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Chits, Boards and Bits – an interview with Warparty designer Larry Bogucki

I am mildly terrified by war games. With hundreds of small tokens dotted around a board (and generally not enough small plastic blokes) they generally appear to me to be the most difficult things ever created in the name of entertainment. One that’s caught my eye, however, is a Kickstarter project called Warparty. I caught up with designer Larry Bogucki to talk about the game and get his opinion on gaming in a crowd-funded world…

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So, Larry: first question! Who are you and what’s your story?

My name is Larry Bogucki. I’m 42, married and a father of two girls. I work for a large insurance company in the NorthEast United States and I’ve been playing games all my life, starting with D&D at the age of 9, back in 1978…

That’s a pretty long gaming career, Larry! What are your favourite types of games to play?

I don’t play the RPGs much at all any more. What I mostly enjoy are strategy games and wargames. I’ve always been a huge fan of chess and speed chess too. Really though, I have been working for so long and with such focus on Warparty that I haven’t had much of a chance to play much of anything else for the last several years!

Warparty is, of course, your project that you’ve currently got going on Kickstarter. Could you tell me a bit about it?

Sure. Warparty is a two to four player fantasy based wargame where the forces of evil (the Undead and Goblins) face off against the Humans and Dwarves; it’s two-on-two action. Players control large armies, conquer territory, build cities and upgrade the infrastructure of their capital cities with the ultimate goal in mind being to destroy one of their enemies’ capitals. It’s economically driven in that the more territory you control the more income you have to spend on troops – they can then be placed in any of your cities. You can also use the income to build more cities and upgrades.

There are also dungeons in Warparty that can explored. Each army has a warrior, priest and wizard hero – these are the only people who can explore dungeons and they’ll fight monsters, gaining valuable treasure if they’re successful. Heroes are also powerful fighting units in their own right and can be used in the game effectively against enemy players without ever exploring dungeons.

Each army also has its own research or technology track to unlock more powerful units. For example, the Undead can summon the Bone Dragon into the game; this is their most powerful unit, but it takes a lot of upgrades, time and resources to bring it into the game. There are ten or more different unit types in each army and more than half are unique to that army within itself. Each army very much has its own feel and flavour. It’s a game that’s played with hundreds of counters and almost two hundred cards.

Wow – it sounds pretty in depth! What kind of level would you say this is pitched at? I mean, would you say you should be a pretty experienced gamer to tackle Warparty?

Well, we’ve done Warparty demos at many conventions including at the World Boardgaming Championships where we had over sixty people give it a try. We’ve had all kinds of people play Warparty and while some folks will pick up the nuances a lot quicker than others, it can be enjoyed by anyone who likes strategy games and the fantasy genre.

So you mentioned that you’ve been working on Warparty for some time… How did the design come about? What led you to take that leap and try to get it out there?

I was inspired by Axis and Allies but I’ve always been attracted to the fantasy genre, going back to my roots with D&D. We’ve played Warparty for over a decade as a house game but never really thought we could get it published. A few years ago a number of folks who played kept encouraging me to try to get it published so we took it to some conventions and got some really good feedback from complete strangers. The best feedback they gave me was when they came back to play it a second or third time. It was then that I knew I had to see it through.

Warparty in progress!

So did you shop it around to any publishers or did you go straight to Kickstarter?

