s really cool and interesting later.
But it seems really
interesting, and how did the ideas occur to you guys and how did you bring it
Richard LeBlanc: It’s really is tied directly into my beginning with blogging back in
2011, because early on when I sort of launched the blog I wasn’t even really
posting. I was just using it to start following other people’s blogs. Because I would open a blog account so I
could follow, particularly OSR blogs.
And I was looking for
stuff to start to putting up, and my very first post ever, when I decided
“Okay, it’s time to do a post.” I had a wild hair to write a d30 based RPG because
I not seen anyone who had done it before and done it effectively.
In developing a d30 set of
mechanics I started looking at how the
d30 could be used as a d5, d6, d10, d15, d2. It’s very flexible as a die. And
starting sort of putting some of the thing that were supposed to be charts in
this game out as downloads on the blog, and it just had some “stickiness.”
The d30 thing people
responded to. I mean I only really thought about the d30 thing because I’d seen
other OSR bloggers doing Order of the d30. I don’t know if you are familiar
with that thing that happened in 2008-2009.
I don’t want to get to far
into the background, but I can in a minute.
I was just doing these d30
charts and I decided every Friday would be a d30 chart day.
And I just started doing
all these charts for download and before I knew it I had these sort of dungeon
themes ones. Mushrooms, molds, traps, poisons, magic items, so that’s how the
d30 DM Companion happened. Which was the first d30 book.
Then I just started…as
Dave was helping me finish up polishing on the content on that one, I was still
putting out new d30 charts, but those d30 charts were not dungeon-related, they
were very wilderness-driven.
So all of a sudden d30 DM Companion
hadn’t even come out yet and I announced the Sandbox Companion. Which was a
little premature, and now I know how those guys who kind of go out there with
the Kickstarter ideas, but without the whole thing ready to go feel, because it
took us almost two years since I said “Hey, there is going to be this d30
Sandbox Companion” to finish it.
I learned a bit of the folly of that on a much smaller scale, I do writing for
Pyramid magazine, and I get myself into more trouble with Steven Marsh by going
“Hey, I’m thinking of this idea” as opposed to “Here is the finished article, I
hope you like it.”
Richard LeBlanc: That’s a sort of a little bit how it happened, but the other thing
that happened was that as we started adding charts . . . As I started developing
new charts and getting Dave’s feedback from that, more charts kept happening.
What was originally going
to be about 30 to 35 pages ended up at 52. Because in the meantime, I said “You
know what…” I was just looking for other stuff to do for the blog, so I did
this wilderness map, this hex map crawl, this hex crawl mapping thing. I did a
week focusing on just hex crawls.
I put a map out there and
put this worksheet out there, a couple of resources like that. People started
downloading the hex crawl worksheet. So I said I’ll do some more worksheets and
then we started developing the charts so they worked directly with the
worksheets. And the whole time it was when this thing was done and it was going
to be like a fill in the blank of your wilderness to respond to your players.
Right. And you know the interesting thing, at least for me, is I’m getting
older and I’ve got one child and got another one sort of in formation. And you
just run out of time, but I still do
want to game, and the thing that’s interesting about this is that
(and we’ll get into this
in a little bit because as always – this is some background for readers – I always send my interviewees the questions
I’m going to ask as a discussion guide. I also think it’s polite. One of the
things we passed back and forth is some of the adventure seeds from the book. I
will talk a little bit more about that that we can maybe talk through.)
It’s like “Oh! I’m stuck for a plot today. So
let me roll a d30 a couple of times. Oh look, here’s an episode. All I need is
some orcs and a NPC.” It’s very directive and with a little bit of a
imagination, you have the evenings plot.
As a matter of fact, I was
so inspired by this that I’m going to do every Sunday, I think, the Sandbox
Companion adventure of the week [Richard laughs, Dave smiles]. Because it’s so
easy and so interesting and . . . why not?
Anyways, just to sort of
get into a little bit, you talked a little bit about the interesting d30. Did
you ever consider d6 x d6 or any of that, or did you just have this fascination
with d30s and you must exploit it.
Richard LeBlanc: That’s it more than anything. In Jr. High, my best friend who I
dragged into a few games, but was no means a regular gamer like I was. He went
on a family trip to Colorado and he came back from some big hobby store in a
huge mall in Denver with an Armory smoky clear d30 that I’ve had ever since
[holds up d30 to camera].
That’s the source of inspiration for all things. It’s like the Orb of Aldur if
you are a Eddings fan.
Richard LeBlanc: But he also brought me the Armory’s charts.
Which have…I’ve been
meaning for a long time to actually review the charts on my blog, but I would
feel like I’m bashing them because it’s a poor excuse to buy a d30 to have
these charts because there is not much in them.
There is stuff that we were
actually going to do in the Sandbox Companion that were similar to these charts
that Dave goes…this…this feels like fluff. It just feels like absolute fluff.
And we cut.
I’ve always been
fascinated…I did my first d30 chart a week after I got this book, it was a hit area
chart. Hand-drawn little kid legal-size paper kind of stuff.
So that fascination never
went away, but when I rediscovered the…when I sort of discovered the OSR
blogosphere it was sort of a excuse to bring it back out. And my fascination
that had never gone away immediately came back.
Sorry, I got a little off
track from the question.
Ah you know! [waves hand in a “Aw, shucks” manner]. That’s OK.
David Welborn (New Big Dragon Games): You know, it’s not that we thought of doing it this
way, but the…being the d30 it does tend to differentiate the product from those
other books of lists and charts.
Richard LeBlanc: And one of the other things
was, and Dave’s the guy who basically always stays on my butt about being good
about this: To really use the d30 to its full effectiveness.
Because in both the DM and
Sandbox Companion there are a lot of five by six charts were one roll creates
two sets of results. You roll and you check the header on the column and the
sidebar on the row and you have two results from a single roll. The six by six
can do that, but you’re sort of having to put one set of dice down and pick up
another die, if you’re mixing that with d20s for example.
Sure, sure, sure.
Richard LeBlanc: That flexibility was something that we never questioned early on is
because the reason the Sandbox Companion is a d30 book is because it wasn’t
developed to be a Sandbox Companion originally. It was a set of charts that
came out of using a d30. It just happened to be really damn useful.
Well, you know, a lot of Ph.D thesis are nothing but four or five pages stapled
together, so you’re in good company [Richard laugh].
So you guys have gone back
and forth just a little bit. What are your two roles, David and Richard, in New
Big Dragon Games.
Richard LeBlanc: I’ll actually let Dave talk to that, as he can give a better insight
where I drag him in.
Alright. Well I’ve always kind-a been a sounding board, Richard and I tried to
put together a band early on. So he’s always writing the songs, and I was there
as a sort of sideman. I gave him my input and you know “this part of the song
is top-notch, and this part isn’t up to everything else.”
We had this working
creative relationship, and somewhere in there I got married, he got married, no
time for bands anymore, and Richard discovered this OSR thing and was sort of
showing it to me. And it’s weird, and he gave me a module he was working on to
sort of proofread and to make sure he didn’t make any big typographical errors
and to just check it out. We just sort of fell into the kind of the same
working relationship we had prior.
He’s pretty much is the
engine and I’m the sounding board…
Richard LeBlanc: Game Swiffer [?]
Richard LeBlanc: There are times where it’s like: this just doesn’t work or is clunky,
and honestly one of the reasons . . . I’m going to out Dave a little bit for why
the Sandbox Companion taking so long. Dave has two twin boys who are two and
half or three now…?
They’re three now. Yeah.
Richard LeBlanc: They were two, and they … [all laugh].
It seems longer.
Both of them at the same time.
Richard LeBlanc: As they got out of toddler stage, they’re still toddlers, as they got
out of that infant stage to toddler stage, they required a lot more of his
attention, especially later in the evening and that tended to slow up the
process a lot.
And it’s funny because…’cause
I really needed Dave’s input on some of these charts and whether their working.
Because the two of us together completely rewrote the NPC…the henchman/hireling
charts that are in the books, as well as the weather charts that are in the
book, a couple of times before the versions you see in the book.
A lot of that stuff kind
of had to happen. Because we were waiting for so long, and I was waiting for Dave
in some cases, I actually put out to modules in the meantime.
And so I did the ballet of
the Five Fires module, which is like a 56 page Mongol-inspired OSR setting, and
this little 12-16 page Egyptian sort of little one-shot thing.
And that was in-between
all the other times we weren’t working. Two things: the amount of attention we
put to make sure these charts worked, and . . .
. . . the amount of care, right? We
didn’t just want to throw it out.
Sure. So you mentioned, and obviously the d30 Sandbox is very much centered
around the Old School Revival, OSR.
Why is that important to
I played DnD, I played the
red box and I got the blue box, I think I may have even been given them both at
the same time. I got into AD&D in high school, and this would have been
from 85-89, I played a whole bunch of stuff because my friend Ken Cappeli and
Mark Worthy, those guys were a sort of the game of the week, game of the month.
Did Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay for a while.
