13th Age, a few days ago I started a short series about this new RPG by Rob Heinsoo, Jonathan Tweet and the artist Lee Moyer. Friends of mine and followers of this blog know, usually I am not a huge fan of the typical Dungeons & Dragons gaming style.
As a fan of games like Trail of Cthulhu, Ashen Stars and the cool new Night’s Black Agents by Pelgrane Press I hesitated for a while before I bought the pre-order. Honestly, I did it only because I like many other publications by the authors. Ars Magica, Feng Shui, Everway and Over The Edge are in my opinion much cooler than any edition of the original roleplaying game by TSR and Wizards of the Coast and I think, I played them all except the current clone Pathfinder.
After some articles and forum discussions on the internet about 13th Age I was so curious. I just bought it to know what they developed on the base of the D &D classic. A lame rehash or something different, something creative?
I feared they created another Pathfinder. Luckily, I was totally wrong. Instead they did a comprehensive and personal interpretation of the well-known d20 ingredients and spiced them up with their own helpful gaming experiences and ideas.
13th Age is for me the first D & D variant I proactively want to be a gamemaster and/or player! I can probably do no greater compliment. During the Kickstarter for the first supplement 13 True Ways I asked for an interview and here you can read their answers.
obskures.de: Let us start with a personal introduction and your gaming experiences.
Jonathan Tweet: My dad was an English professor at a Midwest college that was an early hotbed of roleplaying. In 1977, when I was 12, one of his students showed me the big games of D&D and Empire of the Petal Throne that she and her friends were involved in. One guy was a 21st level illusionist, and he wore a cloak in real life. Larping was still years in the future, and we thought he was a freak.
In my first D&D session, I was the DM. We played a lot of D&D. My second RPG was one I designed. I also played a large number of RPGs, including classics like RuneQuest and Call of Cthulhu. In college, I met Mark Rein*Hagen, and we had big ideas about what roleplaying games could be. After college, we founded a company to publish games, starting with Ars Magica. That started my career of trying to create new stories in roleplaying games. Whimsy Cards, Over the Edge, and Everway all served that purpose. The prospect of designing 13th Age with Rob appealed to me in large part because it offered the opportunity to bring story gaming to d20 gaming.
I ran a lot of D&D before I briefly gave up on gaming in 1982. I was persuaded to play a friend’s Call of Cthulhu game. What a revelation that game was – so different from the culture that had grown up around D&D where I was in the Washington DC suburbs. This wasn’t about minmaxing geekery, it was about character!
I started up a collaborative story-telling game I called Lawyers, Guns and Money. A wild mix of everything I loved, I ran it for 10 years and with 3 overlapping groups of remarkable players. I also began playing LARPs, delighting in their improvisational aspects. I met my dear friend Keith Baker and countless other collaborators in LARPs – even teaming up with Deities and Demigods editor Lawrence Schick (Jeeves to my Bertram Wooster). Eventually I went to work with Keith and Lawrence (and designers Ken Ralston, Andy Looney, Zeb Cook, et al.) at an unlamented company called Magnet Interactive, where I did concept work, illustration, storyboards, and UI design. I also played Runequest, Shadowrun and Over the Edge.
That led into a start-up called Digital Addiction and a game called Sanctum. I learned so much during my start-up years – eventually becoming Producer and Executive Producer in addition to my art, art direction and game design duties. When that company’s sale to a German start-up failed at the last minute when the Euro tanked in 1999, I took half my team to Electronic Arts. When the bottom fell out in 2000, I was glad to have kept my freelance skills sharp. I did artwork for HeroQuest, Game of Thrones, Nobilis, Axis & Allies, and a host of other fine games. Keith Baker and I wrote, designed, and illustrated half of the Over the Edge sourcebook At Your Service. Later, I added a few pieces to Gloom and was lucky to help him with Eberron (though it took years before I was allowed to make the maps). I was one of the 2 artists brought in-house to design 4th Edition D&D. It should have been a dream job. It wasn’t.
I’ve been working on branding for roleplaying convention Ambercon NW for the better part of a decade and it’s a weekend I look forward to all year.
I also recently concluded a long game of Exalted run by Daniel Garrison, and need to talk to White Wolf about publishing some of the art I made for that game.
My Kickstarter campaign for The Doom That Came to Atlantic City earlier this year was a great success, and I look forward to holding the final game in my hands.
13th Age and another amazing (but still secret) game from Fire Opal Media are the games I’m most excited about at present!
Rob Heinsoo: I found a Lowry’s Hobbies ad in the back of Boy’s Life magazine when my family lived in Herbornseelbach Germany in the early 70’s. I started ordering and playing wargames: my first was Fight in the Skies, featuring WWI fighter planes. I ordered Dungeons & Dragons in 1974 when we got back to the USA. I ran games for my sixth-grade friends in Kansas using half-understood mechanics, filling in with melee rules from Napoleonic skirmish wargames when we couldn’t understand the combat tables.
I first started meeting gamers whom I hadn’t taught when we moved to Oregon a couple years later. I played most of the early games — my favorites as a kid were probably Bunnies & Burrows, Tunnels & Trolls, Melee/Wizard, Lou Zocchi’s Knights of the Round Table and McEwan Miniatures’ Star Guard, a sci-fi miniatures game.
