A Game of Crowns

Today, I received a great surprise. Comp copies of Game of Crowns, a card game I worked on for AEG. I had almost forgotten about writing this one, coming up with all the houses and the backstory for the setting. Creating game settings is one of my favorite things to do.

And so is what happens next. Now, I get to update my list of published work and my wikipedia page with another game that came out this year. Something to be proud of!

Dark Heresy, A look back, Part 2

Part 1 you can find under the title “I am the Lord Inquisitor.”

Some additional thoughts on my tenure of Dark Heresy…

Artwork-wise, I got to work with some of the best in the business. Of particular note are Simon Eckert, whose black and whites in Ascension are pure magic, and Matt Bradbury — this guy was a superstar. He went from quarter-pages to doing covers for the books in no time (most of his covers are for Rogue Trader and, more notably, Black Crusade).

Another note about artwork: The plan was to originally have the same artist from the core book do the covers for the entire line. That didn’t work out due to the artist’s availability, so we ended up going with a different fellow for Ascension, and then Daarken for two more books, then Matt Bradbury, etc. I think in general, the line still looks very consistent, art-wise.

For Blood of Martyrs, something I really wanted was to give the Adepta Sororitas their due. The Inquisitor’s Handbook had some rules for Sororitas, but I didn’t feel like it really rang true. So we went all-out in this book to say, hey, Battle Sisters!

The Apostasy Gambit is entirely something created by the head of FFG. Christian Petersen was in charge of FFG at that time, and he had a habit of putting things on the schedule with just a title. This was something that Would Happen ™, but Christian was a super-busy guy. There was basically no chance of getting his input meaningfully on a project like this. So, it was our job to take the basic concept and… find a way to make it work. This isn’t always bad, but I don’t think the Apostasy Gambit is, or was, the best implemented adventure series for the line. Again, given my druthers, I would have done a single book (like we did with Lure of the Expanse for Rogue Trader) with one adventure (in multiple parts) rather than three separate books.

The adventure in the Book of Judgment was provided to us very early on (I think in my first month or two at FFG). That means we had to wait almost four years to find a good place to put this adventure, but I’m glad we did. It’s a fine adventure and the Book of Judgment is better for it.

The Lathe Worlds was SO FUN to work on. All kinds of neat stuff I had been saving for this book finally saw print. The Lords Dragon, motherfuckers! Hell yes.

One thing I really liked is seeing the links grow between the RPG and the miniature game. In one instance, the tabletop rulebook (5th edition, I believe?) had a notation for the Calixis Sector on the galaxy map. In another, the Ordo Chronos was first developed in Dark Heresy (Ascension, I believe) and has gone on to be mentioned in official Inquisition rulebooks for the tabletop game (thanks to Andy Hoare!).

Things just seemed to come together beautifully for Creatures Anathema. That book had some fantastic writing in it and went on to win some awards. I was a bit experimental on that one (since it was my first from start to finish as Lead Developer). I tried out putting a “thought for the day” on every page. Then, I quickly ran out of enough “thoughts for the day!”

The final book in the line, the Lathe Worlds, was actually one of the first books I mentioned during my initial interview for the job with FFG. Edge of Darkness came about as a project for an RPG intern… we needed to give him something worthwhile to do, so Edge became that thing. And now, Edge is recognized as one of the best intro adventures for the line.

Adventure contests were something fun that we did. I wish we had done more of them, actually. We found some great writers (such as the very talented Andrea Gausman) through these vectors.

The original Dark Heresy stuff (meaning, the line from Black Industries) was a bit of a mess. The Inquisitor’s Handbook was basically three separate books of content that was welded together at the last minute. It’s still a good book, but you can tell when you look at it that it was never meant to be a cohesive whole. In addition, I have some original files of Dark Heresy from the Black Industries days, and, well… it’s best left buried. Some of the writing is best described as “bad Shadowrun fanfiction set in 40K,” and some of the design concepts are bizarre (such as using WFRP’s multitudinal career system — “Speeder Jock” and “Astronaut” being two careers in that version.). Sometimes it is rough to see how the sausage is made. And I want to be clear, this is no slam against the final product of Dark Heresy and the Inquisitor’s Handbook — both are very special, very good products!

There is a ton of fan-made material for Dark Heresy. Some of it is good. In fact, we found one of our standout authors (Nathan Dowdell) through his fan-work (the Great Devourer, I believe).

I made a lot of references to fan-material and fan-favorite stuff in Dark Heresy. I snuck in references to 4chan’s /tg/ traditional games channel, Love Can Bloom, Adept Grendel, and more. I added in quotes from Commissar Holt, the hero of the awesome classic video game Final Liberation, and as many references to Dawn of War as I could get away with.

Personally, I love Easter Eggs. I put a bunch of them into Rogue Trader and Deathwatch, too.

Here’s a tidbit: Only War started out as a sourcebook for Guardsmen for Dark Heresy. Once we took more than a cursory look at the idea, though, it quickly became clear this was an entire line of its own, and we ended up making that so. It was the right choice.

One last thing I’ll leave you with: I named as many Tech-Priests as I could after fonts.

I Am The Lord Inquisitor

Hi guys, I’ve got another post for you today. This one’s all about a game line that is near and dear to my heart:

Dark Heresy

I took over this game line in 2008 after five products had already been released for it through Black Industries. The core book was created by Kate Flack, Owen Barnes, and Mike Mason, with help from Alan Bligh and John French (not to mention some Dan Abnett!).