Eventually they introduced
me to GURPS which was almost the last system I played before I went to college
and then what I found there is…I was playing, actually, I think it was the Dark
Conspiracy setting and loved the setting, couldn’t really deal with the rules,
and then I got into GURPS big time – sort of converting it on the fly – my
first game was fifteen worldbooks . . .
So now we find ourselves
in 2014 and Old School Revival – why do you guys find that compelling to write
Richard LeBlanc: I really kind of was away from the hobby for a long time.
There is nothing that
really turns…and I don’t want to offend your GURPS viewers here…but there is
very little that turns me off more than a lot of splat, in terms of splatbooks.
It’s why I’ve never been able to comprehend Palladium. Not that I don’t
comprehend Palladium, but Palladium RPG and GURPS are just like “Here is the
library of stuff that you need to kind of go through depending on the game you
want to play.”
And even DnD got a lot
like that, which turned me off to DnD at some points. And I am not a three or 3.5
player or 4.0. Dave is. Dave’s a 3.5 guy.
So I had done other RPGs stuff
off and on in the 90’s and in the early part of 2000 to 2008 really hadn’t done
Discovering OSR was
bringing back to the stuff I loved early on. And that’s one of the reasons why for
a lot of us, it’s nostalgia and for a lot of us it’s just we like that style of
I just miss that and it
was nice to get back to it.
I also was away from the hobby a lot. I think I played in elementary school in
the early 80s and [Doug: “Now I feel old.”] and I didn’t play again until
Somewhere in high school I
was introduced to Call of Cthulhu and Paranoia and Car Wars, right? It kind of
But then I went off to
college and didn’t really play much except when it was DnD. Played some of the
superhero RPGs – it was like we couldn’t just put together the time regularly
with all the people and the school workload.
And then a bunch of my
college buddies – the guy who was the DM – moved back to town, the guy who was
the GM, around 2000 and we just started cranking it out. The guys just a genius
at storytelling and 3rd edition was just the vehicle.
But OSR came around and it
really kind of…with Richard pulling me into it, kind of realizing that the way
we played the modern rulesets were very old school in a way.
But much like the
conversation you were having the other in the other Ballistic Interview [LB].
Much more narrative based then the simulation kind of rules.
You know in my own
experience, and this is interesting, one of the best and longest running games
I had going, first in college and then honestly in grad school as well, was d6
Star Wars. And the nice thing about that is the incredibly simple rules-set, I
believe at the time it won a bunch of awards and in my opinion it deserved
But the thing about Star
Wars is probably the same thing that is good or interesting or really binding
about the OSR, it’s a fairly narrow ruleset in a world or style of play that everyone
Everyone in our generation
gets, and frankly the next generation as well, with the new movies.
Say what you will about
them – and there is a lot to say – (Han shot first!) [Richard laughs]
And that’s even the old
ones . . . see you can even ruin perfectly good stuff! It’s like new rules editions!
There’s an analogy to be made here, between the continual revision of the old
Star Wars movies and what we actually go and play.
But in a way, that’s what
it is. In the end, you go back and say Okay, hack n slash fantasy – and I mean
that in the nicest possible way because I play a lot of it.
It’s something that
everyone understands and you go back to the old box DnD or even AD&D and
you say “This is just a fairly straightforward way.” And Star Wars is the same
way, you can go and inhabit that world, as opposed to doing all the work.
And its wonderful and deep
and I want to see a movie in it . . . and I wow I approached David Pulver’s
Transhuman Space with fear and shock and awe because I just couldn’t
penetrate…it. I couldn’t figure out how to play in it . . . but I know how to
get a cleric, a fighter, a magic-user, a thief, a fighter and another fighter
in. And kill some damn orcs [all laugh].
So you know what to do
there, oh we’ll go NW and kill more orcs and we’ll branch out tomorrow and kill
goblins. And I think that’s one of the things that’s compelling for
time-stretched people is you can get together and do…and it doesn’t require
method acting…it doesn’t require a lot…I don’t want to say investment because
you can have a lot of fun and inhabit
the characters, but it just doesn’t require quite so much overhead.
It takes real work to create a universe that has sort of internal rigor that’s
believable that just doesn’t become gonzo.
Correct. And I will give mad props to Transhuman Space for doing exactly that, but boy
there is a reason the introductory adventures start way the hell away from
Earth and all the complexities of the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Wave or
whatever. You gotta start by “killing orcs” so that you can understand the
Coming back to the d30
Sandbox Companion just because that’s the point.
It took me five, maybe ten
minutes to open up Excel and drop the 30 column headings in and hit a random
number generator. And I did the math because I’m a dork. There are 590 trillion
potential adventure seeds that come out those two pages of text.
Richard LeBlanc: I think we actually referenced that in the introduction to the
Sandbox. So go ahead, sorry.
No, go ahead, it’s your interview, not mine.
The thing is: at the push
of a button I’ve got a idea so what I wanted to do, if you’re willing and if we
can take the time.
I wanted to throw up one
or two or three, we’ll see where this goes because it could take a while, of
these ideas because I sent them out ahead of time. But seeing where they took
me and see where two different people took each one if you’re willing to do
indulge me for a moment.
Richard LeBlanc: Absolutely.
So let’s do this – PowerPoint it, unfortunately – the first bit.
So for those of you who
don’t have the book: shame on you and go buy it because for what you get it’s
There are ten categories,
sort of major plot points or axes and each table has 30 different pieces.
So what you see here is
randomly generated bit.
You got the Adventure
Trigger, a drawing of some sort.
Goal, scavenger hunt,
city, pedestal, etc. etc.
So what I did with this
one, is to me the drawing implied a map or a picture. Disembodied voices, mystery,
the Queen Mother as the key NPC . . .this started to sound to me like
divination. Predicting the future.
The geographic. . . I’m
sorry. My parents were both English Majors so I have to fix that misspelling.
The geographic features
are really neat and I remember in Frank Miller’s Batman Year One book Batman
talks about the one distinctive detail and he puts on a scar so people would do
So the geographic part of
this is that there is a pillar in the center of the city somewhere, which is a
really great bit of flavor. So there is a pillar in the center of a city, the
pillar is beautiful, artistic, and probably magical. Maybe it was even there
before the city was there.
The Queen started painted
scenes of incredibly destruction, and her close confidants were reporting that
she was talking to herself and talking in her sleep and she wasn’t a artist but
she is now. And maybe she’s only using techniques that only exist in modern 2014
– maybe’s its pointillism or perspective or maybe it’s 3D looking stuff whereat
that didn’t exist in this time.
The court is disturbed
because they’re really worried about this and the Queen’s sanity, but the King
knows his wife to be a pretty stable person, but the council won’t let him
commit forces or troops to protect the city.
The Queen recently
completed another drawing – a giant catastrophe being perverted by a powerful
figure standing on the pillar. The figure is cloaked in black and gold with a
distinctive bracelet on an outstretched hand. That hand and the bracelet are in
the kings treasure room. It’s a lost relic on display very clearly visible and
it’s known as the Hand of the King and it’s one of the royal treasures – it’s probably one of the things they hold up
So the Queen contacted a
party of adventurers because the hand is probably part of a larger statue which
if placed on the pillar will protect the entire city and they have to do that
before disaster strikes.
And that’s the scavenger
hunt piece of it and why is she getting this instructions – the voices are
talking to her and that’s a little crazy and that’s why the council is
skeptical and that’s why they have to branch out to the random murder hobos and
that’s why they have to chase down the pieces of the statue.
So, that’s where this took
me and so it was just one of these
things where you start putting the different pieces together and it was really really interesting. And as we get into
the next two you find out that you can really tie all these together into a
So what do you guys make
of this thing?
Richard LeBlanc: Dave you want to go first or you want me to go first? Did you have
time to work on this at all?
We’ve lost Dave’s sound.
I’m sorry, I was on mute. I was talking.
Richard LeBlanc: He has a tendency to mute himself by the way [all laugh]. This happens
a lot when we Skype and there’s this long period of silence, and I go dude, I
think you’re on mute.
I took this somewhere else, I went with a heist theme.
So you had a guy, he was
out sort of pretending to be a street artist. He had like a sketchbook and he
was drawing, say like the equivalent of a bank on the street, and what he was
really doing was he was casing the joint.
Something happens and he
loses his sketchbook, and the player party character, the PC party finds that
sketchbook and it’s got the bank and some portraits of his friends and maybe
the insides of some taverns and other phenomena around town.
That brings in the
scavenger hunt aspect that you’re trying and go around town and figure out,
perhaps, who this guy was and what was going on. The disembodied voices are
coming from the sewer which leads people down below ground – sewers are part
and parcel to heist adventures.
They’re going to try and
take the figurine or idol from the vault in this basically Tower of London or
bank-type place. It’s a figurine or idol that was the basis of the sculpture
that sets atop the pedestal in the city. And that’s going to be used by the bad
guy who actually hired the bank robbers to destroy the royalty of the town and
bring everything down.
Cool! Cool…you know what I think that I might do for time sake, you know what
I’ll do – Richard, you go to town.