Well, we actually have a publishing contract through Lock ‘n Load Publishing.  They have published a number of games already such as All Things Zombie and World at War they do all their games through P500 or pre-order; if enough people pre-order the game at a discount then that game will actually be published.  We had about $5,000 worth of orders for Warparty directly through Lock ‘n Load before going to Kickstarter to try and get the additional funding needed for Warparty to be published.
With almost 200 cards, twice as many counters and a mounted board, Warparty is an expensive game to make but we’re hopeful that we can make it happen.  We’re currently at 75% funding through Kickstarter with just 16 days left!  It’s getting down to the wire… Warparty lives or dies in just 16 days!
How’s your Kickstarter experience been so far then? It’s got to be said that 75% with a couple of weeks left isn’t too bad! Obviously you’re looking to push it to 100% – but what are you doing to try and get to that mark? And are you confident it’ll happen?
There are a couple of third party reviews that will be coming out soon and I will have a Designer Diary up on  BoardGameGeek.com as soon as it gets approved.  I’m hoping all of those will help move the needle during this last lap.  I’m hopeful that we will get there, but I will be all nerves until it happens. There’s also two videos of game play on the Warparty Kickstarter page in case anyone you know would like to take a look!
Seriously, I reckon folks should go check it out. I’m scared by most wargames but this looks pretty awesome! What are your thoughts on Kickstarter? I find it very divisive, with a lot of people in the industry seeing it as an amazing opportunity to get games out there while others believe it to be a way of getting substandard games to market…
I think there’s probably truth in both of those view points.  The creator of Scrabble was turned down by every company he went to for publishing, so eventually he did it himself.  I think that without Kickstarter a lot of great games might not ever make it but on the other hand, I think there may be some very suspect games out there as well.  Having said that, less then half the projects on Kickstarter ever make it, so I think a lot of the lower quality games might get weeded out that way. By that same token I’ve also seen some really interesting games struggle on the site. However, I think with a little due diligence most discerning gamers can get a feel for a game on Kickstarter and get a pretty good idea as to its quality.
So what do you think pushes certain games over the hump? As you say, some pretty poor games get funded easily while potentially good ones sometimes struggle to even get noticed… 
I think that’s really the exception to the rule.  Although that happens, I think generally speaking the good games get the funding.  I don’t claim to be any sort of expert on this matter but I recently attended a Kickstarter seminar at a gaming convention I was at.  Once a project reaches 30% funding it has a 90% chance of success.  That 30% seems to be the magic number according to Kickstarter.  How they get to that 30% funding is probably a combination of many factors such as making sure you have a following prior to going live on Kickstarter, promoting your game at conventions and on social media, that kind of thing.
So when (we’re being positive here!) Warparty gets funded, what’s the plan? How long do you reckon it’ll take to turn around? And after all’s done with Warparty, what are your plans for the future?
Lock ‘n Load Games posted on our Kickstarter page that the estimated delivery date is April 2012. After Warparty I have several more projects in the back of my mind and there’s a Warparty expansion, of course.  It’ll be something low cost, an add-on to Warparty with a few new units, upgrades, spells and quests. I also have prototypes for three other games that I’ve already playtested with some success; a mafia/bootlegging game with three factions of mafia and one player acting as the either a corrupt or virtuous police force. Of the three, this got the most positive feedback.
Another game I’m thinking about making is post apocalyptic with five factions of humans trying to survive and compete against each other, although struggling against the elements is difficult enough.  It’s a card game mostly that involves trade between players, alliances and war. The game that I’m most excited about but which still needs a lot of work is a Western game for four players who take on the role of either Outlaws, Indians, Ranchers or the Town.
I enjoy games where the sides are all very different rather then mirror images.  This type of approach requires a lot of playtesting because when you have sides that are very different you can run into a lot of balance issues. One thing about Warparty, good, bad or indifferent, the sides are very different from one another and they are balanced.  They should be – we’ve playtested it for years!
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If you’d like to check out Warparty, have a look at their Kickstarter page. It’s definitely an interesting looking take on wargaming and one that I’m certainly interested in having a proper look at. With only a couple of weeks left on the campaign, here’s hoping that it gets a final burst of support and makes it to the funding goal!
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Huge Success – An interview with Portal Publishing’s Ignacy Trzewiczek

Time for another exclusive interview here on Little Metal Dog, this time with Polish designer Ignacy Trzewiczek. As well as producing some great games that we get to talk about, Ignacy is also the founder of publishing company Portal. From post-apocalyptic nightmares to the infinitely more terrifying world of fashion, they’re responsible for some truly interesting titles…

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My first question – could you tell me a little bit about yourself? What is your role at Portal and how did you get there?

It all started in 1999, many, many years ago. I am damn happy that I took a risk and escaped from University and tried to do in my life exactly what I love – work on games.

I was studying at the Technical University for four years and year after year, I was feeling that “this is not for me”. I thought that I’d be a terrible engineer, so I made a quite desperate move – I wrote an RPG adventure (for Warhammer) and sent it to a Polish RPG magazine. They liked it, published it and the adventure was choosen by readers as best piece in that issue. I was finally happy, proud of what I did and what’s more – I earned some money! So I wrote another article and that was published, chosen as best in that issue (again) and brought me more money. I did it again and again and at some point I finally realised that although I was a terrible engineer I really can write about games.

I left university, founded an RPG company and started publishing a magazine about role playing called Portal. We published bi-monthly and it was very well received in Poland. Two years later we started doing our first role playing games (like Frankenstein Factory and De Profundis). Both were translated into English, Factory was then licensed to Spain, De Profundis was licensed to Hogshead Ltd. in the UK and USA (and was then awarded a Diana Jones Award).

Then we designed the Neuroshima RPG followed by the Monastyr RPG, and then we discovered – a little bit by an accident – boardgames.