After the core rulebook, Black Industries produced a free RPG day adventure (Shattered Hopes), a character folio (this is the only item from this era that was never, ever reprinted by FFG), a game master’s kit (containing a screen and an adventure), a collection of adventures (Purge the Unclean), and a player’s sourcebook (The Inquisitor’s Handbook).

Black Industries had set the scene, so when I came into the picture I saw myself as a caretaker of something awesome.

When I joined FFG in June of 2008, I was made the Lead Developer of Dark Heresy. This was a big deal, as there were plans to follow Black Industries original goal of producing three game lines: Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, and Deathwatch. Few people get hired by FFG and put in charge of something so big.

At the time I started, we had some unpublished material: there was an adventure, Edge of Darkness, that was already done but not up to the current production values, and another sourcebook, Disciples of the Dark Gods. Disciples was written, but not edited, so I turned over the editing to Sam Stewart while I learned how to do layout. I started my development work on Disciples by moving some of the monsters into Creatures Anathema, the next book (and the first I would complete as Lead Developer).

As Lead Developer, I guided the production of three sourcebooks and three adventures. The sourcebooks I was in charge of were Creatures Anathema, The Radical’s Handbook, and Ascension. I’m particularly proud of Creatures Anathema and Ascension — the first was my first book I ever took charge of 100%, and the second was my first book where I innovated and iterated on an existing system to build something fun and new. The three adventures I helmed were the Haarlock’s Legacy Trilogy.

I had done some early development work on Blood of Martyrs, Daemon Hunter, The Book of Judgment, and the Lathe Worlds, but all of those books (as well as the Apostasy Gambit line of adventures) were turned over to Mack Martin so that I could focus my attention on Rogue Trader.

My goals for Dark Heresy were simple. I wanted to expand the options for characters, build on the fantastic foundation of the setting (The Calixis Sector), produce timely errata, and support each major release with a free pdf.

For the most part, I succeeded, and I think I laid down a strong legacy for Mack to build on. Mack took the line to the end (the Lathe Worlds), and I thank him for picking up the ball.

My favorite books: Creatures Anathema and Ascension

Why? I enjoyed working on these books more than the others. We made some fantastic content for the game that added significant elements to the enjoyment of the game for our players.

My least favorite books: The Haarlock’s Legacy Trilogy and The Radical’s Handbook

Why? I feel like I could have done better on the Radical’s Handbook. Rogue Trader was distracting me big time during this period, and I had a bunch of new freelancers to wrangle. I think, looking back, I feel like this book didn’t live up to its potential. The Haarlock’s legacy trilogy would have been better as a single book of three adventures, with more room for John French and Alan Bligh to tell their epic tale. As it was, word from on high was to chop it up into three bite-size chunks. In the end, we released it as a single thing anyway, so… yeah.

Missed opportunities:

Dark Heresy is now gone, replaced by the 2nd edition. The setting shifted to a completely new area of the galaxy, so we lost a lot of material we’d built. If I had a chance to wrap up Dark Heresy 1st edition properly (i.e., I had still been in charge and had, say, six months or so to do something about it), I’d have loved to look at the line and see if we could wrap up some loose ends.

  • I would have loved to do a hive book on Scum and Assassins!
  • We should have done a book for the other two Ordos of the Inquisition. (More likely one book than two).
  • There were some story elements I’d have loved to revisit: the homeworld of the Storm Wardens, the living planet of Woe, the ongoing corruption of certain worlds, the craziness of the Lathe Worlds, etc.
  • One idea that I was considering was for the war in the Spinward Front (and the lie about the Crusade!) to have eventually touched off a wave of unrest, anarchy, and rebellion throughout much of the sector.

This post, and especially the “missed opportunities,” was inspired by this fantastic review of the line over at RPGGeek.

It’s My Life, and it’s Now or Never!

The title, of course, comes from a Bon Jovi song. Bon Jovi was big in my growing-up years. And I was thinking that it was a good time to talk more about myself and who I am–and how I came to be. Please don’t make me regret it!

So where did I come from?

I was born on May 22, 1975 in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I would end up spending a lot of time as a kid in Arkansas, which led to a strong desire to get the hell out of there as an adult.

I was a pretty normal kid–loved cartoons, especially Transformers, GI Joe, and their 80’s ilk. I also loved movies. My dad used to take me to films quite a bit as a kid, almost anything I wanted, and we even went to several films for repeat viewings. I can’t tell you how many times we saw Ghostbusters, The Last Starfighter, and the Neverending Story.

I grew up between Wyoming and Arkansas. My junior and high school experience was the deep south, with all of that entails. Fortunately, my school (Lakeside) was one of the best in the state. All the doctors’ and lawyers’ kids went there, so we had a terrible football team and lots of money for cool school programs in art, literature, and science.

I got my first job mowing lawns in Hot Springs, Arkansas during my junior high school days. It was hot, dirty work, but I got enough money to keep me in comic books and gaming books.

Gaming

I’ve also been a life-long gamer. My dad started me out at age 11 when I was living in Evanston, Wyoming. My father brought home this red box labeled ‘Dungeons and Dragons.’ He told me that ‘it looked interesting,’ and that I should ‘really learn how to play it.’ So I did.

I played D&D religiously for years. Once I got to junior high and high school, I branched out a bit. My friends (some of which I am still in touch with!) helped me get interested in games like Rifts, Star Wars (West End D6), TMNT, Robotech, and Marvel Super Heroes, amongst others. I first got interested in Champions (4th edition, the big blue book) during this time.

Wargames were also something I’ve loved for a long time. I got started (again, in high school) with Starfleet Battles, Wooden Ships and Iron Men, and some others that one of my friends had (he owned a nice large collection of Avalon Hill games).