Richard LeBlanc: I started this one thing that I completely abandoned because I…I don’t
know if I sort of saw all the answers on this at one time or not, because I was
trying to just really make it too complex honestly.
I had one where there was
this pedestal in the middle of town, but the thing that happened in that
direction, where I took it, it was on this day called the feast of the hunt
where young adults in the town were drawn out of a lottery.
So in this case the
drawing was not a physical drawing, but a lottery drawing. And names were drawn
and this was how the PCs were meant to be together in the first place, this was
meant to be a 1st level adventure, and they were all going to have
to get on this pedestal which would start this scavenger hunt for this festival.
I found myself sticking too
close to what the results from the rolls were supposed to be – in other words I
kept looking going “Scavenger Hunt is the object or goal – which is really
just extension of the trigger.” So let
me rethink that.
And I ended up scrapping
that whole idea because I was over thinking the results [laughs] and went with
this sort of set up and this is where I ended up:
I did keep the drawing was
a lottery drawing and that will be my trigger here.
The king’s away at war and
the Queen is on a diplomatic mission and the Queen Mother is sort of running
things while they are gone and there is this figurine that’s been sort of
locked in the lower depths of the castle and it’s missing and there is no other
clue to its disappearance other than this black mark on the pedestal where it
So there is the pedestal, there’s
this sort of trigger for this mystery thing, there always has to be this sort
of one clue left behind so Scooby Doo and the gang can find it, right? [“Right,
Raggy”] But here’s the real problem, the statue is one of the Seven Keys of
Sylum, I love putting names on things, so the idol itself is one of the Seven
Keys of Sylum, and it’s a set of statues that supposedly, when put together
will unlock this extradimensional gate which brings this powerful being in from
another dimension that cause this destruction.
Now this is the part where
Dave smiles, because Dave knows that I’m infamous for cults, opening portals,
bringing Lovecraftian beasts through them . . . and so I did this really like
to poke at Dave because he kind of pokes at me all the time for it.
So the reason this
figurine was locked in the castle in the first place was just in case this was
rumored to be true so it wouldn’t be an issue. But now with the statue missing
somebody obviously wants to put them together.
So the Queen Mother asks
the PCs to find this old key. I think in here I accidently ended up editing out
the part where she choose them via lottery drawing. So here are these people
from a bank of heroes that are trying to get the castle to hire them from these
kinds of things.
Her task to them is if not
to find the stolen statue to at least find one of the other statues and bring it
so that at least the city will be safe and she hooks them up with a mystic to
help them divine the location of these statues. What the problem is is he’s a
few ingredients short on the spell, but they’re going to help him on that. The
scavenger hunt that triggered this whole thing will be a scavenger hunt for the
ingredients for the mystic’s spell which will then lead upward.
Okay, so that really “shows
to go ya” that three very different takes on the same thing, so instead of 500
almost 600 trillion possibilities, really it’s infinite. Because we could
probably come up with the same random number is actually gonna produce idea
after idea after idea depending on what you are thinking of, what you had for
lunch that day, what movies or entertainment you saw, and you know, for example
– drawing, David and I thought “Physical Drawing” but you said “Lottery
Drawing” – maybe it’s drawing a wire like pulling it through a mandrill or
So there is all kinds of
meaning that you can imbue to these things.
So moving onto the next
one – cause we did three of these to see what could be done.
I came up with drawing
again, which is interesting. Major goal is to locate or track down a NPC.
Obstacle – clear name or restore honor in a citadel or keep. So we’re back to
You’ll note that I only
knew these were all in the same place with the same king and queen and the same
plotline after I’d come up with the
ideas – but I’m going to present them as if they were all part of one giant
Another statuary, so
apparently we are all about the statues – which is interesting because it’s
come up in two different ways, but would make an interesting overarching theme
in a series of adventures that they all have to do with some kind of sculpture.
control . . .a candle – which is kind of fun – and a noble which is actually what lead me to come up with the noble
And so if you’ll forgive
me . . . actually I’ll just leave this up.
The peasant – which is the
key NPC – saw someone get killed. A powerful noble was killed in the darkness
and it was explained as a accident, a statue fell over on him, shoved over by a
different noble who was naturally a friend of the king. The peasant saw it
differently – the statue physically reached out to crush the dead noble’s head,
and only fell over after it had been animated to do this deed.
The culprit is another
noble who used a magical candle that instead of casting Cast Shadows – the
wizard, of course it’s a wizard, it’s gotta be a wizard – can control any stone
that the shadow touches.
The peasant saw all that,
but being smart (if poor),
immediately went into hiding because there is certain information that just can
get you killed, and everybody knows that if you’ve got two neurons to rub
And this person is gone,
but you need the evidence to accuse the noble of a major crime. So the king
expects treachery and this is one movie in a power play and will probably end
in strife in regicide because they always do. Kingdom changing hands,
everything at stake, but a scrap of the drawing, because of course much like
every movie that we’ve ever seen the person who sees it has to make a picture
The scrap of this drawing
has been found, but the drawing isn’t good enough, it has to be personal evidence.
It’s all about people and character and honor and you can’t have physical
evidence – it’s all about somebody’s word. Which tells you a awful lot about
the legal system that has to underlie this world.
Before the usual court
process can remove the King’s friend, you have to find the evil noble, because
he has to be evil, or it would be really interesting if he weren’t evil – which
just twists things – but the perpetrator has a army of magical and magical
abilities of his own, so he’s a real threat, and so can PCs interdict and stop
the plot in time. So that’s where I went with that one.
Yeah, umm, I was going to say the first one for me was the hardest because I
kept trying to turn it into a Dan Brown novel. With the [all laugh] with the
scavenger hunt which tends to be a…
This one. I too have a magical candle and that’s
really what – once I got that idea it really drove my ideas.
Mine was a candle and the
shadow that the candle cast – that shadow could leave the person, almost like an
out of body experience and travel through the shadows to do bad things to other
people’s shadows thereby killing the target.
So you had this evil mage,
who was looked away in a tower, which gets us our citadel/keep.
When they locked him away
they cut out his tongue and smashed his hands so he could no longer do the
somatic and gestural components of the magic…
Richard LeBlanc: Awesome! [laughs]
Yeah, but somebody snuck him these magic candles and his shadow crept out to do
vengeance on the people who locked him away. So his shadow strangled the shadow,
and thereby the persons, who put him in this situation.
So you have to…Your PCs
are kind of left with trying to figure out how to avoid shadows, like a
streetlight is a bad place to be, but daytime’s fine because there is not a lot
of shadows – it would have to be a clear shadow, multiple light sources or
diffused lightning you’re pretty safe.
You kind of have this
puzzle of how can you trap this shadow, and keep it, while you try and locate
who it belongs to or try and prevent an assassination of the head noble of the
town. And that’s pretty much where it went.
Richard LeBlanc: Are you ready for mine now?
Richard LeBlanc: Okay, well on this one I actually had Dave take the email that you
sent, change the order of the results, and add spaces between them, so when I
got the email I’d have to scroll from item to item so I would not be able to
see them all at once. And I went through
them in a different order than they were rolled or developed because you sort
of…I wanted to see what the difference was in my natural way of doing it, which
would be to sit down and roll them one at a time and dealing with each result
as it popped up . . .
Richard LeBlanc: . . .rather than seeing the
group at once as generated by a computer. What I tended to do on this one which
was to go through each item and think on it a little bit before I rolled the
Got it, got it, got it, got it.
Richard LeBlanc: The thing I started with was the location feature which was the
statuary – so that sort of drove my “thematic wrapper” because that was the
first thing I did.
What I came up with was,
I’m not necessarily a Stan Lee fan, but I like the way he over-alliterates
everything, so I had this Hall of the Hundred Heroes just because I like the
alliteration. So this statuary is expansive gold domed rotunda lined by a 100
statues of the heroes of the realm. These are guys, young, old, of every sort
of race, shape, or size that have given their lives in their furtherance of
freedom within the the realm.
At this point I went ahead
and figure out what the shield, the heraldry crest looks like so I actually went
to the heraldry tables in the Sandbox Companion and what I ended up with was a
roll of 28, 15, blah blah blah, that’s the graphic I put together today and
it’s purple and dented division
We can’t see it.
Richard LeBlanc: [chuckles] He’s getting there, with a purple cross charged.
Anyways, that’s sort
of…one of the things I love about, and I didn’t come up with the name later,
that’s the shield for the heraldric crest for the realm.
So the next item on my
list was the candle and because I already had this statuary the candle was a
artifact it sort of sits in the middle of this statuary and I called it “The
Flame of Undying Loyalty” and it set on top of a large pedestal, and it’s
really a symbol for those heroes who have died near and far. It’s said to
provide magical abilities to its possessor in terms of loyalty and strength in
battle. That I sort of left a little open and ended up coming back to.
The next thing that I came
to was the villain or goal, and I went ahead and rolled him up first in the NPC
tables in the book and so my first roll was a natural 30. And for BX users, that’s
going to be a re-roll, and for original or first edition and that’s going to be
rolling on the multi- or split class table, and I did that for interests sake.