So what’s the gaming scene like in Poland? Does everyone grow up with the same games that I’m used to – Monopoly and Cluedo, for example? And what are the big titles over there now?

Modern games have only been around in Poland for a few years. The “gamers games” market is very very young. For example, the first Polish Game of the Year award was only in 2004, just a few years ago! During these past few years the market in Poland has grown extremely well – perhaps it is the best growing market in Europe. Every year more games are printed, more games are sold and more new gaming stores are opening.

Games are known mostly by gamers – it’s not as popular as in Germany, but this is changing every year for the better. The average Pole still knows only Monopoly, Scrabble or Jenga, but every single year we’re taking big steps to promote modern games and I think the future of this hobby will be strong here. We have two mainstream publishers who release games for average people but they have started to produce more modern games and are presenting them to mass market. They do a great job. We at Portal publish a quarterly magazine about boardgames, promoting gaming and writing about designer games. What’s more, games have become a bit fashionable and huge Polish institutions want to use them as education tool.

For example, our Essen release for 2011 (Pret-a-Porter) was originally published last year in Poland, produced in co-operation with the National Bank of Poland! They know that games are great tool to teach, so they helped us to create an economic strategy game to teach people about economy!

So, yes – Monopoly and similar crap is still on mass market shelves but gamers games are fighting hard to become popular and they are growing every year.

Nice! So what are Portal’s big games at the moment? I think Neuroshima Hex is your biggest outside Poland, yes?

Yes, our first international release was Neuroshima Hex at Essen 2007 and it was extremely well received. We have US editions, a French edition, a Dutch edition, an Italian one – there were many versions and many players know the game. We’re also lucky to have the Neuroshima Hex app for iOS devices which is proving very popular too. It got a few awards and is very high in Appstore rankings around the world.

In 2009 we published Stronghold and this game was a big hit for us – we received nominatons from almost all of the important boardgame awards and sold all of our copies! We then sold the license to a big publisher, Valley Games – it was all like a beautiful dream. I think we, step by step, are becoming more recognizable. We try to build a very clear picture of our company – we do good games, mix of Eurogames and Ameritrash. Neuroshima Hex is about war, Witchcraft was about war, it’s the same with Stronghold and Stronghold Undead…

Now this year we’re publishing Pret-a-Porter, a game about fashion! I strongly believe that some of our true fans will be more than confused.

That really is a very big leap! Can you tell me a little bit about Pret-a-Porter? And what led you to releasing a game about fashion? There aren’t that many other games I can think of that cover the subject.

It is a really long story. It all started in 2009. As I said earlier, we sent an offer to The National Bank of Poland. We wanted to design and produce game about the economy in co-operation with them. We knew that the Bank had an Educational Department and they want to educate young people about money. So our offer was very simple – we make great games and we want to do another great game – this time, a game about money. “We will help you educate young people,” we said. “What do you think?”

And they loved the idea.

After a year of working with the experts from The National Bank of Poland we were proud to produce a game recommended by the most important monetary institution in our country. This is a deep economic strategy game (think around the complexity of Vinhos or Brass). We designed a game that is a quite unique mix of Portal’s style (lots of interaction and cut-throat action) with very serious economic mechanisms. Players run a company that makes clothes – they buy materials, they gather projects from designers and hire workers (like Designers, Accountants, Product Managers and Models). Then they build important buildings (branded shops and offices), sign important contracts (from PR Agencies to material production factories) and once per quarter they go with their clothes to the fashion show. During the show players’ clothes are judged in four categories – PR, Trends, Quality and the Amount of clothes in the collection. Winning every category gives you a great profit.

On the one hand there is the economic aspect of buying materials, hiring workers, paying salaries, calculating costs, and on the other hand you have a bloody battle at the runway show – players aim to have the best PR (by for example hiring the hottest models), to be Trendy (which can be done by opening a Designer office), best Quality (buying the most expensive materials) and biggest collection (by having most Projects that are in the same style). You calculate money and you calculate which of these four factors you win, which your opponents have taken (and what you can do to take them down).

Here in Poland the game was published in 2010. We were a Game of the Year nominee, we’ve sold almost all copies and now we’re working hard to prepare the second edition for Essen with revised rules, a few new cards and polish up the balance of some cards. We are very excited about this release. And the fashion theme? Well, we had huge mech on the cover in 2007. We had orcs on the cover in 2009, we had skeleton on the cover in 2010… This time we have a hot model on the cover. I like it!

Ha! I don’t think it can ever be said that Portal isn’t willing to take a risk!

Thank you!

