The Alexandrian

Archive for the ‘Roleplaying Games’ category

Tagline: Strong potential makes this product that you might want to take a look at; but the execution leaves much to be desired.

Vampire: The Dark Ages - Fountains of Bright Crimson - White WolfIn the year 1099 the First Crusaders came to the gates of the holy city of Jerusalem. They were surprised by the lack of resistance with which they had been met, but as they entered the city they were seized by a strange and furious madness. In their rage they began to slaughter the townspeople. For weeks the streets ran red, and their bloodlust did not stop until every man, woman, and child who lived within the city had been cut down.

That much is true. It is a recorded event of history and – as the authors of this book say – the historical butchers who committed these savage deeds needed no mystical fiends to drive them to this… They brought their own monsters with them.

But in the world of Vampire: The Dark Age these events took an ominous turn: As Jerusalem clotted on its own blood, crimson streams ran down into the secret caverns beneath the city… and its scent reached even the ancient burial place of Malkav. The Antediluvian stirred in his sleep, and reached out with his mind – driving the Crusaders to ever more bloody deeds, but also corrupting the minds of the Cainites who had come with them. As the Weeks of Blood (as they were known) came to an end, not a single vampire who had accompanied the Crusaders remained in the ancient city… they had vanished without a trace.

Now it is a hundred years later, in the year 1197… and mad Cainites screaming of blood have emerged from the catacombs, while the fountains of Jerusalem run crimson. Malkav stirs in his sleep once more, and the city of Jerusalem hangs in the balance.


Perhaps you won’t agree with me, but I think that’s an absolutely fantastic premise for an adventure. The author has found a historical event which resonates with themes of the occult, and then mixed it seamlessly into the mythology which has been crafted around Vampire: The Dark Age.

Unfortunately, from this point out, the adventure deteriorates rapidly. To sum up the plot quickly: The PCs are approached by Bernardus, who is concerned with recent acts of infernalism. He tricks the PCs into killing diablerist Tremere, and then uses that to blackmail them into investigating the appearance of a raving mad Cainite wearing the livery of the First Crusaders. After investigating the PCs will discover that this Cainite, along with four others, were inhabited by shards of Malkav’s spirit. Unless they can free them properly, Malkav will wake and Jerusalem will be plunged into blood once more. Meanwhile, a vengeful Muslim Cainite is pursuing these Crusaders in a quest of vengeance for their acts of murder a century ago; and the local Baali are trying to pry from them the location of Malkav’s body for their own nefarious purposes. Eventually, though, everything turns out okay in the end.

For starters, this is a rather weak delivery on the promises of an adventure of epic scope. The actual consequences of Malkav’s awakening are totally left in the hands of the GM and are only supposed to come into effect if the PCs utterly fail in their mission. Thus the richest tones of mythological possibility are left untapped, as is any sense of true urgency in the PCs actions.

But that just begins to scratch the surface of where this adventure falls down flat…


For starters, this adventure is so linear it makes my teeth cringe. And to make matters worse, there’s no way I could keep a group of PCs on this railroad track, even if I wanted to. Repeatedly the author puts the hypothetical player group into a situation where all common sense tells them to go one direction, and then simply tells the GM that the players “have no choice”.

For example: The PCs are summoned to Jerusalem by Bernardus for the fake mission of hunting down infernalists. The author notes that “it should be obvious that the whole thing is a poorly-conceived ruse”; but then tells us that the PCs will want to help Bernardus anyway because “they risk the possibility of demonic powers destroying the most sacred city on earth – while they’re standing in the middle of it”. Admittedly, if my PCs actually believed there were infernalists (weak assumption if they already suspect Bernardus is lying) and they were good guys (another assumption) then it’s conceivable they might decide to hang around. Otherwise it’s far more likely they’re just going to take off.

For example: At another point in the adventure the only reason the PCs can’t just pick up and leave is because they’ve been tricked into killing the Tremere. Even though there are no witnesses, the PCs have to stay, because they are “in too deep.” Garbage! The most logical course of action for the PCs at this point is not to go back to Bernardus and subject themselves to blackmail (as the author instructs us to encourage them to do), but to get the hell out of town.