What I ended up with was
this fairly high level fighter/thief as the villain.
So the next thing I had in
mind on my ordered lists was the citadel and I for a long time just had this
named “The Ebony Citadel” just sitting back there that I’ll do something with
at some point, so just right now I put the Ebony Citadel in and kept going.
For the key NPC of the
noble I went ahead to the noble tables in the back of the book and rolled up a
baroness who is just basically a friend of the family of the king. I went ahead
and gave her a name: she’s Baroness Enly (Emily?) Uthain.
So now we get to the
trigger, a drawing, I didn’t do the drawing like the first which I did this one
first which is one of the reasons I did the other one like a lottery drawing as
opposed to a physical drawing as this one is a physical drawing.
This is where it all took
shape and all these little pieces were out there and this is where it all took
shape for me. So the Baroness, she’s kind of known around the area as being a
very good artist, and one night while she was sleeping she had this dream where
– this is all sort of written out in my prosaic thing here so I’ll sort of go
One night while she was sleeping, a dream of man with
such evil and darkness in his eyes that it shook her to her very soul. In this
dream the man entered the Hall of One Hundred Heroes and toppled each statue to
the ground turning them all into piles of rubble, he then took The Flame of
Undying Loyalty and retreated to his citadel. A Citadel of absent blackness
engulfed in flame. The baroness awoke, shaken, thinking nothing more of her
dream other than that it was a dream until the next day when word reached her,
where she is in a barony, that the Hall of Heroes had been vandalized and the
flame had been stolen.
This is sort of where I
wrote back in that the candle provides unquestioning loyalty from all those who
serve its possessor – granting not only but other advantages in battle
including a host of magical abilities – to be determined. Her vision is the
only clue to this man’s identity, and circulated throughout the realm is her
drawing of this man with the offer of reward for anyone with information about
The next thing that I came
to was revenge. I put that aside to come back toit.
The obstacle/goal was to
clear your name or honor.
As your party walks through the streets of the town
you notice the flyer and you also can’t help but notice the man on the flyer
bears a striking resemblance to the fighter in your group.
So basically at this point
these people are looking at you and you know you look like this guy, but you
also know you’re not him so you got to either find out who this guy is or your
mistaken identity could lead to dire consequences.
The back story that has
yet to be revealed to the players at this point is that this fighter/thief –
Norrack the Herokiller that I’ve created or I kind of called him – has more
than once try to claim a portioned realm as his own, and his efforts were
crushed time and time again by several of those who were honored in the Hall as
heroes. Though they died fighting Norrack, their efforts have continually held
him at bay. And the toppling of the statues was simple payback, but the
stealing of the candle was simple strategy – to raise a undyingly loyal army
and take over the realm.
Interesting. As you were talking I’ll admit that…you got a hundred heroes? I
would take that and say “There are one hundred baronies in the Kingdom of
Ulthain.” There are one hundred nobles and the toppling of the statue
represents the toppling of these barony using your candle of loyalty to
eventually take over the entire country. So even with one adventure seed you …
Richard LeBlanc: Yeah, absolutely. But the way I went through that had a lot to do with
where I ended up.
Yeah, it’s real interesting. Lastly, just to complete it out, we’ve got the 3rd
adventure seed, where Doug has had far too much fun with fonts.
Anyway: Trigger is exotic
item, the goal is to stop conflict, obstacle to find hidden or lost entrance, Forest,
Door, Poisonings, mass destruction, greed, and slave.
Now I will admit that the
slave never really featured in what I was talking about, largely because I think
I just started writing, but that’s the whole point of this is to get a idea and
run with it.
So this one felt like money to me. There are unusual coins
being spread around, people who come in contact with these coins tend to die.
Falling victim to some sort of toxicity some days after they come into contact.
It’s part of the plot that
had been discussed in the first two – a way to subvert, weaken, destroy the
king’s hold on the land.
A magical artifact – lemme
see I think I came back around to that – anyways there is a magical device that
actually is responsible for making the lands coinage, but a piece has been
removed and without it the money is tainted and bad for you.
It’s a ancient device and
no one really knows how it works who’s still living, except for this old noble.
Not every coin is toxic –
it’s a random event. But those that are, compel the possessor to spend them
spreading in a disease-like vector.
The PCs have to venture to
a special vault deep in the enchanted forest to retrieve the piece, a otherwise
unremarkable silver cube which looks normal but detects strongly of magic.
Naturally the evil wizard
has hidden the door – or even better maybe some other creature such as a fae or
other spirit or other neutral party stole the cube from the wizard.
So the PCs still have to
get it back, but maybe they even have to collaborate with this evil noble
because what you are really looking at is the random end of all things. Total
stop of all commerce which will kill the realm, or enough coins get made and tainted
and that everyone dies.
In any case, bad news:
there is time pressure, there is a bit of mystery, and maybe perhaps the hint
of collaboration with the bad guy because – I always wanted to see what
happened when Han Solo and Princess Leia and those guys sat down to dinner with
Darth Vadar so that allows something like that.
Just to tie it all
together all of these seem to revolve around a king or queen of particular land
so they could be linked. Same noble. Instant BBEG, just add hate. You get an
opportunity for a party of murder-hobos to come to the attention of a royal
family and thus be enmeshed in all this political stuff and if its over there
head – if all that politics is over there head even better but these guys
become special agents for the royal family and thus you can explain why they
are involved in one friggin’ thing after another like Bruce Willis’s character
in Die Hard. “Why does this keep happening to me.” Next.
Richard LeBlanc: Before we go on. “Why does this keep happening to me” and why do I
have to sit down to have dinner with Hans and get involved with him. It’s kind
of like…Anyways, I won’t respond. I’ll come back to yours and I’ll let Dave go.
So this one was more of a…you got two crime syndicates in the town going at it,
because one of them was poisoned and one of the families’ sort of regional
treasures or weaponry found at the crime scene of the assassination at the
houses in one of the crime syndicate families.
Long story short – spoiler
– it was a slave inside the house who used a Wand of Escaping to escape through
a tunnel and then through a hidden door. So these guys are gonna – maybe the
PCs work for one of the crime families or associate or have dealings with them.
They have to stop this conflict started by this slave a revenge for all the bad
things that crime families do. That’s pretty much where it went.
Richard LeBlanc: I, you know when I was looking at the list of results I actually have
a adventure I’m working on in the back of my mind right now and I ended up
tying it into that, making it a part of that thing. So when I reference this Fair
Shadow Valley as the location – it’s actually part of a map that I posted on
the blog a while back and I said “Here’s this map I worked up” with the
intention of sort of working on it generically over time to see what happens.
So that’s the location of this thing instead of the overreaching campaign
you’ve put together. It’s more a piece of this other overreaching campaign that
I’ve actually been putting together.
A major pass into the
north end of Fair Shadow Valley is being controlled by goblins who are
attacking everyone who passes through. If the dwarves and the elves who are
encamped in the forest just north of that side of the valley, outside the
entrance, if they would join forces the goblins would be easily dispensed, but a
misunderstanding between the dwarves and elf leaders has them bickering instead
The dwarves have come in
search of a place rumored to be laden with treasure. The “key” to this door
which supposedly hides this treasure is a small (3 inches a side) cube ornately
engraved with an array of dwarven runes which slides into the door to allow entry.
That’s how the story goes.
The dwarves had the key
which now seems to be missing and the dwarves blame the elves for the theft,
while the elves need to secure a path to through the valley so they can bring
medicines to the towns on the side where there are people suffering from these
Given the greed of the
goblins, it’s most likely they’ve stolen the cube. Taking the goblins head on
is kind of foolhardy and if the PCs could, say, find a back entrance, which is
ultimately what they’re looking for . . .the thing that sort of happens is
there is this goblin slave that escapes his goblin masters and he’s sneaking
out of a back entrance just in time for the PCs to see this.
So it’s a little
coincidental, but it’s workable I suppose.
So I decided inside the
compound, the PCs will eventually find the cube. And the door is in there too,
but in a different part. The dwarves know these go together, the PCs know these
go together, but the goblins obviously didn’t figure this out.
And they’ll find evidence
that the goblins are being backed by an as yet to be determined person who is
responsible for the poisonings and he’s paying these greedy goblins pretty well
just to keep people out of the valley – especially these elves.
I went back and forth on
what exotic item should be the trigger and at one point it was a herb, the
medicinal herb the elves were bringing in for the poisons.
Richard LeBlanc: Then I thought the cube was the exotic item but I think I may have
decided on the herbs.
You know on the flipside there is no reason why there can’t be several exotic
items, so yeah okay.
Cool. I hope that anyone
who is watching is still watching.
We spent a long time on
those three adventure seeds. But at least if my blog traffic is any indication
there is going to be four people who actually watch this and everybody else will read it, so hopefully people
will bear with us as we go through these ideas.
