Interview Time: Tim Huckelbery

Greetings readers, it’s interview time here on Rogue Warden again! This week I am very pleased to present a talk with my friend and former colleague at Fantasy Flight Games and Games Workshop, Tim Huckelbery.
Behold Tim in his Blue-Shirted Glory!
I’ve known Tim for several years, having first met him back in 2003 when I started working at the Games Workshop US studio in Glen Burnie, Maryland. Tim was very gracious to a rookie like myself, and we quickly became battle-brothers whilst making White Dwarf awesome for a few years.
I kept in touch with “Tyranid Tim” when I went to Minnesota to take over the 40K RPG line at Fantasy Flight Games, and Tim quickly became one of my trusted writer brigade. Tim and I made several great books together for Dark Heresy and Rogue Trader, and then there came an opportunity for Tim to join our RPG team full-time.
Tim came on board with us and it was great working side-by-side with him to create awesome RPG products, until I headed down to Texas to work on video games.
Tim is a super guy with one HELL of a career. He worked at Space Command for the US Air Force and helped create some truly memorable rules and lore for many miniature games, including Mordheim, Warhammer 40,000, and many more.
With no further ado, let’s check out what Tim has to say about working in the game industry!
As always, my questions are in red text.
RW: Can you tell me a little about yourself as a gamer and as a game industry professional?
TH: I’ve always enjoyed gaming, but never really got into it strongly until college really, where we played a lot of card games (pre-Magic, so this means Euchre, Spades, Hearts, etc). 
After graduation, there were a lot of us in our USAF squadron who played a lot of board games, especially Axis & Allies and Risk. We discovered Talisman and then started looking for more board games by this neat little company called Games Workshop. It was there I wrote my first professional RPGs really, developing and running space operations training and evaluation simulations. This was really fun stuff, mixing computerised inputs via telemetry & video displays, other people playing NPCs, physical stimuli (like a “suspicious object” located in the room), and lots of GM roleplaying of all the other people the crew would talk to on the other side of the phone. 
What? Tim worked at Space Command!?? That is AWESOME!
I got strongly into miniatures gaming with Space Hulk way back in the late 80’s, then all the other GW miniatures games. I was one of the first Outriders, and liked it so much that I later joined GW in Convention Support. I spent around 13 years with then doing all sorts of jobs, and while there started working as a freelance writer for the Dark Heresy line in 2006. This continued when GW licensed the line to Fantasy Flight Games. After years more freelancing for all the 40k Roleplay lines, I then came over to FFG about 2 years ago. I’ve been working mostly Dark Heresy and Black Crusade since then, with some smatterings across other games. 
RW: How did you get your start in the RPG industry?
TH: I had been the Brand Manager for Black Library while at GW, so I had some good contacts with the publishing wing of the company. When I’d mentioned to Marc Gascoigne (hi Marco!) that it would be cool for GW to do the proverbial “in-universe” armoury book, he mentioned they were working an actual 40K RPG, and would I be interested in writing the armoury chapter? That’s how it started really; nothing beats insider connections 🙂
RW: What is something great about working in the RPG industry?
TH: There really are no limits to what you can create. We don’t have to worry about the practicalities of sculpting, fitting things into boxes, how a model would assemble, or how it might load a server. If you can bring it to life in print, it’s there. Which also makes for fun discussions; I remember a chat back when working Dark Heresy over with the BLP folks about exactly what a bolt gun sounds like when firing, or how red ones really go fasta. It’s all imagination, and capturing that into words and pictures. 
RW: What is something really bad about working in the RPG industry?
TH: Not much I can think of really. Having to fit everything you want to do into the planned page count perhaps? Doing something you really enjoy as your job is pretty darn nice though, and it’s hard to think of any actual bad things about it. 
RW: How has your perception of working professionally in the RPG industry changed over the last 5 years?
TH: Going from freelancer to producer was the big thing for me personally, and seeing the inside of the process: budgets, production deadlines, marketing plans, art development process, and all the other behind the curtains realities of turning pages of words into actual books. As a freelancer, it’s all about the assignment, and magically some months later a book appears. All of the other steps that make the magic happen have been really illuminating. 
RW: You’ve been in charge of your own projects before… how would you do things differently now as opposed to the first couple of projects you were in charge of?
TH: Looking back, I’d put in more imagination and take more risks with layout. I would have been more daring with art concepts and how they are used on the pages really; my first book had a nice, but pretty straight-forward design really. I’ve tried since then to get more ambitious with each book in terms of visual presentation. 
RW: What do you believe is the most important aspect of professionalism in the RPG industry from the viewpoint of the freelancer? What about from the viewpoint of a publisher?
Tim helmed the Tome of Fate, which is a fantastic book.
TH: Communication. Stay in touch with your producer! Blowing a deadline is bad, but it’s much worse if you don’t let your producer know it’s happening. Stay in touch, let him/her know you’re having problems. I can’t imagine being upset with a freelancer who emailed or called too often, but I’ve sure been upset with those who disappear on me. Talk with fellow writers as well; if you’re in a group project, ask for help & input!
As producer, making sure a freelancer has all the tools needed to do the job, such as support & background documents, and a good group setup for the writers to share their work and discuss the project. This all goes into communication really; the more and better communication, the less misunderstandings, late projects, and disappointment for freelancers and producers both. 
RW: If you could change one thing about the RPG industry, what would it be?
TH: I’d love to see more emphasis on getting new people into playing tabletop games period really. Free RPG Day is a good start, but that seems to be only getting existing gamers; still a good thing though as it can get some of them to try a rpg game, or try a new one. More outreach in general to get folks to try out a game with other people would be the proverbial Good Thing. 
RW: How do you engage with the fans of your work?
TH: [I can has fans?] Fans is probably wrong word, but I do love to talk with fellow gamers especially at conventions. Emails are always welcome too, but I really enjoy chatting at shows. I also love doing seminars, as it’s great seeing a crowd light up when you reveal something new like a killer art image. Seeing people enthusiastic about our products gets me enthusiastic to make more of them.
RW: What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment as an RPG professional?
TH: Always my current project; I hope I never look back and say an older project was my greatest one. Right now I’m really proud of the ongoing Black Crusade Tomes line, and can’t wait to see what people think when they see The Tome of Excess when it releases. 
RW: What do you feel is your greatest setback as an RPG professional?
TH: Learning how to guide writers, as opposed to just rewriting manuscripts to shape them as desired. It’s always easy and often faster to just do the latter, but the former should always be the goal for a producer. 
RW: How do you reconcile working on a game that, on the one hand, requires a set of rules… but on the other hand, encourages GMs and players to break the rules or come up with their own?
TH: Rules are just suggestions a group decides to follow, and I have no problem at all with a group chucking them all and doing their own. The rules are just a framework for having fun creating an interactive story; without some structure players don’t have a common groundwork, but the goal is to have fun creating stories together. The games provide structure, and a cool setting with concepts for players to use. I’ve always looked at our rules as launching points than anything else. If they spark some great ideas for a group, and the group has fun, then mission accomplished. They do of course still have to work as is; no group should need extra effort to make them work properly and should at least try the rules as written one time. But every group should be willing to tweak things a bit based on their own preferences. 
RW: If you were a fantasy adventurer, you’d be a…?
Behold one of Tim’s creations — a devotee of Slaanesh!
TH: Civilian minding the pub. It’s dangerous out there! 
RW: What’s your favorite RPG (that you have not worked on)?
TH: Paranoia. We played a lot when I was first in Space Command, especially when our squadron rotated to graveyard shift and we were out of sync with the rest of the world. We had The Computer for reals running things (big hulking IBM mainframes and dumb terminals), and had some great military and contractor gaming groups. We ran it like we would a board game really; fast fun that we could play out in one night. 
RW: What do you look for… and what is a red flag… for a random freelancer submission?
TH: First things are no spelling errors, with a professional resume & cover letter, and then I’ll check out the sample. The text needs to sing, with a good mix of vocabulary and sentence structures so it is fun to read in both content and form. I know our background pretty well, so I’ll also want to verify the writer captures that correctly. It’s very intangible; writers have to “get” the setting as that’s very hard to teach. 
No matter what I get in, if it’s good I’ll then ask for a specific assignment with a specific word count. RPG writing is all about the page count, unless it is electronic only, so freelancers have to be disciplined enough to hit an assigned word count. If you’re assigned 10,000 words, that’s what I need; don’t give me 5000 or 20,000! This also tests speed; given enough time, it’s pretty darn easy to do any assignment. We do have deadlines, so I also need to see that the writer can work his magic under a deadline.
Red Flags: Fiction (it might be good, but that’s not what I want to see, and generally can only detract from the submission). Spelling errors. Length (keep it 2-3 pages tops; if you can’t impress me there, another 30 pages won’t help). 
RW: If you could pick up the dice and play an RPG right this very instant, you’d play…?
TH: Doesn’t matter really; it’s the group more than the game that makes for a good time. If I have a good group, I’ll try any game if I think the setting looks interesting. Having said that though, I’m always up for a quick Paranoia “kill all the clones in the initial briefing” game. 
RW: Tell us a bit about your experience in the miniature games industry!
TH: Space Hulk, then Advanced Space Crusade and Warhammer 40,000 really got me into things. While I was at GW I wrote several 40k fan army lists for fun, along with real work especially for Mordheim. I had two pieces in Citadel Journal, including Codex: Genestealer Cults (still my favourite army!).
The Lathe Worlds is another of Tim’s great works.