For example: At several points in the adventure the skill checks of NPCs are predetermined to fail.

For example: At one point in the adventure the PCs need to cross an underground river. If the fall into the river, we are told that they are automatically swept away and may (if they’re lucky) reappear thousands of miles outside of Jerusalem where the river emerges into the light of day. Then, later on in the exact same scene, an NPC is allowed to jump into the river and re-emerge at his leisure whenever he feels like it.

For example: At one point the PCs are, I swear to god, given the blood Malkav with absolutely no strings attached. The blood is described as having wondrous powers, and is necessary to complete the adventure the way it is written. Yet again, though, I am struck by the fact that the PCs have absolutely no connection to this adventure at all – and therefore their most logical course of the action at this point is to skip town with this amazing gift they have been given.

For example: The entire middle of the adventure consists of the PCs randomly visiting places which, for the most part, they have absolutely no reason to visit.


The lack of logic doesn’t end with the means by which the GM is supposed to keep the PCs wandering down the path which has been laid for them: The world itself is apparently rendered in a Matrix plagued with software glitches.

For example: Bernardus, who is supposed to trick the PCs into believing a string of absolutely absurd lies, is described as “guileless” in his character description. Huh?

For example: A large part of the adventure takes place beneath the surface of Jerusalem… but if the PCs go “too far” in their explorations of the caverns they will automatically become lost and never be seen again.

For example: Unless the PCs follow a very particular and specific course through the adventure, they will only encounter the Muslim Cainite assassin once – and then he will never be seen again (even though he is supposed to be the primary opponent of the PCs during the course of the adventure). However, if the PCs do follow that particular course of action there is a good chance that the Muslim Cainite assassin will successfully kill the one and only link they have to the end of the adventure.


There’s a degree of false advertising involved in this product. Although repeatedly described as a “standalone” product (separate from Jerusalem at Night and other Vampire: The Dark Ages supplements), at several points in the text important NPCs are referenced merely in the form of names – without any supporting detail. Either this is a crucial design flaw, or these NPCs are described elsewhere in the product line.


The basic concepts on which Fountains of Bright Crimson are incredibly powerful – and might well be worth $8 just to take a peek at. However, to successfully use this adventure would require some extensive fixes – and to successfully use the concept to its full potential would require a massive restructuring. This one doesn’t come recommended from me.

Style: 3
Substance: 1

Author: Ree Soesbee
Company/Publisher: White Wolf
Cost: $7.95
Page Count: 32
ISBN: 1-56504-270-0

Originally Posted: 1999/10/23

For an explanation of where these reviews came from and why you can no longer find them at RPGNet, click here.

Go to Part 1

This article originally appeared in the March 2001 issue of Games Unplugged.

Hog Wild - Hogshead's New Style RPGs

I’m asking everyone this, so I’d better ask you, too: How’d you get started in gaming?

The short answer is that I got involved in an APA called Alarums and Excursions, and through that found myself accidentally making connections to people like Steve Jackson and Jonathan Over the Edge - Jonathan Tweet - Atlas GamesTweet. Soon I was getting offers of work, or seeing stuff I made up for Jonathan become part of his Over the Edge game, and not long after that I was doing this game design thing full-time.


What were the influences behind your design of Pantheon?

Baron Munchausen, of course, set the format for New Style. It may be the best-written roleplaying game, period, and certainly the most entertaining thing I’ve ever read on an airplane.

Once I saw how well it, and Puppetland, were received, I knew I had to have me some of that action. And John Tynes made his a 2-in-1 (Puppetland + Power Kill), so I knew I had to set a standard for number of games in one New Style book that no one would dare to challenge.

Somewhat more seriously, I had the idea for the final scenario banging around in my head for years but hadn’t ever come up with a framework to make it work. Then, thinking about how I might do a New Style game (at GenCon last year, during my morning ablutions), the whole thing unfolded like a flower in my little, sleep-deprived brain. I spent a few minutes jotting down the concept, went to the exhibit hall (where I was weaselling at the Hogshead booth), pitched the idea to James, got his immediate approval, and, a year later, here we are.

Which is a long-winded way of saying that, except for the previous games in the line, I wasn’t thinking about any particular precursors when the concept seized me.


