An Interview With Tim Brown
GameFest 2016 welcomes back Tim Brown, author and gaming icon. We recently were able to interview Tim to give you an idea of who he is and why you want to meet him.
What was your first RPG and how did you get into gaming?
I played D&D way back in ’78. I was already a boardgame and miniatures game player, and a friend of mine introduced me to D&D. It was a ton of fun, such a new concept!
How did you break into the RPG industry?
I started working for Game Designers’ Workshop (GDW), which was in my hometown in Illinois, playtesting boardgames. I wrote my first supplement for the Traveller game in 1980. I ended up working at GDW for 12 years, on Traveller, Space: 1889, 2300 AD, and as editor of Challenge magazine.
If you had to pick one, what would be your favorite product that you have worked on?
That’s difficult to pin down. I reminisce the most about Traveller, I suppose, and some of the great sessions and campaigns I was involved in. 2300AD, though, appealed to my ‘hard sci-fi’ leanings, and I had a more direct involvement in its creation. Of course, Dark Sun was such an all-encompassing positive experience, too.
How did Dark Sun come into existence?
TSR management let it be known that they wanted a new AD&D setting, and I volunteered to be part of the project. The existing settings – Greyhawk, Dragonlance, and Forgotten Realms – all seemed to be pretty straightforward medieval fantasy worlds, so I wanted to create something different. None of those satisfied the Conan or John Carter vibe, so we headed down that direction. Troy Denning and I started working on the savage setting originally titled War World, and hooked up with relatively new TSR artist Brom to get the ball rolling.
What was it like working on a new setting in the TSR/2nd edition heyday?
Very open and exciting. Honestly, we had a lot of time and resources and very few directives ‘from above.’ As you can see, we took advantage of all of that to create something pretty special. The AD&D 2nd Edition game could accommodate anything easily, I felt.
Who came up with the cannibal Halflings?
Our original thought was to dispense with all of the AD&D races, perhaps even humans, and create entirely new player character races. As we got into that, though, we found it wasn’t as satisfying as we had originally hoped. So, we decided to severely ‘twist’ each of the traditional races to make them unique for the Dark Sun setting. The halflings’ voracious appetites were already well established; we just changed their menu.
After all this time you are returning to the desert with Dragon Kings. Dragon Kings had a successful Kickstarter and is offering a variety of products: books, cd’s, pdfs, art, and more for three very popular systems. Why come back?
I had only a limited period of involvement with Dark Sun back in the day. After the initial design, I moved on into overall management at TSR and that took me away from the setting as it matured. With Dragon Kings I can take my various musings and introduce them into a thematically similar environment for game play. There are a lot of stories to be told in the spreading wastelands …
How would you describe Dragon Kings?
For centuries, a race of benevolent, powerful creatures known as the Dragon Kings watched over the civilizations of Khitus. But as their power waned and they one by one disappeared from existence, more sinister powers have risen in their place. The time has come for new heroes to emerge, defeat the despots, and reverse the planet’s fortunes before it slips into oblivion.
Being a spiritual successor to Dark Sun, it invites comparison. What would you say are the key differences between Dragon Kings and Dark Sun?
I’ve tried to create a richer, more complete fabric of tribes, societies, and organizations in Dragon Kings, all working in their own ways and with their own agendas to remake the world in their image. How the players position themselves within and among these groups takes on a more substantial role in the unfolding of each adventure, how it sets up expectations for the adventures that follow, and drives the role-playing aspects of each session. Further, the decline of the world is rooted in theft, both overt and subtle, rather than ecological collapse, so the themes are more in keeping with its danger and savagery. Finally, Dragon Kings introduces races who display truly alien intelligence and challenging motivations that take it a step further still from the traditional medieval fantasy setting.
What are you working on currently?
I’m working with John-Matthew DeFoggi to create the first comprehensive adventure campaign for Dragon Kings. The initial manuscript is complete, and playtesting is going very well. That’s something I’d like to make available to fans in the next few months.
I’m also working closely with Ulisses-Spiele, a German RPG publisher, to bring their long-standing game The Dark Eye (Das Schwarze Auge) into English. The English-language version of the game’s latest edition is already translated and in editing and soon layout, along with an extensive release schedule of adventures and useful add on books like a bestiary and the almanac for the super-detailed fantasy setting Aventuria. I don’t know of a more carefully crafted, immersive fantasy game and setting, and I’m enjoying working to bring all of that style and elegance to the English-speaking audience. Ulisses-Spiele will have a major presence at this coming GenCon, along with their publishing partner Paizo, so definitely keep an eye out for that and stop by to say hello if you can.