You guys are coming up with some great games with interesting ideas – I particularly like Zombiaki II, a simple concept that is brilliantly expressed: it feels like a gruesome version of Plants vs Zombies [a defence game available on iOS, Xbox Live, PC… oh, and an upcoming boardgame too]! Where do you find you draw your inspiration from?

I designed the original Zombiaki in 2002 at dinner at my mother-in-law’s house! I think many of us know the situation – you go for dinner, it’s a boring afternoon sitting at the table and doing nothing interesting. I took the All Flesh Must Be Eaten RPG with me to have a good read after dinner and I was really impressed. I loved the book and I quickly started to make notes – I drew three lines with zombies coming toward a human-built barricade. I wrote down some very first basic ideas – every turn zombies go forward, after shooting at a zombie they’re forced to step back, etc.

Next day I came to the office with my notes, I made the very first prototype and it worked! Just like that! I spent a few months designing cards and balancing the game but this very first simple draft of rules was good. We published the game in 2003 and it became extremely popular in Poland – a simple, fun card game for 15 minutes of play. In 2010 we published Zombiaki II, the English language sequel. [Which you really should play if you get the chance – review coming soon! M]

Are there any other designers that impress you?

I am very impressed by Eric M. Lang and his work. His great card games are one of my favourites! He has a great skill in making players make decisions all the time, every moment during game is a tough decision. This is great! The Game of Thrones CCG is a masterpiece!

I’m inclined to agree. Creating a good card game is difficult enough, but one like Game of Thrones is a rarity! Now, before I let you go, are you allowed to tell us about anything else you have coming up? Obviously there’s Pret-a-Porter but do you have anything else planned?

I’ve just finished working on The New Era, a standalone expansion for 51st State – that will be released for Essen this year. This is a little anniversary for us at Essen – it’s our fifth year of exhibiting there – so we plan to have a few surprises for our fans that we hope to see there! I also need to read a few books and watch a few movies to start researching for my new game based on Robinson Crusoe. It’s a book that I’ve always loved and I’ve wanted to design a game inspired by it for many years…

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More information on Portal Games is available over at their website which can be found at http://www.portalpublishing.eu/ – Thanks to Ignacy for answering my questions, and seriously, you’ve got to at least try out Zombiaki II!

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Tales from the Fireside – Damsels and Dragons, Part Two

Another rainy evening, another minion shows up at my door. He pushes another scroll into my hand. I offer for him to come inside, to warm himself or at least get a moment’s respite from the shower. He grunts, turns away and walks into the wall of water. I crack open the seal. Campfire has done his duty once again.

(Part one of this interview can be found here.)

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It sounds like they rely more on their own adventure-building than they do published materials.

“Actually, I was recently made fun of for doing just that,” says Liz. “I miss my old D&D setting sometimes.”

Which was?

“Made from scratch. I drew up the map in my notebook before an 8am Latin class in college. I had fun creating a pantheon, different cities and regional characteristics, history – stuff like that.”

That sounds like a lot of work.

“RPGs can be very intimidating,” says Lexx. “I was afraid of them for a long time. It just seemed like too much information to understand.”

So how did she get over that intimidation?

“I guess by being thrown into a situation where everyone was willing to help me learn and there wasn’t a lot of pressure on knowing exactly what to do,” she says. “Friendly hints like, ‘Hey Lexx, your character can swim. Why don’t you go check that out?’ ‘How do I do that?’ ‘You roll x die and . . .’” She trails off.

“I’ve found a lot of people who didn’t have friendly groups when they started usually don’t stick with the hobby long.”

“My first campaign was AD&D,” says Liz. “My DM made my character and gave me a brief overview of the character sheet. I remember asking, ‘What the hell do all these numbers even mean?’”

“Yes, that definitely sounds familiar.”

“I think the learning process is more practical than book-based. You can read up on the rules on your own, and some do, but usually the group is ready to teach you.”

Again, the interview takes a turn for the conversational. This time Liz and Lexx talk about the horrors they’ve encountered in past groups – not barrow wights or slippery monsters from beyond the realms of nightmare but players who’ve introduced their significant others to role-playing. These introductions seem to follow a set pattern: Boy joins group, boy is favoured by their GMing partner and showered with gold, XP, loot and what have you; the couple break up messily and the boy’s character is devoured by a soul-scorching demon. It’s an unpleasant shred of the real world creeping into the land of fantasy.

“Some part of your personality is always going to leak into the character,” says Liz.

“This is going to sound kind of creepy, but sometimes my characters start becoming part of me,” says Lexx. “There was this one incident where I got mad at the therapist I was seeing and I started acting like one of my characters in mannerisms and language. It took a few minutes to realize what I was doing and stop.”