I didn’t get into serious wargaming until my army days. I was in my first enlistment and deployed to Fort Knox, Kentucky, when I met some guys playing Warhammer 40,000. This game hooked me in right away, and I never looked back.

Since then, I’ve been an avid player of miniature games like Battlefleet Gothic, Necromunda, Mordheim, and many others. It’s this love of miniature games that led me to design some of my own.

Fort Knox led to a lot of gaming milestones for me. When I got out of the army, I moved to Louisville and met up with the gaming groups there. These groups included some good friends of mine, like Dave Mattingly, Eric Rademaker, and many others.

We played a ton of games, like Feng Shui, Jovian Chronicles, Tri-stat, and more. Through this group, I got hooked up with my first “real job” in the gaming industry–a company called Citizen Games had formed in 2000 and was looking for a line editor who could work with D20. I got the job.

Professional! Mostly!

Citizen Games gave me the chance to work on some cool books with cool people. I dove right in, and not long after that I was freelancing for Atlas Games. The Penumbra Fantasy Bestiary was my first foray into making monsters — and hardly the last. I must have done pretty well, since one of my monsters (the Dreadwraith) was turned into a miniature from Lance & Laser.

I got hired by Games Workshop in 2003 and worked there until 2005. I was a copy writer and copy editor, and I got onto the White Dwarf team writing articles (mostly tactics stuff) and battle reports. I also wrote a bunch of scenarios for Warhammer Fantasy and The Lord of the Rings battle game. This is where my interest in Warhammer 40,000 got sharpened to a razor edge. I also became an expert on Warhammer Fantasy around the same time!

I got hired by Fantasy Flight Games next to work on Dark Heresy. This was fortuitous since I had been in touch with them just a few weeks earlier about doing some 4th edition D&D work with them. They were hiring a guy to do Dark Heresy, and with my background, I was a perfect fit. It was basically like being headhunted.

Working at FFG was great. I was thrown into the deep end and I learned all kinds of valuable skills. I went from being just a writer to doing everything related with project development. Managing freelancers, art direction, budgets, production, schedules, and most of all layout! I grew a huge amount in my skillset at FFG and produced some great games for Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay.

After FFG, I got headhunted again — this time for video games. There was a studio in Austin, Texas called Vigil Games working on an MMO: Dark Millennium Online. It was 40K-based, and my background again came into play. I got hired and moved to Texas.

This was a bad time to get into the video game industry, though: 2011 was rough, and DMO got cancelled soon after I arrived. I did get to create some quests, build some characters, create regions, build quest chains and POIs and Hero props. I even did some level design work with the editor. But, the game seemed doomed, and everything ended early in 2012.

Instead, I found myself working on Darksiders II.

Darksiders II was interesting to work on. On the one hand, the studio was a mess: I was literally told in one meeting by one of the higher-ups on the game, “I don’t know what I want, but I don’t want _that_” (pointing to our work on the screen). I worked on the main script for the game and wrote the story and dialogue for all three DLC’s, but they refused to give me a “writer” credit. Instead, I’m credited as a “designer.” Let me put it this way: if you read the description on any item in the game, look at the info on how a skill works, or see Death talking during any part of the DLC’s, I wrote it. I polished quite a few bits of the main script too (not that it was bad, the main script was pretty good).

On the other hand, I had almost complete autonomy. The writing team got pared down to two early on: me and Molly Fincher, an intern. Molly was awesome, she learned the ropes right away and we rocked it out as the writing team. We spoke all the dialogue aloud to each other and checked in with the sound guy to make sure our stuff sounded good. We created quests and characters and made Death sound awesome.

At the end of the day I’m super proud of Darksiders II and I enjoyed writing for it. I’d do it again in a heartbeat (Nordic Games, let me know what’s up!).

From there, it was back to freelancing, writing for other companies, and starting up my blog… which led to this website you’re reading this on right now.

 

 

 

 

Rise from your grave!

Welcome to my updated and re-vamped webpage! It’s been long overdue, since I moved up to Colorado from Texas, and I’ve been super busy with tons of projects. One of the biggest being joining Evil Beagle Games, a fantastic game company that was founded by my good friend Sean Patrick Fannon. Along with Sean and Carinn Seabolt, my partners, Evil Beagle Games is looking to create some amazing game projects!

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Keep an eye on this space, I’m planning to try and resume some regular updates with thoughts on game design, gaming, and many other topics.

Rogue Warden’s Comicpalooza Report

Greetings, readers! It has been far too long since I last put up a blog post here. My apologies – April and May were just a madhouse around the Watson household.

Rather than make any excuses, I’m going to jump right in and talk about something a lot more interesting. This blog post is about Comicpalooza 2014 in Houston, Texas.

Celebrities

I was one of the gaming guests of honor this year, and it was an honor to come to Houston and talk about gaming with tons of great fans and other industry professionals. As for the convention itself – it was amazing! There were a ton of celebrities in attendance, from Cary Elwes to Erin Grey. I actually got a chance to briefly meet and speak with two Doctors; Colin Baker and Paul McGann. I met Mike Mignola and told him how much Hellboy had influenced Accursed! These celebrities included Stan “The Man” Lee and a host of cosplay celebrities like Ivy Doomkitty. The Dealer’s hall was enormous; easily the same size as Gen Con’s, but the walkways were very nice and wide. This made travelling through the Dealer’s room pleasant rather than a chore, and I definitely appreciated the feeling of space—which is not to say that the Dealer’s room was empty. It was chock full of amazing stuff, including some comic book legends like Neal Adams.