Pantheon’s modular design means that it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that new games using the Narrative Cage Match are easily done. Are we going to see future support for the NCM?

That’s up to James; I believe the current answer is “possibly.” It would certainly make for a painless, easy-to-publish entry that could be kept on hand and floated into any surprise gaps in the Hogshead publishing schedule.


Time for a controversial question: Does Pantheon really “count” as “five-games-in-one” if all five of them use the Narrative Cage Match?

Superworld - ChaosiumIf Greg Stafford, Sandy Petersen and the rest of the Chaosium team had managed to fit Runequest, Call of Cthulhu, Ringworld, Stormbringer, and Superworld into 24 pages, would it be one game or five?


Good answer! What projects can we expect to see from you in the future?

A thick tome of a Vampire: The Dark Ages book called House of Tremere should be hitting stands at about the same time as the October issue. After that, check out the Dying Earth RPG, on which I did Senior Designer duties. It’s a more traditional roleplaying game than Pantheon, but nonetheless maintains at least one point of interesting similarity with it. That’s coming soon from Pelgrane Press. Then in (probably) spring there’s another new roleplaying game, Rune, based on the 3rd-person action computer game of the same name. Atlas Games is publishing it; it bends the definition of roleplaying in yet another direction, by making it competitive: it’s got Vikings with swords the size of Buicks, and you can win!

Some brief reflections on “Hog Wild!”: The title was not my own. I’m pretty sure you can credit Tony Lee, the editor of Games Unplugged, with that one. I remember pitching him the concept for this article in the parking lot at Origins 2000: Tony was passing me review copies he’d collected from the convention floor.

Most of the time I spent developing this article was dedicated to the interviews — contacting the designers, conducting the interviews, editing the transcripts… and then the interviews were cut from the article when it appeared in print. (I think I vaguely recall that they were put up on the Games Unplugged website as a bonus feature at some later date, but I was never actually paid for them.) I’ve only conducted two sets of interviews for professional RPG gigs, neither of them ever appeared in print. (And the interviews I did with Ryan Dancey and Bruce Cordell for the unrealized D20 Nation project with RPGNet ended up getting lost in a computer crash.)

Hogshead Publishing went out of business in 2002. Greg Costikyan and John Tynes left the roleplaying industry around the same time (give or take a year). James Wallis was also absent for a lengthy period of time, but he’s recently come roaring back and is currently developing the new Paranoia RPG. Robin D. Laws has been producing fabulous material with Pelgrane Press for more than a decade.

Go to Part 1

This article originally appeared in the March 2001 issue of Games Unplugged.

Hog Wild - Hogshead's New Style RPGs

John Tynes built a reputation of excellence with products from Delta Green to Unknown Armies. In the fall of 1999 he helped to cement that reputation with his dual New Style offerings: Puppetland and Power Kill. In July he took the time to answer a few questions I had…


So here you are. How did you start playing RPGs to begin with?

When I was…oh…eleven or twelve in Memphis, Tennessee, I was friends with a kid named Chris Brown, who was a year or two older than me. He was playing AD&D and got me started on it. Chill - Mayfair GamesEventually I bought Chill and got into the idea of horror gaming. Some dabbling with Call of Cthulhu followed, and off I went.


How did you get involved with the New Style line of games?

I’ve been friends with the head of Hogshead Publishing, James Wallis, for years. We’d been talking about finding a way to work together, and the first project that worked out was when James asked me about publishing my freeware game Puppetland in an expanded and illustrated edition, along with Power Kill.


Having worked on the line, what do you think of the entire “New Style” concept? What does “New Style” mean to you?

I think James Wallis has done something interesting with the line in that he’s presenting the idea that fun RPGs can come in small packages, without simply being incomplete versions of larger works. The New Style games present rules that they be played with non-gamers. Baron Munchausen is suitable for any group of barflies with a sense of humor. I’ve heard from a youth counselor who played Puppetland with at-risk schoolkids. I think you could hand a New Style game to someone with no roleplaying experience and have a real shot at them making it work, certainly a better shot than if you handed them a typical RPG rulebook.


Who, or what, has been the biggest influence on your as a rule designer?