Overall I think it’s
really interesting, we had three random rolls at least ten different ideas, out of those three rolls times three
people, and it’s just “What am I going to do for tomorrow’s adventure?” I’m
going to roll some dice and have a great idea.
Which leads me into a
different kind of question.
Do you see a future of any
sort for something like – right now it’s OSR (which is dungeons) do you see a
expansion for this for a d30 action movie, or d30 special ops sandbox generator,
the expanded daily terrorist activity tabke, or the the Jack Bauer kneecap
damage table or something. Science fiction. You could have a science fiction
What do you think about
the market or the work involved – I mean toddlers aside it seems like it took a
long time to come up with these kind of tables. I would probably wind up with
the Disney Princess Superhero Alien table because my daughter will freely
combine such. [Richard and Dave laugh] Pretty soon it’s going to be like the –
you know Ariel is going to ride into fight Lex Luthor on an Orgre – like a
Steve Jackson Ogre, not a Ogre Shrek-Ogre.
So it’s…inspiration comes
from a lot of places.
So what do you think
beyond the old school Dungeons and Dragons or fantasy stuff – do you think
there is more out there? Because it’s a wonderful utility to have this kind of
idea generator, and you got a lot more genres that are out there.
Richard LeBlanc: Dave and I talked about that for a little bit, because strangely
enough when we were putting the Sandbox Companion to bed, and I say that like a
month before it’s released as we sort of got all the tables together as it
became proofing and writing the introduction.
We sort of felt like we
had completed the “Fantasy” sort of thing. There wasn’t much left there in in
terms of fixing quick needs, and maybe there are some details that aren’t there
yet, but there is nothing sort of bigger or daily important that should
absolutely be in there.
The next question: Should
we do something outside of that realm and in sort of a different place.
My initial reaction is –
there is very little I would know well
enough to do a good job of it, because this is one of those things that I’m
familiar with, and got a good handle on and the only other thing that would
come close or sort of consider would be a mutant/future style. Gamma World-ish,
Thundar the Barbarian-ish, sort of Aftermath-ish…Dave’s a big fan of the ah…
Richard LeBlanc: Morrow Project!
And it’s sort of a, it’s a
little too serious than something like Gamma World where you can have bunny
ears and extra arms and things.
I would feel more
comfortable doing something like that, but it does take a big time commitment
to do it, because what happened with the Sandbox Companion was that it developed
one week at a time and as I was putting out on the blog.
Right now my interest is
still in that place, that sort of Fantasy place, and unless it takes me and I
won’t say it won’t. But I’m severely ADD when it comes to the kind of projects
I work on or the number of projects I work on and they tend to be on the same
style of thing.
It would just sort of have
to happen and I’d have to be passionate about it – because if I’m not
passionate about it I can’t be convinced I’d do a good job at it. If that makes
That’s sort of a theme in creativity, right?
Richard LeBlanc: [Laughts] It is.
I mentioned this Valley of
the Five Fires, a Mongolian-inspired setting.
It was triggered because a
guy I know who has this other blog, the ramblings of the Great Khan, by William
Dowie, was going to do a single-page Mongolian-themed adventure contest. It may
not have been a single-page, but it was Mongol-themed adventure contest and I
started developing new monsters and started putting new maps together, and it
over grew over two or three days for a contest kind of thing because the
passion got a hold of me.
Right, it just snowballed.
Richard LeBlanc: Yeah, and so if one of those other things happens, it will be because
it snowballs, but because I’m also sort of passionate about it anyway.
Dave and I collectively
probably have enough anime background to pull off something like that.
Right, right, right.
Richard LeBlanc: But that would be a …I’m not an action, like the Jack Bauer kind of
theme you mentioned earlier. I’m not much for the espionage and/or suspense
thriller sort of stuff. I’ve never been a blow up helicopters movie kind of
guy, it would take lot for me to get
behind that sort of . . .
[waves hand] You are now dead to me. [all laugh]
Richard LeBlanc: You know my brother’s passion for that should more than make up for
Fair enough, fair enough.
It’s funny because there
is a blog, and it’s a new blog, and I’m going to forget the name of it, and I
really shouldn’t. I think I call him Mr. Insidious, I think it’s called
Insidious GURPS planning.
But he’s running a really
interesting, intricate espionage campaign, and to come up with these
interleaved conspiracies is a challenge and next week I’m interviewing Ken Hite
and his Night’s Blank Agents has a conspiracy
generator and I’ve ordered the book, and I’m going to read it because that
just has to be awesome.
One of the hardest things
to do I think is to come up with enough layers so it’s not just “Oh, I…this is
the bad guy, and I shoot him in the head.”
Well, okay then, the plots
over and it’s time to start a new game.
But that’s the kind of
thing where if you could come up with scenario after scenario and weave it in
as such so that you could find a overarching theme. It would be a time saver
and it would be something that wouldn’t require quite so much thought.
And I don’t want to make
it sound as if we’re all a bunch of clods out here who don’t want to think – and
as David, as I am sure you know with twins: you just run out of time. You just
run out of time.
If you want to get a bunch
of people together of like mind and like age – I used to get 15 people together
to game and that was in college, and actually I was working, but I was in a
martial arts group that had a lot of college students in it.
And I’d say we’re going to
play GURPS game with some Dungeon Fantasy type stuff. And I did a Firefly
campaign, and I could like I said, I once had 18 people around the table, but that
was because most of these guys had a lot of free time (even though they
wouldn’t admit it). But you know, now that we’re adults we know what free time
really looks like.
So you could do that sort
of thing, but coming up with a campaign? You know you’ve just put in 40 to 80
hours of “real work” and you’re home and you’ve got a game tomorrow and you
haven’t been able to work on so what are you gonna do? I’m gonna hit F9, damn
And here’s the scenario
and I write it up and I can generate some NPCs and you just go from there. It’s
usually the activation energy, to borrow a dork phrase, to get over the hump
and get inspired and go.
That’s where I think the
Sandbox Companion and Sandbox clones for different genres has so much power.
Right. One of the things that Richard passed his time prior to getting into the
OSR thing was periodically trying to write screenplays, and so his adventure
generator – I see it’s coming directly out of his experienced and expertise.
In understanding story
arcs and sort of how to create a heroic plot, and everything that needs to go
in there to be a satisfying experience and story.
And that’s really interesting because it almost seems like, especially for
someone with experience in writing screenplays or plays or scripting novels,
you could almost say like you have a d30 table that would be kind of the object
of the adventure, and you have the plot twist table. Betrayal, and complication
and other payer/other faction you could really see how you have a series of
five to ten rolls that would lay out almost a trilogy of an idea. Here’s the
first act, here’s the second act, and something goes horribly wrong with the
heroes in true Empire Strikes Back fashion, and here’s the resolution. It’s
Richard LeBlanc: The thing about screenplays…and this is why I can’t…why the espionage
genre overwhelms me in the terms of the conspiracy thing we’ve talked about.
And not to say I can’t
spend all day and do a book on Bourne Ultimatum or Trilogy marathon. The
ability to weave that escapes me because from a storytelling point of view you
have to know where it ends and you have to back it up.
If everything that happens
in the course of a really great story is about conflict, or being sidetracked
from your original goal. Because if you look at any kind of great story arc, is
what happens is the person sets out thinking they want one thing and finding
out it’s something else, but being sidetracked the entire time until they come
to that realization.
The thing with really
great mysteries and espionage and those sorts of things, the conspiracy sort of
stories, you almost have to start from the end and work your way back, and then
figure out how to weave them back. In a RPG that seems…um . . .
Well, you aren’t in control of the story…
Yeah, I agree.
It’s a collaborative storytelling genre.
Right, as a writer you can say “Oh, and here is where the plot twists occur and
this is what all seven primary characters (or nine or ten if you are Joss
Whedon), this is where they all go with that, and I’m going to dictate that,
and it works.
If you’re Joss Whedon or
J. Michael Strasynski, you pull it off, and it’s beautiful and wonderful, and
unless your show gets canceled after fourteen episodes, you’re good.
Whereas in a role-playing
game if the players decide they’re not interested in chasing after the Valley
of the Lost Troglodyte, you’re done. And the players will deeply resent any
attempt to get them back in the frickin’ valley.
Richard LeBlanc: Yeah, Dave and I had the opportunity . . . No, I’m sorry, Dave wasn’t in this game, but
he had the chance to watch me. I played in Michael Curtis’ game. He was
playtesting his new game, and of course he did the Dungeon Alphabet, and
Stonehell Dungeon, and everything. Michael, he writes a lot of DCC modules.
Michael’s been working on
a new game called “Shiverwind” that’s sort of…if you go to the Shiverwind blog
you could get a better feel than if I tried to describe it here.
I’ll link to it so people can follow it.
Richard LeBlanc: I had a chance to play in one of his test games for the North Texas
RPG Con last year, and as a group of players we were much to cagey about our
It’s kind of like. it’s
got some conspiracy elements, but it’s set in a almost retro-apocalypse sort of
thing so it’s kind of Depression-era feeling.