Costumes and Arcades

Another amazing feature of Comicpalooza was a free-play arcade on the 3rd floor, featuring some amazing classic pinball and arcade video games. I simply couldn’t pass by it without stopping to try out a round or two of Attack on Mars.

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Costumes were another memorable fact of Comicpalooza—I haven’t seen this many fantastic costumes since Otakon in Baltimore. I took a ton of pictures and saw many, many more great costumes that I didn’t have time to snapshot.

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Gaming Guests

And as for being a gaming guest of honor, I was in good company… Adam Daigle of Paizo and Owen KC Stephens (a designer for many companies, amongst them including his own Rogue Genius Games). These two gentlemen have a lot of experience and insight into the gaming industry, and it was a pleasure to sit next to them in many panels on design and game elements.

Breandan O’Ciarrai was also in attendance (although his name is so Irish my keyboard can’t quite cope! Sorry!) of Dark Nova games, and he and his wife were great ambassadors for their games. I had a good time running through a quick demo and I wished I could find more room in the schedule to continue exploring his setting.

Jason Yarnell of D3 Adventures was the gaming guest “handler,” and he did a great job of herding cats—I mean, game developers—to all the places we needed to be on time. He also moderated our panels, and was a big part of what made the gaming track so awesome. We did a panel on getting into the industry, a panel on networking (awkward when it turned out two of the panelists, myself included, forgot to bring business cards…), a panel on encounter design and a panel on monster design. The design panels were incredibly fun, and we ended up working with the audience to design some monsters that were quite interesting; Pirhanaloths, strange, bloodthirsty fish-men who raid coastal villages in packs (or schools?). A unique feature is the hallucinogenic fog that they can create above water.

The Comicpalooza Gaming Track

Joe Charles was the Comicpalooza representative who organized all the gaming at Comicpalooza, and he deserves special mention for his hard work. The gaming track went very smoothly all around, and Joe wasted no time diving right in whenever there was trouble. The gaming areas were full most of the time—Skirmisher publishing had their own pavilion (again, with plenty of space) where they had set up “Little Orc Wars,” a family-friendly miniatures gaming area with lots of great terrain and rubber-band-powered catapults slinging tiny stones around willy-nilly. It was great! Darryl Mott, my co-host for the Gamer’s Tavern podcast, joined me in a game of Pathfinder with the Dungeonstone folks. This game was quite fun and showed off the nigh-indestructible dungeon terrain that they make. I give it two big thumbs-up!

Comicpalooza1

 

One other great feature (and something I sincerely hope the convention continues) is the “indy game alley,” a setup where four independent game groups were able to showcase their stuff right in the main area where they get maximum foot traffic on the third floor. The alley was adjacent to the main gaming area (convenient for both guests and the game groups themselves) and it really helped raise awareness of these smaller companies who can’t really afford a big booth in the dealer’s hall.

In addition, the Cracked Monocle crew was in attendance promoting the steampunk RPG Tephra. These guys are at nearly every Texas convention, and they always represent their game very well—from the awesome costumes to the magnificent facial hair, the Cracked Monocle guys always manage to make many larger game company crews look jealous! I got to play a short game of Tephra, and it was quite enjoyable—I played it with the designer of the game, Daniel Burrow.

The Skirmisher crew teamed up with Darryl and myself for a D-infinity webcast live from the convention on Sunday. It was a real treat to sit at the table with Wil Thrasher, Mike Varhola, and the rest of the Skirmisher guys! We got a chance to return the favor later on when Wil joined in for a Comicpalooza special episode of the Gamer’s Tavern recorded in Darryl’s hotel room.

Party Time

In fact, Wil has a real talent for setting up some amazing industry parties. The Skirmisher open house was absolutely the place to be nearly every night. At least two Doctor Whos showed up to party with us gamers, and plenty of folks in some really memorable costumes. The food and drinks were top-notch as well. If you ever attend Comicpalooza (or really, anywhere that Skirmisher is running the parties), make sure you check out the Skirmisher “traditional” attire of hospital scrubs.

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In Closing

Comicpalooza was awesome, I had a great time, and I would unhesitatingly recommend it to anybody… especially gamers. I’m already planning to head back next year as a guest to run some Star Wars: Edge of the Empire games. I hope to see you there!

Rogue Warden has a new home!

Viking Ross

 

Greetings, readers! As you can see, Rogue Warden has a new home at therosswatson.com, which is my brandy-new personal website. All the posts and comments and images have been moved over here, and keep checking back for more all-new posts taking flight from this site. Thanks for your patience!

Interview Time: Scott Heine

Greetings, readers! Today I’ve got an interview with one of my favorite superhero RPG writers, Scott Heine. Scott is not only a gifted writer, he’s an excellent roleplayer as well–I got a chance to sit down with him at Herocon MD back in 2007. In addition, Scott is a Senior Paster at the Hope Christian Fellowship and spends a lot of time working with young people in his community.
Scott surveys the booths at Gen Con.
Anyone who’s been following the Warden for a while will probably know that Scott worked on some of my favorite Superhero RPG supplements of all time, including the mind-blowing Mind Games, To Serve and Protect, and other books for the Hero System (primarily in its 4th edition–my favorite).
It is a real pleasure to talk to Scott today about his contributions to the Hero System and Champions. Scott’s work is an excellent resource to anyone looking to run a superhero RPG game, and I am always happy to run into Scott at Gen Con. If you ever get a chance to game with him at a convention or otherwise, I highly recommend it!
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?