I’m not much of a rules designer–I’m better at kibbitzing the designs of others. But for what it’s worth, my ideas about good design are drawn from three sources: Call of Cthulhu, the work of Jonathon Tweet, and the work of Robin Laws. They key lesson is that as you create your world setting, you dig deep to uncover the key principles that define that setting, and then you find ways to weave those principles through every level of both the setting and the rules. Greg Stolze and I took that concept to heart with our game Unknown Armies.


So, at a certain level, the two are connected: The important elements of the setting are the guideposts you use in designing the ruleset. What makes a “key principle”?

Like pornography and art, you know it when you see it. In Call of Cthulhu, a key principle is the frailty and insignificance of humans. In Feng Shui, a key principle is that if it looks good, it works. Unknown Armies - 1st Edition - Greg Stolze & John Tynes - Atlas GamesIn Unknown Armies, a key principle is humanocentrism — humans make the world and are responsible for their actions in it. Good game design incorporates key principles at every stage and at every level.


By any definition of the word, Puppetland is… different. Very different. What path took you there?

Well, I’ve always been interested in puppets. As a kid, I found a book on making finger puppets in the public library and read it over and over, obsessively really. I persuaded my mom to sew me a set of finger puppets that included Punch and Judy. My friend Charles and I put on a series of puppet shows that had nothing to do with the original Punch & Judy. They were surreal adventure stories, such as when Punch crashes his biplane into a swamp and is kidnapped by the Present People, a group of still-wrapped Christmas presents that have turned to villainy.

I think I explained the impulses behind Puppetland fairly clearly in the text, but that wasn’t what I was consciously thinking of when I wrote that opening passage in the book, which is what started it all; I was just thinking of freaky things and that’s what I came up with. Coming up with neat ideas isn’t hard. It’s turning them into something finished that’s the tough part.


Power Kill ended up drawing some severe fan backlash. What message were you trying to get across?

A few years ago, I started thinking about how so many in-game RPG activities involved breaking the law. The more I thought about it, the more it bothered me that we were playing games which amounted to criminal fantasies.

I started thinking that it would be interesting to create an RPG where you simply were criminals. I started writing Power Kill intending to make a full-blown criminal RPG. But putting that much effort into what was in effect a satire seemed like a waste of time, and I realized that I could make the same point in far less space. The result was Power Kill.

In no way did I intend anyone to actually play Power Kill. It’s just a satire that uses the form of an RPG system to critique that form. What I did hope was that it would encourage people to think about the games they play and maybe consider diversifying their entertainment content a little–or perhaps just pay more attention to the narrative possibilities of repercussions for criminal acts. Slaughtering orcs in a fantasy campaign, for example–there’s a whole world of people in that campaign who never kill anybody or anything because they’re too busy caught up in their normal lives. Why just play the bloodthirsty thrill-seekers? How many fantasy campaigns have there been where, following a dungeon crawl, an orc tribe placed a fat bounty on a paladin’s head that sent even human bounty-hunters after him? Considering the repercussions of PC actions can lead to interesting narratives, and perhaps mitigate the kill-loot obsession we often get into in gaming.


When we next see the name of John Tynes, what will it be attached to?

The Yellow Sign (2001)Besides my usual editing/development/writing duties for Unknown Armies and Pagan Publishing’s CoC products, I’ve co-designed a fast-play miniatures game for Pagan called The Hills Rise Wild! which will be out in August of this year. This is another case where my co-designer, Jesper Myrfors, crunched the rules and I kibbitzed and rode herd. It’s a really fun and funny game, and I’m looking forward to seeing it released.

Elsewhere, I’ve just finished the fourth and final draft of a screenplay for a short horror film with the working title of The Yellow Sign. Post-production should finish this fall. I don’t know how it will be released yet, but I’m very happy with the way the script turned out and eager to hear how the filming goes.

Next: An Interview with Robin D. Laws

Tagline: Edgy humor, industry news, and high-gloss production values. The new kid on the magazine block, Games Unplugged shows a lot of potential.