“It’s because if you have it in you to think of that for a character, it’s there for you to pull out in other situations. I’ve got an NPC in my game who I know embodies certain traits of my own: ambition, a more masculine approach to things, a certain discomfort with showing any vulnerability. I took traits familiar to me and fiddled with them.”

But not everything in role-playing games comes from books or from within the players themselves. What about the setting the atmosphere for the gaming table? What about props, music and mood lighting – do Liz and Lexx ever use those

“Whenever possible,” says Liz. “It adds to the fun. I like to have a soundtrack–I keep different playlists for different scenes–e.g., one for a fight scene, one for a tragic scene, one for when the scene is wacky enough to merit ‘Yakety Sax’.”

One for ‘ruddy mysterious’?

“Props are kind of fun,” says Lexx. “Like being able to hand out antiqued pieces of paper when you find a note instead of just being told what it says.”

“Lexx is actually going to help make a prop for my next one-shot.”

“I’m recording a few answering machine messages,” she says. “This way they’re not just hearing me do different voices.

“Actually Campfire,” she continues. “if you want to make a filler message you’re welcome to.”

Did I record the message? You bet your Amulet of Retributive Healing I did. I cussed my way through numerous takes before settling on a couple I thought lent dignity both to myself and the guy I was pretending to be. Even though I was only hashing out a couple of lines, I wanted to get it right. For those brief moments I wasn’t Campfire Burning, long-winded thirtysomething malcontent – I was Dexter, a trans-Atlantic grunger who’d vanished into a world filled with magic. In a single recording session I’d caught some of Liz and Lexx’s fever.

(And later, after Liz had run the game, she got back to me about the reaction to my performance: “They kept saying ‘An English accent? Something has to be up with that.”)

I glanced at the clock. It was getting late. For them, I mean; for me it was getting early. Time to wrap things up.

Of all the places RPGs have taken them and all the characters they’ve met, what are their absolute favourites?

“My favorite character of all time was Odion,” says Lexx, referring to the character she’d spoken about at the start of the interview. “He was a ninja-type character with a hell of a lot of issues, a sort of a cross between all of the worst things I’m attracted to and the merchant from Resident Evil 4. I like playing really obnoxious, apathetic, generally mean-spirited characters that are good at murdering people, but also have redeeming qualities. Don’t ask what that says about me.”

“My favorite moments are times when the players have come together to create a great story,” says Liz, obviously a woman after my own heart. “One was when a player character snapped and suddenly went to war with the city. He had been courting Maharej (my character) so when the group went to fight him it was really dramatic. He was about to strike her down, saying, “You were always weak,” when another character came up from behind and killed him. It was tense and thrilling–the romance, the arguments, the loss–and we all came up with it together.”

“Augh,” she says, choked. “Now I miss the group.”

I say I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make her feel bad.

“Nah,” she says. “This always happens. As soon as you put more than one gamer in the room, they’re swapping stories for hours.”

Which is the wonderful thing about role-playing games. I don’t know if my game will work. I don’t know if I have the talent or perseverance to pull off such a thing. But if I and the other players have even a fraction of the fun Liz and Lexx have had over the years they’ve gamed together, it’ll be worthwhile.

As the conversation comes to an end they talk about the ‘season finales’ of their RPG campaigns and the gifts they’ve bought for one another, to celebrate.

“We got t-shirts on our last session,” says Lexx. “The girl who played Stone made rag dolls of our characters and distributed them to everyone.”

Which says it all, really. These games might be little more than pencil, paper and imagination, but I’ll tell you what: You don’t get your own customised t-shirts after a playing game on Xbox.

“Well,” says Liz. “You get shirts with your avatar, I guess.”

Shut up, Liz.

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Tell Campfire Burning your own tales. Email him: campfire@littlemetaldog.com

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Tales from the Fireside – Damsels & Dragons, Part One

Campfire may be half a world away, but he recently sent a minion to my door clutching a scroll. Scrawled upon the parchment was the following…

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So I’ve decided to run a role-playing game.

It’s not a real role playing game you understand. There are no stats, no dice rolls, no characters or monsters to speak of – at least, not yet. It’s so free-form it’s almost ephemeral. It’s little more than two people hunkering down by the campfire, telling stories.

Which is just how I like my RPGs, really. I’ve attempted to roll characters and conjure worlds so many times before. “It’ll be fun!” I tell myself. “Or at least, it’ll make a nice story for next week’s Tales.”