SH: I discovered my first RPG when I received the boxed Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set back in the late 1970s. The idea of creating your own stories and adventures caught my interest, and I soon connected with a group of players at our local library. When Champions was released by Hero Games in 1981, I was seated at the table for the very 1st convention demo game, and I was completely hooked. The years that followed were filled with some of the best friendships and shared comic-book storytelling that a guy could ever want.
Over time, my attention shifted from being a gamer to being a designer, though it was always more of a hobby for me than a job. I found it particularly satisfying to create characters or storylines that players enjoyed, and I have really enjoyed the relationships with other authors and illustrators in the industry.
RW: How did you get your start in the RPG industry?
SH: After getting married and moving to the other side of the country for grad school, my fondness for Champions remained though life was far too busy and gaming friends were too far away. So I channeled my enthusiasm and puttered away on an idea for an adventure module that would feature the characters from our games. When I submitted the manuscript and sample illustrations to Hero Games, they offered to publish the module. It was definitely a case of being at the right place at the right time. Then came an opportunity to write and illustrate another supplement, then another, and soon I found myself being invited as a guest at a few local gaming conventions. Without realizing it, I had become a part-time freelance game designer.
RW: You’ve written some of my favorite all-time Superhero RPG books during your career. What is it about the superhero genre that you love?
SH: There’s something very classic and “mythic” about the superhero genre; in many ways, comic books offer a modernization of the very ancient traditions of bigger-than-life heroes. I mean, who wouldn’t enjoy flying, right? The sense of good vs. evil is exaggerated, allowing for dramatic and engaging stories. Yet the opportunity exist for heroes to be fleshed out with their own personal struggles and challenges which must be overcome, so the “heroics” involve both external and internal conflicts.
RW: Do you have any entertaining stories about creating or playtesting To Serve and Protect or Mind Games?
SH: Mind Games was written at the same time that the 4th edition (the “Big Blue Book”) was in development, so I was developing material without a clear idea of how psionic abilities would work. Though the book was originally going to be a focus on the mechanics of mental powers in the game, the decision was made to shift attention to developing characters and sample storylines instead. I had a lot of fun thinking through the combinations of psychotic psychology and superpowers, leading to a couple of nasty love-to-hate-‘em villains. When I received my first round of notes from editor Rob Bell, the pages were full of red ink with various changes, rules tweaks, etc. — Rob was tough! But the page describing the villain Mind Slayer simply had one word written across it in large, bold, red letters. (It rhymes with “itch.”) I laughed pretty hard that day.
RW: What is something great about working in the RPG industry?
SH: The people are the best — they’re usually really friendly, extremely creative, and super intelligent. It’s really easy to hang out with publishers, authors, and artists and swap “war stories” of various projects, great moments in gaming, opinions of movies and books, etc.
This supplement is one of the best Champions books ever made.
RW: What is something really bad about working in the RPG industry?
SH: As much as the industry focuses on people having fun, it’s still a business. And for some companies, it’s a struggling business. I remember doing work for a publisher and struggling to get paid. The company continued to ask for additional work in order to generate the funds necessary to pay off past debts, and it quickly became an unpleasant vicious circle. Before long, too many conversations between gaming friends included talk about rotten business practices; it sort of diminished the enjoyment of being creative at the time.
RW: How has your perception of working professionally in the RPG industry changed over the last 5 years?
SH: As I’ve grown older, so have the friends I’ve made in the industry, and many folks have moved on to other careers. Naturally, we’ve also seen lots of fresh young talent entering the industry, and I’ve enjoyed seeing new creativity. Technology continues to advance, allowing for beautifully produced books and game elements (the idea of a gaming book filled with color illustrations was unheard of when I began). And the increasing quality of computer graphics and multiplayer experiences continues to create an easy, attractive alternative to traditional tabletop RPGs, though probably at the expense of the relationships that would otherwise be cultivated.
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?
SH: I’d like to think that my skills as a storyteller and illustrator have grown since the early days. I look back on books from a quarter century ago and smile with the nostalgia of it all but also cringe at the quality compared to contemporary products. If I were creating those books today, I’d enjoy taking advantage of modern publishing techniques and a more seasoned skill for character and plot development. I’d also be more insistent on the inclusion of humor in the products, because I think gaming is best when it provokes a little laughter along the way.
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?
SH: Great questions! Freelancers need to have an accurate understanding of how the market works and what the audience desires so they can apply their creativity toward products that will not only be enjoyable for gamers but also profitable for publishers. Publishers need to interact with their talent in a manner that fosters respect and empowerment, inviting artists and authors to understand the vision and the limitations that apply to the work. Basically, both the creators and the publishers need to have a healthy relationship in which each side is helping the other side succeed at their goals.
RW: If you could change one thing about the RPG industry, what would it be?
SH: The RPG industry, along with the entertainment industries in general, seem to be more reactive than proactive when it comes to cultural standards. On the one hand, this makes perfect sense; these businesses are there to make a profit and capitalize on whatever provokes a response with audiences. On the other hand, this leads to a disproportionate presence of “darker” themes and genres in the marketplace. Perhaps it’s a sociological slippery slope, or perhaps I’m truly becoming an “old fogy.” But I’d love to see a movement of publishing RPG products that engage families, allowing parents and younger children to experience the fun of shared storytelling, with themes that are fun and uplifting. Perhaps kids who can be lured away from the TV and video games into truly satisfying (and, dare I say it, educational?) role-playing might remain loyal customers for the industry as they grow older.
RW: What do you feel is the best way for a game industry professional to engage with customers and fans?
SH: Designers who make themselves accessible through online forums, blogs, and face-to-face encounters at conventions demonstrate gratitude and respect for the audience that enjoys their work. It’s always important to remember that fans are there to connect with the creators in a way that enhances their enjoyment. Be cool! Have fun!
RW: What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment as an RPG professional?
SH: My most enduring contribution has been the foundational characters from the Mind Games supplement. For some reason, that product has provoked a more enduring response. I was especially pleased the first time I encountered the villain Mind Slayer in the Champions Online MMO. When she actually spoke, I was really tickled. Somewhere a voice actress had brought my character to life. (By the way, I might have had the same reaction when an actress appeared dressed as Mind Slayer at GenCon to promote the initial release of the game, but the studios had radically altered her appearance from what I first envisioned and the final result would make a grown man blush. It was kind of hard to engage that actress in conversation when she was wearing so little fabric.)
RW: What do you feel is your greatest setback as an RPG professional?
SH: At some point, I began developing a book we were calling Champions by the Bay which would have fully fleshed out the characters that originally appeared in To Serve and Protect, and would have provided a rich, detailed campaign environment set in San Francisco. However, delinquent payments on past work from the publisher caused me to discontinue the project. By the time things were straightened out, publishers had changed and the product line was moving in a different creative direction. A while back I ran across my early drafts of that unpublished book, and it was fun browsing through the ideas. It would have been great.
RW: How do you feel about representation of awards and recognition for quality in the gaming industry?
SH: Recognizing excellence prompts the industry to pursue excellence, and a little friendly competition is always fun, right?
RW: What is your favorite part of a gaming-related convention?
One of my favorite Champions supplements.
SH: I really enjoy meeting new people, interacting with gamers, and seeing old friends. Grabbing a farewell dinner at the end of the con is always a highlight. But perhaps my favorite convention experience involved grabbing reservations for a game of Champions, sitting down at the table, and realizing that nobody recognized my name. As the adventure unfolded, we discovered that the GM was using villains that I had created for one of my books. It was a blast watching someone else’s take on the characters! (I never shared my connection to those characters with the GM, but left very satisfied for the experience.) 
RW: If you were a pulp-era adventurer, you’d be a…?
SH: I’d be a bookworm scholar at some university library of ancient religious tomes, and the heroes would call on me and drag me into their adventures for my knowledge of some obscure mythology or something. Of course, I’d never carry a gun, but my old days of boxing as a student would come in mighty handy…
RW: What’s your favorite RPG (that you have not worked on)?
SH: Fortunately, I was able to create for my favorite RPG, though I think I would have enjoyed creating sourcebooks for other genres in the Hero System (especially pulp-era stuff).
RW: If you could pick up the dice and play an RPG right this very instant, you’d play…?
SH: Champions, of course. It would be fun to see what’s happened to some of our old characters. But, more importantly, it would be great just to gather around the table with old friends again.

