This year’s guest list for GameFest at StarFest continues to get better. We were able to get some time with the Role Playing author to give you a chance to know him better before you meet him in Denver next month. At GameFest he will be participating in panels, games and available to sign your books.
What was your first RPG and how did you get into gaming?
I started out with D&D back in the green box days. From there
, I got the AD&D cores — the Ifrit Dungeon Masters Guide, the classic Players Hand Book with the grinning red idol and the 1977 Monster Manual. They were in terribel shape, I got them second hand from a friend who (if I recall correctly — this was more than 30 years ago) was being forced to sell them by his parents. My folks were underwhelmed too.
That kept me going through junior high, and then in high school I moved more into Car Wars and Star Fleet Battles. D&D was always on the back burner though.
How did break into the RPG industry?
Ah, it’s the classic story — I knew a guy. When I got to college, this woman I knew from the theater department said, “Hey, I know this guy who runs a game, you’d like it.” That guy was Jonathan Tweet. At that time, he was selling insurance, living in a rundown house called The Woods, and developing a game that would later become Over The Edge. My whole life, I’d wanted to write for money, and as a college student I was already building a stack of rejection letters from short-form fiction magazines. When I found out you could write gaming stuff and get paid for it, I locked onto that idea with feverish intensity.
If you had to pick just one, what would be your favorite product that you worked on?
Picking just one is very difficult. I’ll cheat a little (or maybe just min-max?) and say the One Roll Engine. That’s turned into the fantasy game REIGN, the superhero games GODLIKE, WILD TALENTS and BETTER ANGELS, and the film noir game A DIRTY WORLD. It wasn’t my first time building mechanics from scratch, but I’m very pleased with how it turned out. It did start my infatuation with pulling as much information as possible out of a single die roll.
I have heard that Unknown Armies 3 will be coming out sometime this year. How did Unknown Armies come into existence?
As I mentioned, Tweet became a mentor for me and opened up a number of door, particularly those at Atlas Games. While there, I worked on WILDEST DREAMS with John Tynes and Robin Laws. Tynes had a pile of modern day occult ideas, and was looking for someone to build mechanics. I didn’t know any better than to commit to it, and he didn’t know any better than to let this guy with more enthusiasm than experience jump in and design half his game.
It turned out, somehow, to be a very fruitful partnership. Discussing it later, each of us confessed that we thought the other was doing all the heavy lifting. From my perspective, all I did was embroider his ideas and put together a fairly simple mechanic. From his perspective, he gave me a pile of raw ingredients and I turned it into a full meal. So that was fun.
How would you describe Unknown Armies?
The tagline we came up with at Atlas for the third edition is “It’s a game about broken people trying to fix the world.” UA is a game of modern occultism, which I guess could put it with CTHULHU NOW and MAGE, but Tynes and I both settled early and hard on the idea that these mystic secrets should be something you achieve, not something that’s just inflicted on you. We didn’t like the idea that magick people were born special, or that humanity was unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Tynes had been working on a lot of Lovecraft Mythos stuff with Pagan Publishing at that time, and was (I think) a little burned out on the cosmic nihilism. He still wanted the game to be scary, but frightening because people have power, not because people are powerless. So UA, in all its incarnations has been about the cost of power, and what people actually do with it, and how do people who have been powerless change when they get their wish and turn the tables? Do they let their suffering blind them to others’ pain, or do they let it teach them compassion?
Plus, there are monsters and gunfights and crazy gross rituals.
What are you working on currently (that you can talk about)?
At some point, I’ll be doing another round of edits on a big collection of scenarios for DELTA GREEN. It’s called CONTROL GROUP and I wrote it to function as (1) a set of really scary, harsh, meat-grinder one-shot adventures and (2) a set of tutorials for learning how to play and run DELTA GREEN. The first scenario comes with pregenerated characters and is all skill tests and SAN rolls, so new players and new GMs can run it with minimal hassle. The second one has more pregens but introduces combat (and lots of it—so far, the survival rate for that one when I’ve run it is a fat zero percent). The third adventure teaches character generation, and so on. But thematically, they’re all Federal government contacts with Mythos horrors that aren’t handled by DELTA GREEN… but should have been. So if you run through all the CONTROL GROUP scenarios, by the end you know how to run all the rules and you have a small group of survivors who are from the Air Force and the CDC and the FBI, who are ripe to get recruited. That’s all written (and it is quite large) but I’ll surely have to work over a lot of it once playtest feedback arrives.
The other thing I’m working on is a so-far untitled UNKNOWN ARMIES novel, which is a terrible idea—RPG fiction doesn’t traditionally do very well in the marketplace. Also, it’s written in the second person, so that’s insult to injury. But I am having a great deal of fun with it.