We come to this first…the
first encounter sort of gets us off the bat and right into the story, and there
is this interview period right afterwards, and we played it too cagey, and I
think we spent thirty minutes sort of cagily doing this interview when we
really just sort of asked the guy a question, and gone to the other side of the
That’s where the sort of…the
best constructed conspiracy plot can be side railed by players who don’t know
where to take it.
So Michael handled it fine
for what needed to happen, but it’s one of those things where those things are
difficult for me, and it’s one of the reasons why I sort of love trap-dungeons
and that sort of traditional dungeon-crawl thing, is because I love little bits
that are self-contained that require you to pass them…require you to unlock the
key to get to the next step.
And it’s easier to deal
with in those chunks. That’s what the adventure generator is – it’s little chunks
of information and you weave it how you need to weave it.
And it’s one of those
things in my screenplay writing that always feel apart for me was continuing to
bring it to that point at the end and making it fulfilling.
Richard LeBlanc: The bits are great and I know where to take it when people are
involved, but you might feel the resolution’s a bit flat as I just drag you
Right. But I do have to ask one question.
So you’ve sort of passed
on screenplays for movies. You decided to not do the rock and roll thing, and
you settled on role-playing game publishing.
How can we really trust
judgment like that?
Richard LeBlanc: You know…
[waves hand] I’m sorry, I was just funning.
Richard LeBlanc: It goes back to my ADD thing – I was…as a screenwriting thing it was getting
better at it, entering contests, getting some response from that, and I got to
the point where I was ready to put some things out there, but I was actually
doing fairly well in getting to the final stage in some of the competitions.
But I’ve also done short
films of my own in the past, and there is nothing I hate more than not being in
control of what that product is. I realized that my goal had always been in
screen writing to like, be able to make my own movie as the Director as well…
And that is in fact a super-8 camera right behind you, is it not?
Richard LeBlanc: It is, it’s one I’ve never used, but that is a super-8 camera.
There is film and video
stuff in all corners of this room actually.
So I made a few short
films, and the process works best when everybody else stays out of my way in
terms of the filmmaking, and it’s why I prefer to edit my own stuff when I make
short films. In some cases I’ve even scored my own stuff.
I was getting…what was
starting to wear me out in the screen writing was the amount of investment it
takes to polish this thing. It’s why I’ve never been interested in novels
Just to have somebody go “we
don’t think there is a plot here.” Or it’s a very subjective thing and you are
so separated from the people who are judging it.
With the music, I
had…before when Dave and I were working together I played in a local band here
in the Dallas area, and we were starting to get some response but again I fell
victim of the fact that the problem was the band that I was in at the time was
that there were other guys in it.
So that was sort of a
problem. So when the guitar player accuses the drummer of outing his affair,
you know behind his girlfriends back with his other girl and he blames the
drummer when its really him that’s the issue. And then the band fall together
because these guys personal lives was just a pile. The filmmaking, the
screenwriting, it was always relying on too many other people to make it
And yet . . . you could have probably turned that into a reality show.
Richard LeBlanc: You know what? We probably could’ve [Doug laughs, Dave smiles].
Funnily enough. Strangely enough.
This is a complete
unrelated story and related to reality shows, and I knew Dave was afraid of
this happening at some point [Doug and Dave laugh].
The guitar player in the
band applied for the Bachelor one season, or the Bachelorette, he was trying to
be one of the suitors.
And he made the interview
cutoff, but one of the questions on the questionnaire is “Do you have any
He outright lied because
he had a kid outside of a marriage, because he had never been married, and just
write out “NO.” I think they even flew him out to do the original interviews
while the background check was being done on him. And this is the guy…who
Richard LeBlanc: So…[throws hands up in disgust].
See, that’d be called the cliffhanger because you are not gonna tell the rest
of your story…
Richard LeBlanc: He got booted before he even got on the show. That’s the end of that
thing. The egos involved with that are just too much.
So what was nice about
getting back into the gaming thing and doing the publishing side of this: It
started through the blog, and the response is immediate it and you know how
many people are coming to see it every day. And because I do all my free downloads
through Media Fire, I can track how many people have downloaded them.
I’d almost rather know –
in this case the Sandbox Companion – I’d rather know that a few hundred people
have downloaded it, and eight people have given it five star ratings, then to
have done a movie and have no idea if the millions of people liked it or not.
You know what I mean?
It’s the immediacy of
that, you know if you are at a table with these guys and it’s working, you know
that it is working.
Richard LeBlanc: And that…so it’s still getting a chance to go through that creative
experience, but to get that immediate reaction. Even with short films or even
playing with a band you got to practice, practice, practice and go out. The
gaming this is almost immediate, you kind of get your basic thoughts out there
and you put it on the table and it happens or it doesn’t.
Now it’s really interesting because, it is creative, but it’s also
collaborative, and it’s hard. And part of it is that you really do need to
balance between a totally open – and this is where the Sandbox thing starts to
really shine – it’s open, it’s only open from day to day and it’s a bit random
but the players can do what they want, but also you do get some sort of
I want to – we’ve been
chatting for a while and I’ve been having great fun – but I do want to talk a
little bit more about the Sandbox and also what’s coming next for New Big
A couple things, I guess:
Two specific things and a more broad piece.
The prevailing weather
section is really interesting, do you think that’s something the GM is going to
do every day? Is that something where you’re always rolling dice to see what’s
going on? How does that work?
One of my friends, Peter
Dell’Orto looks out the window: “It’s really fricking cold today, it’s 4º F and the wind is blowing” and never gonna change
until May, because it’s Minnesota. And it makes me long to be back in Irving,
So how do you guys
envision that working?
Richard LeBlanc: We talked about this I think during the development. Honestly, I see
it being used the same way as everything in the entire book. Differently by
every person that has it.
Because I could see if
I’ve got my players in a tropical rainforest, hell yeah I’m going to roll on
that thing every day. But if we’re in a temperate zone I can say “Yeah, it’s
nice, it’s windy,” but move on.
It’s Los Angles, it’s sunny 72, sunny 72, sunny 72…
Richard LeBlanc: Exactly. I think it’s one of those things you’re not going to use it
all the time, but you’ll probably use it in a little window and then it goes
The same as the
foraging/hunting thing. You’re really not forced to use that until the DM/GM
sort of looks at everybody’s sheets and says – these guys have been out of
rations for two weeks and I haven’t said anything, and I’m going to make them
go hunting or foraging just to see what happens.
And that’s interesting I think because the thing about hunting/foraging and the
survival part of these overland journeys which are so inherent to sandbox
campaigns, or old school hex-crawls, or GURPS Dungeon Fantasy if you’re not
actually in a dungeon, for going from place to place.
The ration bit is
important, unless you’ve got something like Peter’s Felltower campaign, where
you always start in town and you always end in town. I think he’s had one
session, among thirty-eight or some crazy number, where they haven’t gone, done
the adventure, and come back to town. I think he doesn’t even give you
experience unless you get your loot back to town.
The thing is, what I liked
about it, your tables are really interesting, and the thing that struck me
about them is your do your dice roll and the way you can leave it is “you are
now within 30 yard or feet or whatever your unit is of the game animal, what do
you do?” it almost sets up the situation. You’ve come across a wild deer, or
boar, or dire badger, or whatever.
Then you get to deal with
it, do you actually successfully hunt or not.
And the other thing – and
this ties into something else that I estimated that 80% to 85% of this book is entirely
generic regardless of system as long as you’re doing wilderness fantasy
campaign. Was that deliberate? Or was that a byproduct of the fact that
plotting, a plot line is generic.
Richard LeBlanc: I think the latter. I think it just sort of happened naturally. I was
thinking about what fills in these stories. What am I going to need to use.
What am I using?
Oddly enough, the table in
the book that I probably used more than any of the others is the chart that
determines which kind of suppliers or venders are in the town based on the size
of the town.
Because you sort of can
always say, it’s got this, this, and this, but if you’re out of arrows you need
to know whether there is a Fletcher in the town. That’s the one I’ve come back
to a lot.
I’ve also used the NPCs a
lot. That tends to be what I need to generate. What’s here when these guys
stop. It wasn’t intentional. It just sort of happened. Which is just sort of
opposite…completely opposite of what the DM companion is.
I don’t have the DM Companion.
Richard LeBlanc: It is much more system dependent, if you will.
Richard LeBlanc: There is a good six pages of three good spreads in the book that are
nothing but classic dungeon monster stats in the sort of…I don’t know if you’re
familiar with the old monster treasure assortment from TSR that was put out
sort of between first edition and original edition and the Holmes blue.
Because the monster stats
in it are in a weird mix, because there are monsters in it that you’ll see that
end up in the Moldvay red book only, and there are other descriptions that are
only obviously in the first edition monster manual.
But they are also written
in such a way as to be generic between those original three systems. And so the
monster stats in the DM Companion are written up in that way.
If you’re doing Swords and
Wizardry or Labyrinth Lord, you can sort of take them and run with them and it
sort of acts as a sort of compact monster manual/statblock.