Genghis Con 2014 Report

Greetings, readers! Today, I’m going to share a brief report of my time at Genghis Con in Aurora, Colorado this year. I was a gaming guest of honor, and thoroughly enjoyed my trip. Genghis Con is one of my favorite conventions, and it is something I strongly urge any gamer to check out if they can.
Eventually, I need to post a follow-up about just what it is that makes Genghis Con such a fantastic gathering of gamers. Something more to put on my “to-do” list! 
Wednesday Night: I arrived and was picked up by DGA president Bill Stilson and his wife Tammy. Bill and Tammy waited with me for Michael Surbrook to arrive and we talked about all kinds of stuff. Bill and Tammy are wonderful people! Unfortunately, Surbrook’s luggage was lost, but would eventually be mailed to the hotel.
Thursday: Started the day out with a nice surprise–the Red Lion hotel for the convention had greatly improved its restaurant! Breakfast was actually quite good. Followed this up with talking to Robert Dorf and his lovely wife Elizabeth A Dorf, hanging out with Jacob Burgess, and generally enjoying the company of friends!
That afternoon, I got a chance to be part of a Savage Worlds Smiling Jack’s Bar and Grill Podcast with Sean Patrick Fannon and Justin Suzuki, with plenty of other folks (including Michael, Sean Gore, Chris Fuchs, and others).
My evening game was very special–I had been invited to a Rogue Trader RPG game where I was to take on the role of my very own PC/NPC, Sarvus Trask! The GM had thoughtfully included an old character sheet for Trask and his ship, and the adventure was a fine time had by all with a clever twist at the end. An excellent start to the convention!
Friday: In the morning, I ran my Shadows Angelus game for Michael Surbrook and a group of four other gamers (among whom I remember “Mohawk guy” as the most memorable) who had played two years ago. It was awesome to find people following Shadows Angelus from year to year. Mike seemed to particularly enjoy the fun, and we fought demons all morning long. My afternoon game was Dreadnaught, ran by Jacob Burgess. In this game, I played a Texas Ranger dealing with a surprising foe in an alternate post-civil-war encounter with trains fighting other trains. It was a lot of fun, and ended with some surprising character interactions. Playing a Texan while BEING a Texan was actually quite fun as well.
Lars Shear (left), Olivia (center, and our awesome server), Jacob Burgess (right).
Friday night was the first of the two most memorable and exciting games of the convention for me (and possibly one of the best games of all time that I’ve been a part of): Bill Keyes’ The Widening Gyre. This game had an all-star squad of players, from Mike to Ken (forgot last name), Dan (forgot last name), Jake, and another fellow (forgot name entirely). Part of the reason I have trouble remembering the names of the players is that we all submerged entirely into our characters for the night, one of those magical games where we were in total immersion for the setting, cracking some hilarious jokes, and basically enjoying the cream of the crop for everything that is Steampunk. My character invented an electric guitar and heavy metal about two centuries too early, and we fought Ninjas, explored ruins, and rescued folk from dire threats. It was absolutely one of the best gaming experiences I can remember.
Saturday: I ran a game of my setting for Savage Worlds, Accursed in the morning. The game overall went pretty well, although there were some bumps along the way with my handling of the character sheets. I always look critically at my own work and I am certain I could have done this much better–and will, in the future. However, I am reasonably certain everyone had a good time (Robert Dorf was doing very well as the golem priest and Mike Surbrook took the Revenant Witch Hunter like a pro!).
Saturday afternoon provided the second incredibly memorable game of the convention. Robert Dorf ran his Champions of Justice 2014 game where we took on the roles of Luchadors fighting for the honor of the ring. The game was incredibly imaginative and entertaining, ending with one of the most climactic battles ever—a 90-foot tall Vampire doing battle with a 90-foot tall Mega-Lucha!
Saturday evening, I participated in one of Sean Patrick Fannon’s Justice & Life games for his setting, Shaintar. This was my fourth time playing Shaintar, but it was the first playing alongside Sean as a fellow gamer rather than with him as the GM. Sean had turned over the GMing reins that night to Sean Gore instead, and the evening’s adventure was a bunch of rollicking good fun. Sean and I had some fantastic roleplay moments between his priest and my paladin, especially when pondering the unique nature of the two worlds (Shaintar and Accursed) colliding as they had. At the end of the night, I was able to throw in one of the Savage Worlds Adventure cards (Noble Sacrifice) to great effect, essentially saving Sean from sacrificing his priest to close a portal to evil. It was great fun, and I definitely see the appeal of the continuing, living universe built by the Justice and Life concept.
Bill Keyes, with Mike Surbrook on the left.