Three minutes later and I’m throttling myself to alleviate dice-induced boredom. Oh, I know it’s not a problem with the game. Maybe if I had a party to adventure with and a kind, understanding games master it’d all seem worthwhile. But sitting here in the Campfire treehouse mansion I feel like an amateur fortune teller throwing bones and not understanding their cryptic results.

If I’m going to be a role-player extraordinaire I’m going to need to call in the big guns. To help in my quest I’ve enlisted my good friends Liz and Lexx – the Trinny and Susannah of RPG makeovers – who are veritable fountains of knowledge on all things White Wolf and Wizards of the Coast. They know everything there is to know about every facet of role-playing games…

…except for live action role-playing, or LARPing.

“We aren’t LARPers,” says Liz, coolly.

“WE DON’T DO THAT HERE,” Lexx adds in block capitals.

Okay, I’m sorry. Don’t eat my face.

I cornered them online and coerced them into an interview which may or may not contain fevered elaboration. But that’s all right, isn’t it? I mean, tall tales – that’s what we’re all here for.

Anyway, let’s start at the very beginning. How did two young ladies who should have known better end up getting into role-playing games?

“This is a funny story,” says Lexx. “I was friends with a girl who was trying to impress a guy in her little brother’s gaming group. She didn’t want to join it alone so she roped me into going with her. The relationship never happened, she quit after a month, but by that point I was hooked.”

“A girl role-playing to impress a boy is probably the most ironic thing I’ve heard in a long time.” says Liz, who got into role-playing games through ‘nerdy friends’.

“I really liked the whole creating a world idea, talking with others to solve problems and killing things, whereas she was mostly using it as a way to spend time with people. I think she got a boyfriend in the end, but don’t quote me on that.”

For Lexx, Dungeons and Dragons was her ‘gateway drug’. For Liz it was White Wolf, the publishers behind Vampire: The Masquerade and the World of Darkness game series. “I found my first game through the girl who later stole my boyfriend,” she elaborates. ”It took place in those glass conference rooms they have at the library. I was a motorcycling vampire with sexy lips, as I recall. And a falcon.”

A sexy falcon?

“Oh, adolescence,” she sighs, obviously pining for the days of imaginary bike leathers and microfiche. I never realised RPG sessions could be so filled with tragic romance.

“Gamers are like actors,” says Lexx. “They love drama.”

Do they think there’s a lot of crossover between RPGs and acting?

“Yes, absolutely. Most of us were also in theatre,” says Liz.

“When I got to college,” Lexx interjects, “and we were trying to recruit friends to play, it was a lot easier to convince the actors than the non-actors.”

“I think there’s a certain appeal to one’s creative side,” says Liz.

I take it they’re more into the role-play aspect of these games than the combat and dice rolls?

“Yes,” says Lexx. “But combat has its time and place. Not to mention sometimes it’s fun to just ruin something.” She grins devilishly for a moment. “It just helps if there’s a motivation for it.”

At this point Liz and Lexx fall into one of their story-telling interludes, something they do quite often. Like pinballs they bounce and spark off one another, and when they get caught in reminisces of adventures long past it can be difficult to pull them back to the present.

“I still hold Stone and Odion killing Silhouette as one of my favorite sessions ever,” says Lexx, misty-eyed.

Whoah whoah whoah – who, who and who?

Together they tell a yarn that unspooled over a protracted campaign for Exalted, a White Wolf game about ancient gods and high adventure. The adventurers were plagued by an antagonistic duo – one, a little yappy ninja, the other a silent lunk reminiscent of Pyramid Head from the Silent Hill games. As the story goes, the two of them kidnapped one of the party members and trapped her in a tower.

“We went to go rescue her and he (“Tears Become Silhouette, the little talker,” Liz elucidates) decided to pick a fight,” says Lexx. “The scrappy ninja took a shot at us when we were trying to free our other player character and PCs Stone and Odion just ruined him.”

How many sessions did this take place over?

“I want to say he showed up randomly over a couple of months, but the murder took place in one session.” A beatific, time-lost smile spreads across her face, “One glorious session.” I half suspect that if she had a cigarette, she’d be smoking it right now.

Liz’s original hope was for Lexx and the other players to kill the larger of the two villains, sending the shorter one into a murderous rage. A few impetuous decisions and successful rolls of the dice later and her plans had been completely derailed. Not that she didn’t have back-up, of course. A good GM is always prepared.

“Killing the other guy caused me to branch off into a different murderous rampage.” she says, and shrugs.