Games Unplugged #1I’ve been looking at the cover of the first issue of Games Unplugged for several months now (it’s been posted on their website). It’s a picture of a Scotsman, in his kilt, wielding a two-handed sword. It’s fairly well executed (although the guy is not particularly convincing as a threat – he’s terribly unbalanced), but it instilled in me great reservations concerning a magazine I was otherwise fairly excited about laying my hands on.

I know, I know. One shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but this image was so ineffective as a cover it raised some serious reservations about just how much effort and capital was being invested in making this magazine a success.

And that’s all the bad news you’re going to get in this review, because any lingering fears or paranoia I may have had were more than unjustified. Games Unplugged is well worth your time.

The magazine has three primary focuses, and all of them are delivered upon en force: Industry News, Reviews, and Insight. All of these, of course, feed into the core of GU’s primary goal: Serving as an industry newsletter, by hyping not only products but people.

INDUSTRY NEWS: Perhaps the most surprising thing about GU’s industry news features (including “Da Buzzzzzzz” and “Gameorandum”, along with feature-length articles), is the fact they have actually managed to report on things with which I was not previously familiar in the industry. For example: The second edition of Blue Planet. The return of Cosmic Encounter (woo-hoo!). The second edition of Big Eyes, Small Mouth (the fact I missed this one is particularly noteworthy). The Sovereign Stone revised hardcover (high hopes here). I consider myself to be fairly well plugged in to various industry channels, so the fact that GU is trumping me not only proves the magazine’s worth – but also demonstrates that they’re really on top of their ball where this is concerned.

REVIEWS: I love reviews. I write ‘em. I read ‘em. I love ‘em. And Games Unplugged is chock full of them. This issue had over twenty pages of them (ranging from full page, in-depth pieces to snippet previews), covering dozens of products. (There’s a negative side to this, of course: My “To Buy” list swelled prodigiously as I read through them.)

INSIGHT: Here’s where the magazine really shines for me, though: Not only do GU’s staffers discuss various facets of the creative personalities behind the products we all know and love, Games Unplugged is also providing a forum for those creators to speak out in their own right. This first issue, for example, has Robin D. Laws discussing the design principles of Hero Wars, Shane Hensley describing the development process of Lost Colony, and Gary Gygax talking about the early days of TSR (in a recurring feature which will discuss the earliest days of the major game companies).

Beyond all of this (which has already, in my opinion, justified the $4 cover charge), is there any other reason you should pick up Games Unplugged?

Wellllll…. How about all new SnarfQuest strips? That’s right. Elmore is back, and although I wasn’t terribly impressed with the inaugural strip (too much recapping for new audience members, leading to some poor pacing throughout the piece) I have high hopes.

I also enjoyed the “Local Retailer Order Form” – basically a list of products which were mentioned in this issue of Games Unplugged, letting you easily check off what you’re interested in. Then you give the form to your local retailer, as an easy way of letting them know of products you’d like to see on the shelves (or are willing to special order). In a market where too many local retailers aren’t carrying products, it’s nice to see this encouraging feature.


At the end of the day, do I think you should get a subscription? Absolutely! Do I think you should at least give it a look? Positively! If nothing else, should you at least look at their webzine? Why the heck wouldn’t you?

[ Note: This is a review of a PDF version of the magazine provided by Dynasty Presentations specifically for preview purposes. Potential Sources for Bias: I intend to write reviews for Games Unplugged in the future. Plus, they give a really nice review of Dream Pod 9’s Jovian Planet Sourcebook for their Jovian Chronicles, a book which I helped write. ]

Style: 4
Substance: 5

Author: Various
Company/Publisher: Dynasty Presentations, Inc.
Cost: $3.00
Page Count: 64
ISBN: n/a

Originally Posted: 2000/05/09

One thing I’ve learned is that this industry is intensely hostile to disclaimers of potential bias from reviewers. Particularly the revelation that a review copy was provided. Stuff that is just bog standard procedure for reviewers in every other industry is viewed by a certain segment of the gamer community as some sort of dark heresy. There were at least a half dozen people who were outraged — outraged! — that Games Unplugged had given my book a good review in exchange for a good review of their magazine. (You’ll note that this is not what actually happened.)