There is a lot of that
because there is DM…a lot of it is generic, here’s molds, slimes, mushrooms,
this kind of stuff. And about half of it is.
Then you got this complete
list of monsters and encounter tables which are very much system dependent.
Richard LeBlanc: Treasure Types as well.
Even with that Treasure
Type set of tables in that first book – it really speeds up treasure type rolls
– it says if you are using this system then you need to use this table instead
because it’s a bit of a conversion issue.
Richard LeBlanc: Where the Sandbox thing, I think it’s more generic because it just
sort of happened. You’re right, it’s what you said, what Dave said, it’s really
about story. And who are these people and personalities, and its creating the
flavor – it’s really a book of flavor.
So I wanna ask…
Richard LeBlanc: It’s…
Yeah, go ahead.
Richard LeBlanc: I was just gonna say that the tables of NPC personalities and their
backgrounds and descriptions – you’re right that’s generic to almost anything.
You could pick those up and put them in any other kind of game. It doesn’t have
to be fantasy to know . . .
There’s a … I don’t
remember what we changed it into, but for the longest time there was a
personality quirk in the NPC tables listed as “Talks out of his ass.”
We kept it.
Richard LeBlanc: We did keep it? We couldn’t find anything that did justice to that
It doesn’t matter if
you’re playing a Star Wars campaign or a fantasy campaign, if you meet a guy
who talks out of his ass, he’s gonna talk out of his ass.
And he will be memorable for it.
Richard LeBlanc: Exactly.
I wanted to tie a couple of things together and see if I can do my consulting
thing and be thematically complete here.
So we have Sandbox, we
have a lot of tables, we have spontaneity, we have lack of time.
At what point – if ever – do
you sit down and say anything that can be tabular can be computerized. Where,
if at all, do you say, instead of publishing 56 pages of this, we’re going to
come up with an application that allows – what you don’t want to do, I think –
is sit down and say “you come to a village. . . You guys go get pizza because
the time you get back I’ll finish rolling dice and making notes about the
village that you find.”
Better, I think, to say give
me a village and it’s like the Excel thing I did, which is how I would
implement your book. Lot of vlookup, but I can easily see doing something crazy
like taking a fractal terrains map, use your tables to populate it hex by hex.
Kind of hey, instant
world, just have a couple of clock cycles on a reasonable – you wouldn’t even
need a powerful computer to do this sort of thing because you’re doing a random
number generator and a lookup and some inspiration seeds, is not that hard from
a computation stand point.
Do you see taking
advantage of the modern, digital, computational medium to take this kind of
gamemaster aid one step farther?
Richard LeBlanc: [sighs] I’m sort of torn on that. Because, I love paper [chuckles] and
I will read books on my ipad but prefer to have physical copies, but at the
same time if I were to want to do something like that, or we were going to do
something like that, I would rather see it be an app for a device rather than a
computer thing or website.
Because there are plenty
of websites where, depending on what your interest is in terms of your game
genre, where you can just go “Okay! Create a town.”
Or there is a Dungeon
Room, where not only will it generate the dungeon, it’ll tell you what the
traps are, the magic items are, and the monsters. And hell, at the click of a
button you’ve got it on your screen and you can walk your guys through it.
And there are several
things that are similar things that will generate taverns, towns, and
personality types, and some of those are out there in those different places,
and what you’re really talking about is putting them all in one place so it’s
sort of a “Master Sandbox.”
This is, to me, the only
advantage of doing something like that would be.
It’s not anything that’s
on the top of our radar right now – it’s not something we’re going to rule out
– but it’s not where our heads are at.
We’re kind of deep into the Old School vibe at this point and that’s sort of
paper and books and those sort of supplements are where it’s at. And rolling
dice is metal…
Richard LeBlanc: [chuckles] when he says metal he means metal [holds up “thrash”
that’s where we are at with that.
And the d30 Sandbox
Companion was never intended to be a world generator. Typically as a GM you
probably have your campaign and your world, it’s sort of…you have that in your
head, and the day that the players decide to go one place instead of the place
you predicted, or go on just a huge tangent, you kind of need to give them
something and the d30 Sandbox is there to make that worthwhile.
A piece of jerky to gnaw on until you can come up with a new plot to work on.
Right. It’s rich enough, and hopefully it gives it enough structure and
framework, that you as a DM can use all those ideas to…it gives you enough
space so that you as a DM can put in the things that you need to, to maybe get
the characters back on track and maybe give them nudges in a different way than
you planned originally.
Richard LeBlanc: I think there is something about that that resonates with me.
I teach a couple of
graphic design classes at a local college, and one of the things that happened…
happening…more over the last seven or eight years, are that my students who
have come to the class with…
. . .it used to be that we worked on paper and
boards when I first started teaching this 13 or 14 years and before there were
big labs at the campus where everybody could get to all the time.
I have found that since
the students are more computer-aware, they tend to do things – this is the way
they tend to lay things out: they put a block down where the headline goes and
put a block where the photo goes, and they sort of push them around the page.
What I like about the DM
Companion as an item – I don’t even really like using the PDF version, even
though it’s completely “click on the tables and the tables take you where you
want to go.”
I like the physical copy
because it is a little bit more nebulous in the way I interact with it. The
thing about what you are suggesting is, it does solve that issue of “I need to
populate or fill this in very quickly.”
Right. It is instant gratification instead of “Let me sit down offline with
this and then plot out what’s going on.”
Richard LeBlanc: If that’s the case then what you are doing is going exactly to some
place that’s spitting that result back out immediately for you.
It’s taking the process
out of…taking that interaction out of the process and if that’s what you are
looking for I think that’s workable. I think that’s something that can benefit
a lot of people. It’s not the way I tend
to interact with it.
Richard LeBlanc: So because of that I think it’s the reason neither of us is, like
right now, has that on our scopes or on our radar for doing that sort of app.
Because it’s not that
we’re trying to be those independent musician guys who say “No I never want a
record deal and I’m never gonna sell out…” you know…
Right, right, right…
Richard LeBlanc: It’s really not that, I think
it’s that because we don’t approach from that point of view and haven’t
found ourselves needing it that way that we don’t think of it as a thing that
needs to be done.
But that doesn’t mean technology didn’t play any part of the creation of what
we did here. Especially with the d30 DM Companion.
I had a program that I
wrote to help create some of the dice curves when we tried to use the d30 to
emulate the probability space of say, 3d6 or 4d4 and all this other stuff.
Richard LeBlanc: We actually, in the DM Companion there are bell curve tables that
emulate all of the different first edition number encounters.
So it’s everything from a
2d4 to a 3d6 to a 4d8 kind of crazy combinations of numbers. Like he was saying
he wrote a program to develop those probability curves.
I’m a layout guy, so I
tend to love layout, and something about the interaction, the functionality of
that point and click thing takes that fun away from having it all sort of appear
in front of you as a display.
I guess I’m kind of either one or the other. I do like the visceral feel of
books and when I read, I do have a Kindle and I prefer the Kindle to a active
display tablet, because it’s more like paper, but I can have a entire library
that comes with me.
I actually don’t use the
tiny Kindle – I use the DX – largely because I can read my PDF files, my GURPS
PDF files without a magnifying glass.
Do you have the d30 [in PDF?]
I have not yet imported it onto the Kindle, but I do have it on my computer
screen, largely because I do my creation of content on my computer because I
find both the tablet and the Kindle unsatisfying. I’m very mathematical so I
If I’m reading a Stephen
King novel or I’m reading Robert Ludlum – I need Excel – I don’t know why, but
I thought it would be…this would be a good point to try and plug the fact that
in the PDF version we did take, and put forward, a lot of effort that it was a
active PDF with clickable links to and from the cross page references.
Because we knew that a lot
of DMs are bringing their tablets and Kindle-type things/devices to the gaming
table, as opposed to the paper.
Honestly, that is one of things I talked about a little bit in this interview.
Clearly I did it with the
F9 and I can get access to 590,000,000 adventure seeds by pushing F9 over and
over again, and really what that is because of the layout choices that you guys
made, I was able to highlight choices and paste them into Excel, and I don’t
have to do crazy formatting.
It was literally paste/paste/paste/paste/paste
and I could do the same with weather and hunting, and I could link the hunting
to a creature generator. I could link several different pieces of a town
together so it’s like, you know, instant town, add F9.
The utility there, and
this is part of the 85% to 95% generic, 95% to 100% if you work at it a little
bit is why I think it’s so compelling, why I think Erik continues to rave about
it, and where it gains great utility.
So just to kind of wrap
things up, although by wrapping it up what I’m going to do is hand you guys the
wheel again: What’s next for New Big Dragon?
Richard LeBlanc: I’ve always got more going on then I will let on. So there is stuff
that Dave doesn’t even know, for example, I’ve got happening. I’ll show up one
day and hand him eighty pages and go “Here, look at this.” That’s when he knows
he’s in trouble.
But immediately there are
sort of two things that are right in front of us.