“It also resulted in another bad guy who’d harassed us forever losing his arm,” says Lexx. “My favorite NPC got kind of messed up while my character was off killing this other guy. We weren’t sure whether or not he would make it. I was very upset by this and raided the liquor cabinet.”

In the game?

“It drove Lexx to drink,” says Liz.

So, not in the game.

“NPC friends are a great way to get to the players,” she continues. “Even the more action-oriented, kick-in-the-door types can get upset if their little sidekick is threatened.”

Yikes. So what kind of prep-work would be involved in creating a story like that?

“It depends on the GM,” says Lexx. “There are those who have scripted descriptions written out, and fully statted characters. I knew one guy who made a plot tree for some sort of social intrigue game. But there’s also a certain amount of just being able to come up with stuff on the spot if things don’t go how you planned. It’s great having a plan and games are usually better if you know where they’re headed, but it’s necessary to be able to answer the crazy questions you never thought of when a player asks them.”

“If Lexx and Anna hadn’t killed Silhouette, I can’t recall for the life of me what he would have done originally,” says Liz. “I just remember thinking, ‘Wait–they left the kids and mortal friend unattended, and the other guy is angry.’ I improvised from there.”

She continues: “I have ideas sketched for characters, and ideas for any major events or cool moments I want to happen – major events like ‘Siceon’s mother will be assassinated’ and cool moments like ‘They’ll see this guy fill a great hall with bloody writing’“ Quick thinking is necessary, in my experience.”

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Part Two of this piece will be published on Thursday. Contact Campfire Burning via email – campfire@littlemetaldog.com

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Interview: Abraham Neddermann, the Dice Creator

People get very funny about their dice. Some believe that they’re imbued with some mystic power. I have a friend who will regularly throw away d20s if he gets a bunch of poor rolls because he honestly thinks it’s cursed. If he got his hands on some of the dice created by Abraham Neddermann from Dice Creator though? I’d steal them off him. These miniature pieces of art are amazing – and totally usable. I recently caught up with Abraham to talk about his work.

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Let’s begin with the dice that you create. What first inspired you to make these wonderful things?

A friend wanted a gift for another friend of his, a 13 sided die. At the time I already owned a mill and a lathe, so I offered to make it (although it was a pain to do!). After that, I got curious about how I could make a D3, D5, D7, D9… pretty much all the odd sided dice. I know I could watch tutorials and videos online, but having things in your hands is always better than just seeing pictures. One thing led to another… a big collector saw some on eBay (as I didn’t “need” all the ones I had made) and thanks to his purchase and a few others, I wondered if this could become a viable job, or at least something I could do to pay for my hobbies!

I must add that until recently, I didn’t see it as more than a hobby (or at least a way to delay the search for a “real” job). However, lately, I was thinking that if made an effort I might be able make it into a job. And that’s where I am now!

Strange and beautiful

So what’s the process you have to go through to make a die? Is it all designed on a computer then you let technology take over or is it more hands-on than that?

It depends on the die but they all require handcrafting in one way or another. For the printed dice I can just print the images to transfer paper using a heat press, but then I must carefully “sand” each face with a nail brush and water to finish them. My wrists always hurt after that!

For the laser dice it’s a bit easier. You do the design on the computer and then the machine spends between 5 and 20 minutes doing each face. However, the machine can’t change the faces, so once it finishes on I have to pick up the die, change it to the next face and start again. Once the whole things is finished, I then have to paint the die. It’s not too much trouble and only takes a few minutes – then I wait for it to dry and give it a slight sanding to finish off.

The metal inlaid dice are without question the most troublesome. I have to transfer the designs to the brass sheet and etch it with acid, keeping an eye on it to not over-etch and ruin the work. Meanwhile, each die face is sanded really flat and then, using heat and skill, I melt the metal into the die. It’s a slow process but the results are worth it.

As for my lathe and mill, they are not computer controlled, so I spend a lot of time in front of the machines! Let’s say that I have machines to help me do the job, but ultimately all dice require a human touch in one place or another. It’s hard work, but I’m ok with that.

These dice you’re playing with are not made as a big series, but are part of a limited quantity made by a fellow gamer, an artisan. It’s like having handmade dice bags or your own homemade dice tower. Of course, that makes them way more expensive than a bunch of standard dice, but I want people to feel that someone saw the birth of that die, then carefully wrapped it with soft cloth and sent it your way for you to take over their RPG life.