In any case, at this point in my life I was a huge grog-head for reviews and RPG industry news: Games Unplugged was basically a magazine designed specifically for me. Of course, it’s totally unsurprising that it was out of business less than two years later. It was exactly the type of magazine that the internet rendered totally obsolete and it was premiering at exactly the wrong moment in history.

For an explanation of where these reviews came from and why you can no longer find them at RPGNet, click here.

Go to Part 1

This article originally appeared in the March 2001 issue of Games Unplugged.

Hog Wild - Hogshead's New Style RPGs

James Wallis is the man behind Hogshead Publishing – and thus directly responsible for seeing the New Style games, the Warhammer FRP, SLA Industries, and the forthcoming Nobilis into print. He can thus be described as one of the savviest publishers in the roleplaying industry you’re likely to find. He’s also a pretty nice guy (although don’t tell him I said so, it’ll go straight to his head).


What first got you involved in roleplaying?

A guy called Josh Astor, who introduced me to AD&D when I was 14 and bored to death at boarding school. He was the kind of DM who was visibly disappointed when a monster didn’t kill at least one character. He later left the school under a drug-related cloud, and the last time I heard of him was in a story in the Guardian two or three years ago. The headline was “Naked man on hotel roof high on crack”.

Actually, that’s not true. I mean, all that stuff is true, but the person who actually introduced me to the concept of RPGs was Angus McIntyre, who was a year above me at school and played Traveller. He was an enormous influence on me – but we never actually gamed together. Angus is one of the most fiercely original people I know. He’s doing research for Sony these days. See, we’re not all drug-addled fiends.


And what made you think to start your own game company?

Three factors. Firstly Bugtown, an RPG I’d been working on since 1990, was dumped by its publisher, and I wanted to publish it myself. Secondly, Andrew Rilstone and I had started Interactive Fantasy, a magazine about games design, and the first issue sold out in a heartbeat. And thirdly, a friend at Games Workshop told me the rights to Warhammer FRP were up for grabs.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay - Hogshead PublishingOf course, it never works out the way you planned it. IF didn’t sell as well as we’d hoped, the trademark-owner pulled the rights on Bugtown, and we got screwed by a distributor and were almost bankrupt four months after launching.

But your question was, “Why did I think I should start a games company?” Because I didn’t want to get a proper job, and because I felt I could contribute something to the games industry that wasn’t there already. I still feel that. I am astonished at the lack of innovation in gaming. The market is still stuck in the paradigm created by Gygax and Arneson: one GM, multiple players, character sheets, open-ended narrative, stats or skills, characters improving in terms of abilities rather than as personalities. It’s a paradigm that works, but it shouldn’t be the only one.

Yet here we are in a field where there can be massive arguments about whether it’s even possible to roleplay without dice, and where a game like Ghost Dog – one GM and one player – is considered a major innovation. Is that really all we’ve got to show for 25 years of development? Stupid dice tricks?

That’s why Hogshead exists. To do something new.


You inaugurated the New Style line yourself with the Adventures of Baron Munchausen. What were your guiding thoughts at the time?

“Oh God, don’t let me lose my shirt on this one.”

Munchausen went through a weird birth. I’m a huge fan of the Baron’s stories, and had been trying for years to come up with a core mechanic that could be used on them – the idea being to do the standard RPG-style 200+ page rulebook. I was in the shower one day (JW’s first rule of games design: Ideas in the shower are usually good; ideas on the bog are usually bad) when I suddenly realised that the real essence of the Munchausen stories lies not in their events, but in the way they’re told – and bang, in literally ten seconds, I had the entire game. That was my first thought. My second was “I can’t stretch this to more than half a page of rules. How am I going to be able to publish it?” And then bizarrely I found this manuscript commissioned by my ancestor, John Wallis…

…which is true by the way. The note in the front of Munchausen, I mean. John and Edward Wallis really existed. They published a series of very popular games at the end of the eighteenth century and they were ancestors of mine – not direct-line forbears, but the family tree’s connected. And I didn’t know any of that until I’d been running Hogshead for a couple of years. Game design is hereditary. It’s official.

I had no idea whether Munchausen was going to be any kind of success at all, but it playtested really well and people loved the manuscript, so I decided to just throw it out and see what happened. At that point, it wasn’t a game-plan and the New Style line wasn’t dreamed of. It just seemed like a cool idea and a format that hadn’t been tried before, and I wanted to see how it did.