Sunday: The final day of Genghis Con is always a challenge—all the energy and passion of the last few days tends to catch up to people (and lack of sleep!), and this year was no exception. My morning game was to run a game of Deathwatch (once more featuring Mike Surbrook and the crew of “Mohawk guy”). The game went really well overall, and Mike managed to find a way to broker a nearly impossible compromise between the three bickering Space Marine chapters—something that’s never been done before in over six different runs of that particular scenario. In the afternoon, I played in another of Jake Burgess’ games, this time Fantasy Hero! I got to play a big dumb barbarian who was more than he seemed (and the perfect role for someone as loopy and tired as I was). We ended the con with the (by now traditional) Birthday dinner for Tammy Keyes at Pappadeaux… I had a fantastic steak!
And thus ends another year of Genghis Con. I’m already counting the days until I can go again. I’m extremely grateful to the DGA, the Con Committee, Bill Stilson and Leif and Ed and all the other great folks who run Genghis Con, the Rocky Mountain Savages, Chris Fuchs, Justin Suzuki, and all the gamers and GMs I got to play games with this year.

Roleplaying as Another Gender


Sometimes, it is just like this.
Greetings readers, I’m interested to find out how people feel about this particular blog post, because I consider it to be yet another (somewhat) controversial topic: playing RPG characters of a gender other than your own.
  
I should begin by stating that my personal opinion is that the whole point of roleplaying is to be someone other than yourself, and that can certainly include things like race (such as playing an elf) as well as social class (say, a king or prince) and, naturally, gender as well.
To reiterate: My opinion is that roleplaying a character of another gender from your own is just fine.

Also, just to clarify, I’m talking about a player roleplaying as another gender in a gaming group over a campaign, not the DM and not generally in one-shot games (such as ones found at gaming conventions).
This topic is somewhat controversial because there are many gaming groups out there where playing a character of another gender is discouraged or considered “weird.” 
In my experience, many all-male groups find a male player roleplaying as a female character (aside from the GM) to be taboo. There are many other resources on the internet discussing this topic (such as Sandy Antunes’ article) as well.

My Take

I think it is important to start out this topic by stating that I’ve played several female characters over the years, and many of them are amongst the most memorable characters I’ve ever created. So, keep in mind that I’m speaking from experience as a gamer who enjoys occasionally playing characters of another gender. I’m not going to classify myself as an expert by any means, however!
Our world is going through some interesting changes with how gender is perceived, especially with regards to gender roles, their perception (quite recently and prominently in the gaming space), human sexuality, and people who are transgender. I think now is a good time to continue the conversation about these issues through the lens of our shared hobby.

Why Play Another Gender?

Or people pretending to be girls.
This was not an easy blog post to write. My inner procrastinator actively attempted to discourage me from writing this by offering distraction after distraction, but… ooh, shiny! Seriously though, this is a topic I’ve wanted to cover for some time on Rogue Warden.
As I mentioned above, I think roleplaying as another gender is fine—it’s something I’ve done myself on many occasions. In addition, I think there’s something very rewarding about opening up and seeing things through the eyes of someone completely different from myself. This, of course, ncludes gender, expectations of gender roles, and how that gender is involved with the society of the game’s setting.
Roleplaying as a different gender, in my opinion, helps people understand gender issues like stereotypes, the reactions from people that other genders are exposed to, and the ramifications of a gender-separated society. For example, the Zentraedi race in the Robotech RPG are strictly segregated by gender. The males and females go so far as to have their own separate military formations, command structures, and unique war machines. It can be very interesting to explore some of the social issues that flow from such an usual structure.
To look at it from one perspective, I once wrote up an NPC who was the first woman paladin of a specific knightly order. This situation was interesting to me because of the idea of breaking down the social barriers barring women from fighting, and exploring some of the really unique elements (such as the way Paladins in this setting were focused on facing and defeating supernatural evil) that made this setup different. Another perspective is a legacy character I once designed based on the DC Comics setting, involving the son of Batman and Wonder Woman. The direction I wanted to go involved the boy learning to fight from his mother’s people, the Amazons, who have only very rarely welcomed men onto their secluded island.
Ultimately, roleplaying as a different gender is an experience that I would unhesitatingly recommend to most mature roleplayers. It provides a chance to see things through fresh eyes and can add some unique dynamics to make a particular character or campaign that much more memorable. Before I go on, however, let’s talk a bit about character concepts.