Élegance (ridiculously lovely)

Actually, I did want to ask about that – how limited are they? Do you have a stock built up or is each one created individually on demand? 
Except for when it’s a specific “Limited edition” series (like the Space shuttle dice, where there is only one die for each year the space program was active), the actual limit on the dice is about either ten lasered dice a day, or ten printed dice, or five metal machined dice or 5 metal inlaid dice – but that is if I’m working at high speed (especially with the metal inlaid and metal machined ones).
My production rates compared to big companies are abysmal!As for having stock, I tried in the beginning and was able to do so because I had few types of dice. However, as time has passed (and now that I have 120+ different designs) it’s not feasible for me to have stock as the materials get expensive and the shop doesn’t make enough money to cope with that. However, for most orders, I can make them in one or two days so people doesn’t have to wait too long. That way I can arrange suplies as needed (divert power to shields!) and I don’t have unsold dice that might never go out. I think it’s a fairly common practice with artisans and craftsmen.
What’s your favourite creation so far? Which one have you done that (when you’ve finished it) you took a step back and thought “Perfect”?
Easy: Structural Integrity.

Structural Integrity - an ACTUAL work of art

Not only is it a die that looks awesome, but it’s fabrication is complex (drilling the die with walls so thin is quite labour intensive) so each time I make one it’s a special moment. I always get the newborn into the sunlight and appreciate it for a while, then I put it in the protective box and off to the step-owner it goes.
I love how you see each one of them as a child, being set free into the world! That die is utterly beautiful, it must be said. Would you say that is the hardest one to make? Are there any others that are challenging?
Hmmmm, yes, I would say that it’s the hardest to make. Certainly the hardest that I have actually made more than one of, or I’m willing to try.The hardest one ever by far was this one:

Looks innocuous, actually evil

Not only did I underestimate the cost (a lot!), but it also proved extremely challenging – check this out:

Don't try this at home. Not that you all have this kind of gear.

At that moment the milling head and the rotary table were less than 5mm away from each other. That is a very uncomfortable situation. But as I said, that is an exception – one which I am never willing to go through again!

A challenging die – other than Structural Integrity – is the carbon fiber one. You can read about it here: http://www.dicecreator.com/2010/02/05/carbon-fiber-aluminium-die-2nd-part/

It is an elaborate process, but at least this one is quite enjoyable.

These are incredible! The amount of work you put into them is evident, but even you must have come up against a challenge you couldn’t complete. Have there been any times you’ve just had to give up on an idea? Are there any dice that are just plain impossible to make? 
 
A challenge I couldn’t complete? Depending on how do you interpret that, there have been a few, or none.As always, money determines what we can and can’t do.
Once I was asked to do a Structural Integrity (and it’s brother Élegance) in titanium and coloured “carbon fiber” (it’s really fiberglass, but for people to imagine it, let’s say that). The fiber had to be water cut and the titanium was not cheap. So, a set of four dice was going to go for €800 (or perhaps a bit more, I can’t remember how much. It was expensive, but could be done).
 
Another time, I was asked to insert a magnet inside a D6, and leave it with no traces of modification but at €130 it was too expensive for the person. At least this one could also be done.However, now that you mention it… yes, there is a set of dice I was asked for that -even now – I could not make: a Tungsten RPG dice set, all platonic solids. To machine tungsten you must use special grinding wheels and tools which I don’t have. You don’t use cutters! Of course, if I were paid enough, I could buy the necessary tools – but you would be NUTS to pay for that…Getting in touch with reality though, I prefer to just stay on the boundaries of what gamers like (and what I can acquire). From time to time I still like to go wild and spend a couple of days just creating… One day I’ll come up with my “Jewel In The Crown”, a full carbon fiber D6 with no visible seams made in a single, hollow piece. Ahh, dreaming is so fun!
 
It’ll happen one day, I’m sure! So, where can people get their hands on these wonderful things? And how would they go about asking for special commissions? 
 
I have a little shop on Ebay : http://stores.ebay.com/Unconventional-Dice – In the future I’ll have a standalone webshop on the same address as the blog itself. When it launches I’ll make sure to promote it as much as I can, once we’re about to move from one shop to the other. The best way is actually not bother about which shop is active – just go to the blog and click on the “cart” icon. It will send you automatically to the active shop, whichever it is.For special commissions, there is a small guide on this post: http://www.dicecreator.com/2010/05/31/custom-dice-prices/
 
But everyone is welcome to write me an email to dicecreator@gmail.comand ask anything they want to know, to get a quote or just to say hi. Just remember: I’m an artisan, I can’t do tons of dice! There are plenty of big companies to do that…

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As an aside, Abraham also has a group of Facebook (of course) where he’s giving away three prizes. If you’re looking to get something special for nothing, have a look: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Unconventional-Dice/118705028170406 – or just go and buy one of his stunning creations!

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