Geometry of Chance is a new series I’m doing talking to RPG designers who work outside the ‘traditional’ Fantasy RPG tropes. I’ve got a few in the bank but earlier this week I found out David A Hill, of the excellent Maschine Zeit games, had $1200 dollars lifted from his cashbox at GenCon. As a result, I’ve moved the interview with David up to start the series. There’ll be a link to his site at the end of the interview and, if you can please help him out.
How did you make the transition from player to designer?
I come from a school of thinking that every good RPG GM is a designer. I can’t remember ever having played a game right out of the box, book, or whatever. I always tweak and tinker with things, to deliver the kinds of experiences and stories I want. I don’t think this is too uncommon, ‘house rules’ are just proto game design.
I decided to do it professionally after I’d done some freelance work for a few companies, and felt that I could deliver the kinds of experiences I wanted to players, since they didn’t really exist by default.
What designers influence you?
Oh hell. Tons? Matthew McFarland, Chuck Wendig, Justin Achilli, Wood Ingham, Benjamin Baugh, they all influenced me earlier in my career. It was people like Justin Achilli that made me feel like this hobby could potentially be for me in the first place. On the design side, Vincent and Meg Baker, Ben Lehman, Robert Bohl, John Wick, Rob Donoghue, Jared Sorensen, Jeremy Keller, Cam Banks, Josh Roby… If I’ve liked someone’s game, they’ve influenced me.
Farewell to Fear looks at a lot of legacy concepts in fantasy roleplaying and turns them on their head. Tell us a little about the background and why it differs from other fantasy RPGs?
The assumption in most fantasy is that you’re coming in to immerse yourself in the world the writers provide. We provide a world, but we expect you to break it. We want you to change things. We want you to kick down the walls and make it your own. For this reason, we made the whole thing with anecdotes, quotations, and other bits that aren’t necessarily reliable. We want you to be able to ignore and change whatever you want, without having to fuss too much on the back end. You can have as many or as few ripples as you want within the setting.
Also, we never present those legacy concepts as acceptable or romanticized. If sexism (or racism, or classism, et cetera) exists in part of our setting, it’s a problem you can fix. It’s not a barrier of entry or a hard truth of the game world.
Tell us a little about Maschine Zeit. What influenced it’s design?
Maschine Zeit is sci-fi horror in the vein of Alien, Event Horizon, and Pandorum. It’s a game about people in a place they should not be, being murdered by things they can’t hope to understand.
Horror games influenced its design. I grew up playing Vampire, Ravenloft, Call of Cthulhu, so on, and so forth. No book, no GM, nothing could scare me the way I scare myself. So I wanted a game that gave me the power to do that. I wanted to give the world building tools to the players instead of the GM, so they could bring up the problems, and make things as personal as possible.
When we talked at GenCon you mentioned that Flatpack was optimistic post-apocalyptic roleplaying. How so?
Well, it’s a no-violence game, for one. For another, we never bother telling you how bleak or desolate the world is. We just tell you how you can go about fixing things and rebuilding civilization. Our apocalypse is vague; maybe people starved, maybe there was war, but we don’t harp on that. The whole game is about making something new and fun and interesting. So we don’t bother with all the negativity. We’re doing cool things!
Your micro RPGs are a new addition to the line. What was behind the decision to put out these small scale, big idea games?
A lot of times, we come up with ideas that can’t really stand up to a year’s development time, marketing, and a huge push for production. It’s just not realistic for us to do these types of games as frequently as we want, and honestly, we can’t put a ton of money and work into things that might not be very successful. This is our job, our livelihood. But we really love some of the ideas we’ve come up with, and we wanted an excuse to make them happen. This micro game project not only gives us that excuse, but it lights a fire under our asses to make more games that might not otherwise exist.
What’s your favorite one?
So far, Fuck Armageddon. I like being loud, brash, and doing games that take no preparation whatsoever. But we have about 22 games to make, so who knows which one’s going to end up being my favorite?
You’ve been a huge proponent of Kickstarter. What’s next for you there?
We have about three games we intend on using Kickstarter for over the course of the next six months or so. I’m not sure which will be ready first. One’s an Apocalypse World hack about super brilliant teens in a prep school full of mad scientists and shit. Very weird game. One’s a twist on the Flatpack engine that’s inspired by How To Train Your Dragon, it’s basically a kid-friendly miniatures game. I also have a Final Fantasy inspired steam plus magic adventure game I’m excited for. It just comes down to which happens first.
How do you think Kickstarter affects the industry?
Amazingly. It helps people make things they otherwise couldn’t, and it helps gauge interest before a project hits the shelves. These are gamechangers for RPGs, because RPGs are so risky.
What’s next from Machine Age?
One of the three things above is our next full game, depending on a few things. We also have a re-release of Maschine Zeit we’re thinking of doing. It’ll feel much more like a board game, at least packaging-wise. It’s highly simplified and geared toward accessible play.