The first is, we’re
working on – I mentioned earlier the Valley of the Five Fires module which is
this Mongolian-inspired setting. I was sort of inspired to take the setting and
wrap it into a task force style war game. It fits in the old small envelope like
when Steve Jackson first put out Car Wars and Ogre and everything they were in
like pocket box games, very similar format. In a more traditional move the
chips around the table war game.
We’re in the process of
testing that for playability right now. There is this really great back-story in
the Valley of the Fire Fires that tells itself quickly in a war game which is a
nice sort of thing.
We started playtesting
around New Years Day was our first physical playtest at the table. It went
really well and we’re working some mechanics out.
And that’s another one of
those complete OSR vanity projects, if only ten people ever buy it, I’ll be
happy, because those guys are in love with that format as I am and they’ll be
happy to have something new to add to that collection.
Another thing, I mentioned
earlier that I loved a sort of puzzle-style dungeons.
I’ve been – starting last
year for the A-Z blogging challenge in April, I did a blog a day that was an
additional room of this themed dungeon, and we’ve been refining it, and playing
through it some and just getting a group together to give a good final playtest
run on what’s there.
I sort of like to think of
it as a first-level version of Tomb of Horrors, if you will. It’s sort of like prevent
some of those challenges that you can easily die in the first room.
The Crypt Of Mildly Eerie.
Richard LeBlanc: It’s actually very innocent, not nearly as sort of creepy as the Tomb
of Horrors or anything like that. You’re not going to face this demilich at the
end or anything.
It’s still got a lot of
those…it’s challenges room after room that you gotta make your way through.
It’s gonna require a lot
of player hand out sheets and it’s again in that sort of OSR style “Here’s the
module, and here’s the separate illustration book” so you can show your players
at the table.
Would love to have it
tested enough with the group that we’re about to start that we could release it
by North Texas RPG con. Not likely, but we’d love for that to happen.
And then other stuff:
there is always something going on in the background. Dave can probably
remember stuff I’m forgetting to talk about right now. I know he’s always got
Richard LeBlanc: Oh yeah, we need to get back on the community Geomorph project that I’d
It was, I collect a lot of
Geomorphs and I was redrawing them so they were all in one style.
Ultimately, the goal is to
benefit the Chrones/Colitis Foundation. Because that’s…I think it’s Dave’s
Mapper that sort of started that.
And that was the goal but
I got sidetracked with finishing the Sandbox Companion and now that that’s put
away, that’s really where my sort of blog and OSR media attention needs to go
when we’re not playing stuff.
So, actually, I lied, I’m going to take control back for a sec, because you
brought up something that is interesting I think.
Speaking for myself, not
as a content creator necessarily, I’m not a employee of Steve Jackson Games,
but I do a lot of work around the system because I like it.
It’s very difficult. I
think there is one recent, maybe two recent adventures for GURPS. Mirror of the
Fire Demon by Matt Riggsby, and there are some things that have appeared in
You just talked a couple
of times about various adventures and modules. Are those labors of love? Are
those something you do because you like them, and sell ten copies and you never
recoup the money, or is there a market there in the OSR module because it’s fairly
self-contained that isn’t going to exist in a more generic game.
It’s a point of great
contention. If you want to start a fight on the Steve Jackson Games Forums
bring up adventures and you’ll get the same people…it’s great. “Oh, there need
to be adventures for GURPS and it would be see great, but unless you give me
this, this, and this I’m not gonna buy it.”
Which kind of [laughs] – and
everyone has a different list of this, this, and this and it very rapidly
becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In y’all’s experience, you
just tossed out a couple of different ideas for modules or adventures or
whatever. How do you look at that?
Richard LeBlanc: Yeah, honestly, those tend to be more…everything is really a labor of
love because we never expect things to do super great.
The nice thing about it,
it was John Stadter who did Blood and Treasure, and some other stuff – he’s a
big OSR guy as well.
He recently blogged about,
he just wants to make enough back to cover the cost of putting them together in
the first place.
In the old sort of days
when things were put together on copy machines or stapled and sent out, which a
lot of guys are putting these zines together now. That was kind of really the
point, we’re doing this and we kind of want to share it with you.
The blog gives us the
ability to do that for free, and Valley of the Five Fires was absolutely a
passion project. And it’s one of those things where it’s such a unique setting
that I knew before it was out that people would just like clamor to.
The d30 DM Companion was a
passion project, and I was – people responded to it but not nearly in the way
they have the d30 Sandbox Companion.
And the DM Companion was
good response, and people were speaking of it and it did what I really wanted
it to do which was to have a better source than Judge’s Guild old Ready Ref
Sheets, and TSR’s old Monster Treasure Assortment. Sort of like a much better
flexible version of that.
And that was the goal for
the Sandbox Companion.
We have the huge benefit
that I do all the drawings myself unless I’m using Public Domain clipart, and I
do all the layout myself, and everything is done via PDF or POD so there is
next to nothing as far as out of pocket cost goes.
If money is made, it’s
profit. But if you look at it and say “In my day job, this is what I like to
charge an hour for my graphic design services.” We don’t make nearly that back.
Richard LeBlanc: But there is essentially no overhead for me as opposed to guys like
John Stadter who have to buy art for his work.
So let me ask a quick question. In order of magnitude – and feel free to say
none of your business – ten, hundred, thousand, hundred thousand . . . d30
Sandbox Companion 3 weeks on the bestseller list, what order of magnitude is
that? And feel free tell me to take a flying leap, because those are usually
Richard LeBlanc: It’s a small publisher thing. I think people will be surprised by how
few copies you have to sell to stay at the top of that list.
And that’s what I’m looking at. When you’re looking at a growing concern for a business as opposed to…I just want to
make enough money to recoup losses, and interest me in the next project.
I really think you are
talking two different pools, or two different risk profiles if you were a
investor, or looking to make your livelihood at this, as opposed to “I just
want to make it so I can do another one so I don’t feel stupid about it.”
Richard LeBlanc: You know, when we did the DM Companion we made enough to cover our
costs to the trip to North Texas RPG Con. And we both live here, so we didn’t
stay in a hotel, we just sort of drove except for one night in a hotel but it
paid for our meals and paid for our passes and paid for some other expenses
while we were there and that was nice.
I think that was our goal
for the Sandbox Companion, and we’ve done a little bit more than that and it’s
been nice to have that, but it’s given us some room.
Our intention was always
to take anything we made and put it back into other stuff, not take the profit
and start to become a huge company.
Buy a Matchbox Mercedes or something.
Richard LeBlanc: Right. For example . . . .for example, I mentioned this little Valley
of the Five Fires sort of small war game with cardboard chits and everything.
If the game is good enough
that we feel it deserves to be a full box with tokens and cards – which it has
the potential to be I think. It would actually simply the play to have all the
unit counters on cards which you pull from a deck rather than referring to a
small rulebook constantly, it may be worth doing as a Kickstarter for example.
We would try to never have
to go to Kickstarter. Cause I think our preference would be to put the
prototype together, but that’s a big risk to say “Let’s put together something
that needs to be on the shelf of game stores across the country.”
Richard LeBlanc: It’s a different model and I don’t know that we’re ready to step to
Even with that response
and three weeks at the top of the RPGNow charts is one thing, but going to the
annual toy fair to connect with retailers across the country is another. And
it’s sort of one step at a time.
And walking in with a game in the form you could get it cheaply in 1979 in a
little bag. [all chuckle]
Yeah. The other thing
about the modules that Richard creates, is he’s always working on new mechanics,
and that’s typically…they’re all kind of workshops for trying new ideas, and
he’ll come up with a story or plot line and say “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if
this or that.”
One of the things I liked
in the Valley of the Five Fires module was he had a…right you could be…it was a
huge sandbox setting, more than a module, so you have all these side adventures
that could occur.
You had an encounter like
a sliding scale. Is your PC party – what level are they are at? So you sort of
scale up or scale back the number of bandits they encounter. And different ways
to approach those sort of problems and trying to come up with mechanics that
worked well and felt right at the table.
Richard LeBlanc: Yeah, it’s actually…the idea that he’s talking about specifically is
there is a bandit lair, it’s laid out in such a way that there is a three
column chart so that if your characters are levels 3 through 5, you use the
first column for all the encounters and if their levels 4 through 6 you use the
middle, and so on. And it’s sort of this sliding scale and it’s really one of
the inventions in that that I would like to use in other places. Anyway, that’s
specifically what he’s talking about when he’s saying that.
No, that’s really cool. It sounds like you guys are not hard up for ideas.
I probably need to wrap
this up if you don’t mind. I want to thank you for your time, we’ve been here
for just shy of two hours and I’ve had a great time talking to you guys. I hope
that you’ve enjoyed the opportunity to talk about your game, the Sandbox
Companion, and also the other things.
Richard LeBlanc: It’s been wonderful, actually thank you very much for having us. It’s
David and Richard, again thank you for your time and may come back to you at
some point later and talk about The System which I’ve purchased, printed out,
and started to look at.
Alright. I appreciate it.
Alright good, have a great night.
Richard LeBlanc: Goodnight.