Everywhere I’ve looked, the games have met with great critical success. Have they been a commercial success for you, too?

I’ve been pleasantly surprised. When we launched Munchausen it looked like we were going to take a total bath on it: advance orders worldwide were for only 300 copies. Then we took it to Gen Con, sold more than 300 copies from our booth there, and the word of mouth started spreading. I owe Ken Hite a lot, actually: He spent the whole of Gen Con ‘98 telling people that they really ought to buy copies. And they did.

Munchausen’s been the runaway success, it’s about to go into its fifth language, but both Puppetland and Violence have done well too, and it’s too early to say definitely on Pantheon but I think that’s going to be huge. The profit margin on $5.95 is pretty slim, but each one does well enough to encourage me to commission more.


Greg Costik— Err… excuse me: Designer X’s Violence and John Tynes’s Power Kill both drew some fan backlash. Some have said they were games which were never meant to be played – so why did you publish them?

Very different reasons, neither of them to do with any kind of “games suck” agenda. Greg actually pitched Violence to me in 1994. When I was looking for a follow-up to Munchausen I asked him if he remembered that, and his response was the first 2000 words of the manuscript. I read it and knew I had to publish it.

MemoiresViolence isn’t a great leap forward in game design, but… well… the best analogy I can think of is Memoires, the Situationist book that was bound in coarse sandpaper. You’d put it on your bookshelf, and the sandpaper would rip into the other books – it was a book that destroyed books. Violence is an RPG that destroys RPGs. Read it and you’ll never be able to look at a dungeon-bash the same way again.

Power Kill is different, and I have to admit that it was only when it and Violence were at proof-stage that I realised how similar in outlook they are. What attracted me to PK was not its stance on violence, but its amazing design. It’s a completely new type of RPG: a meta-RPG that can fit on top or alongside any conventional RPG. And it’s just three pages long. That blew my mind. There will be other meta-RPGs, as other games writers take Tynes’s design, strip it down, and run with it. That’s New Style: showing that the existing way is not the only way; there are different ways of playing and designing these games. Violence does that too.


You’ve been extremely successful attracting some of the premier talent of the industry to the New Style line. What’s your secret?


Actually I think –­ I hope – that designers are taking each New Style title as a thrown gauntlet: “Here’s something even cooler. Beat this.” Pantheon came about because Robin (Laws) saw John (Tynes) fit two complete RPGs into 24 pages and wanted to top that. If that provokes someone into thinking they can do eight RPGs in 24 pages, and so long as those eight RPGs don’t suck, then we’d love to publish them.

Games designers, pretty much by definition, have radically weird ideas for new games. There are three things they can do with them: forget them, stick them on the web, or bring them to Hogshead. If we think the idea’s as cool as they do, we’ll give them money and publish it. Ultimately I’m enormously flattered that Greg, John and Robin let me publish their ideas. I get a huge kick out of seeing the names of people whose work I respect on the front of a Hogshead book. But New Style is not reserved for big-name designers. If John Q Newcomer has an idea for the next Munchausen in his shower tomorrow, I want to publish it.


Where do you plan to go from here?

One word: Nobilis. Nobilis is the most amazing RPG I’ve seen in years. The first edition took my breath away. As I write we’re recreating the game for its second edition into something that I Nobilis - R. Sean Borgstrom - Hogshead Gamessincerely believe will change the way that a lot of people think about RPGs. It’s going to be astonishing. Right now I can’t think of any RPGs that I’d call “literary” or “beautiful”, and very few I’d call “intelligent” or “well-written”. Nobilis is all those.

We’re going to keep on with the Warhammer and SLA Industries releases: We may want to push the boundaries, but we haven’t forgotten our roots. We’ve got a translation of a terrific French game, Bloodlust, waiting in the wings – it’s a Croc design (best known over here for creating In Nomine). Derek Pearcy, who did the American edition of InNom for SJG, is developing it for us. It’s influenced by Conan, Elric, Frazetta and way too much vin de table.

Beyond that… we’re not saying just yet. But we have plans. Oh man, yes.

Next: An Interview with John Tynes



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