RW: What is special about your approach to miniature gaming?
TH: Me personally? I’m a snob about always playing with fully painted figures with good terrain pieces, and the more conversions the better. No sure if that’s special though. 
RW: What is your process for working through a system design in an RPG or a miniature game?
TH: “Will this be fun to play with?” is the most important factor for me. If the rules, no matter how realistic they might be, are getting in the way of having fun creating a story, then there is a problem. For me personally, its always tempting to make a game, especially in a science fiction setting, realistic and have the science work properly, but there has to be tradeoffs. Realism vs fun, Science vs Handwaving. I do try to make the science work properly though; a “cool blue star” would be incorrect for example and stuff like this leaps out at me when I see it. Science Fiction shouldn’t mean bad science, only science that hasn’t been explained yet, or where there is only thing that makes it all work differently. Pet Peeve there I’m afraid; we seen enough bad science in real life to have it spill over into our fantasy ones too. 
It’s essential the system captures the setting properly too. Does it fit with the setting? Do the rules reflect the game? Fun or light settings don’t fit well with crunchy rules. This also applies to the tone of writing; it would be hard to imagine Dark Heresy in a folksy tone, or Serenity in an overly formal writing style. 

One response to “Interview Time: Tim Huckelbery

  1. Word limits are horrible things. 😛

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