Gender and Character Concepts

I’ve been roleplaying now for over 29 years, and in that time, I’ve played a very large amount of different RPGs. My experience has taught me that I can come up with a character concept for just about any particular setting or campaign. However, I have also learned that, for me, some character concepts inherently possess characteristics that move them towards a particular gender.
Some character concepts make sense as any gender.
For example, many of my character concepts are inherently masculine in my imagination. If I want to play Jack Burton, Jr., (from the film Big Trouble in Little China), I simply can’t imagine the character as anything other than a man. Similarly, I came up with a superhero-in-powered armor vigilante character idea called Technicality that just wouldn’t fit anything other than a woman.
Below is a brief selection of characters that I felt were inherently a feminine concept:

Technicality

As mentioned above, Technicality was one of the darker characters I ever played. She was featured in my good friend Grady Elliot’s campaign, Vendetta Rhapsody. You can find her character sheet here.

Monolith

Featured in Digital Hero, this character was originally built for the old Marvel Super Heroes game by TSR. I especially enjoyed the playing-against-type bit in our high school game where she was one of the better football players in her school.

Ramien Meltides

One of my favorite tropes is the young innocent thrust into a world of adventure, and my first character to really take advantage of this was Ramien. She was a farmgirl fresh from the orchards of her homeland when she was plunged into a grand quest.

Miss Junior Olympia

A pastiche of Mary Marvel, this character was actually created by my good friend Robert Dorf for his Young Titans game, but I quickly adopted her. I love the idea of a “Mary Marvel”-esque character, especially with Robert’s particular twist that, in his campaign, each of the young heroes has a particular mentor. Miss Junior Olympia is being trained by Ithicles, a great hero who occasionally gets his ward into trouble.

Shadows Angelus

Now, this example is from the standpoint of a GM rather than a player. I ran two campaigns set in Shadows Angelus, both times with an all-male group of players. In the second game, I ended up with 4 female characters and 2 male characters. This made for an interesting dynamic that we nicknamed “Charlie’s Angels.” Having a group with the majority as female characters made for some very intriguing situations (especially when the characters were off-duty).

Fun Uber Alles

For me, roleplaying games are all about having fun above all. So, while I am an advocate for trying out roleplaying as another gender, and while for me personally, having something like that in a game is never a dealbreaker, I’d recommend testing the waters out with your group (i.e., talk it over!) before jumping in with both feet. I believe that (in general) having fun is optimized when everyone feels safe and comfortable! This next section of the post talks about the best practices (in my experience) that people should keep in mind when roleplaying as another gender.

For the Player

Maturity

This should go without saying, but I am a big believer in getting everything out in the open up front as much as possible: you should be a mature roleplayer to roleplay a gender other than your own. Portraying another gender in an immature or inappropriate manner makes everyone sad. It makes you sad, because doing this is tantamount to admitting idiocy. It also makes everyone else sad, because most gamers don’t show up to the table to see crude portrayals of other genders (especially with stereotypical or exaggerated social tropes).

Even classic characters take on new dimensions when in another gender.
This is not to say that you should never, ever roleplay as a character that exemplifies a stereotype—it can be done, and it can be done well. Even then, however, I would only entrust such a portrayal to a mature roleplayer.

Consistency

Roleplaying any character consistently is a vital element to making the other folks at the table understand what your character is about. I would say that consistency is even more important when you are roleplaying as another gender.

Separation from Reality

Roleplaying as another gender can be awkward, especially if other gamers around the table are focusing on the player’s appearance and mannerisms rather than his or her character’s. One possible solution for this is a tactic that helps separate the two.
One thing that has worked well for me is to have a picture of my character at the table, either printed out or present on an ipad or tablet. Putting this image up so that it is visible during roleplaying scenes can make it easier for other players to imagine interacting with your character rather than the player.
This separation works especially well over the internet. When I was playing on MUXes back in the day, the medium of pure text made the player’s real-life gender more or less irrelevant.

For the GM

Romance and Sex

In a character-driven campaign, it is not unlikely for characters to get into meaningful relationships—either with each other or prominent NPCs in the game setting. This can include situations such as romance and sex, both of which should be treated with respect when you are roleplaying as someone of the opposite gender. Gamemasters often roleplay as males and females of various races during the course of a campaign, and thus, GMs are the kinds of roleplayers who are generally most experienced at accurately and respectfully portraying someone of another gender from their own. Now, the subject of romance and sex in games is a large one—far too big for a single post to cover comprehensively—so all I will say here is that the GM should carefully consider how he approaches these issues in a campaign when the players are roleplaying as another gender. This consideration is just to ensure that (again) everyone feels comfortable during the game and that the most fun is had by all.

In Closing

Here are some interesting links discussing the concept of a man roleplaying as a woman and vice versa. I won’t say I agree with everything in these threads, but I think there’s some very interesting and thought-provoking material there for those who want to know more.