In high school I got involved with the Alarums & Excursions fanzine put out by Lee Gold, thanks to a mention in the back of the Arduin Grimoire. The games I liked most then, Runequest, Champions, and Arduin, got a lot of attention in A&E. I started contributing and therefore got to know a lot of people who ended up writing games or owning game companies.
I started working professionally in the game industry just about the time the Internet came into common use. Jobs at Daedalus and Chaosium and A-Sharp and Wizards of the Coast followed, along with many periods of freelancing and work on everything from collectible card games about soccer to roleplaying games about Hong Kong action movies and computer games I mostly can’t talk about yet.
obskures.de: What was the first role playing book you owned?
Lee Moyer: The Dungeons & Dragons Basic boxed set. But the first Deities and Demigods book was the first book I really loved in toto. The Erol Otus Lovecraft illustrations, those wild Jeff Dee Elric (and Egypt, and…) drawings, and the Jim Roslov Finns really inspired me. And the Dave Trampier illustrations in the first Monster Manual – pure gold in black and white!
obskures.de: What does a typical working day look like? What do you do, when you are not working on 13th Age?
Lee Moyer: I’ve just finished Check These Out, a 2013 literary pin-up calendar showing my take on the work of Ray Bradbury, George R. R. Martin, Charlaine Harris and Neil Gaiman for the charity Worldbuilders.
I’ve illustrated book covers for Michael Swanwick, Philip Jose Farmer, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Michael Bishop, Kim Newman and Mark Hodder.
Film industry work I’ve done includes HP Lovecraft; Fear of the Unknown, the poster for Call of Cthulhu and the covers for two boxed sets of Laurel & Hardy films from 20th Century Fox.
I’ve illustrated theater posters for Stephen Sondheim, Tori Amos, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen King, and Andre 3000.
And occasionally I get win something splendid (like last year’s Chesley award!).
I also read (currently Stephen King’s On Writing), travel and play different kinds of games (such as Anagrams or Scrabble).
Rob Heinsoo: As the lead designer for Fire Opal Media I’m involved to some extent in all our games, tabletop and electronic. I also still design some games freelance, notably card games like Epic Spell Wars from Cryptozoic. I’ve got at least one other freelanced card game coming out in 2013.
Other gaming includes an upcoming sci-fi spaceship campaign I’ll get to play in instead of running. Miniatures games I’m always fond of, but don’t play enough. My favorites are DBA and the newer SAGA skirmish game from Studio Tomahawk.
I read, write stories, socialize, play on two soccer teams, and blog at robheinsoo.blogspot.com, sometimes about 13th Age.
obskures.de: 13th Age has in my opinion the potential to be the best incarnation of the worlds oldest role playing game since the original Red Box of Dungeons & Dragons. What is the story behind your interpretation of this classic game? Is there any relation to the success of the Pathfinder RPG by Paizo and the demise of the 4th. Edition?
Jonathan Tweet: When I worked on 3rd Edition, I learned to love D&D. The team tried to return to the adventurous feel of 1st Edition, as an antidote to the generic vibe of 2nd. This return to the roots was a big part of the edition’s success. Another big advance was how customizable your character was. Fourth Edition, however, didn’t emphasize the stuff that’s always been cool about D&D. It featured cool new stuff. The Player’s Handbook had dragon people but not half-orcs. Fourth Ed also limited how much you could customize your character. People who gave 4th Ed an honest shot often liked it because it got a lot of things right, but it didn’t feel like D&D to many of them. Pathfinder met those players’ needs with an improved version of 3rd Ed, and it’s been a big success. 13 Age itself is, according to our publisher, a “love letter” to D&D. If we live up to the potential you see in us, it’s because of the love.
obskures.de: Why should a Dungeons & Dragons/Pathfinder fan buy your game and why should an ignorant “of this gaming system” and it’s typical clones spend her/his money on your design?
I would buy it for the inspiring game designer comments (like about “failing forward”). They are great in my humble opinion.
Jonathan Tweet: If you play D&D, Pathfinder, a retro clone, or some other d20-style game, 13th Age will be an eye-opener. It takes the game you love, livens up combat, and supercharges the story. If you want to keep paying your current game, then 13th Age is full of good combat rules and story rules that you can steal.
For other gamers, they should know that 13th Age is designed to let players customize their characters and even the campaign. That means they can turn the campaign into their favorite campaign ever.
obskures.de: Why did you use Kickstarter for 13 True Ways and not for the yet unpublished 13th Age? This looks a bit strange from the customer perspective?
Rob Heinsoo: Our publisher, Pelgrane Press, asked us not to use Kickstarter for 13th Age, mainly because they’d been burnt by a Kickstarter project that never surfaced. Once we’d pushed 13th Age firmly into the ‘actually almost finished’ column, Pelgrane felt better about getting associated with another Kickstarter project. And in fact they have followed up with two Kickstarter campaigns of their own.
obskures.de: What is the best feature of 13th Age and what is the most critical?
Jonathan Tweet: For me, the best feature is the one unique thing, the free-form trait that can really define your character. Maybe the most critical element was the class design. Rob did a great job making the different classes all fun to play for different reasons. He wrote the classes because he’s the one who likes to see the players succeed and have fun.
obskures.de: What is the most important design principle that (new) game designers should consider?
obskures.de: What is your favorite role playing game?
Jonathan Tweet: D&D, in one form or another. But Call of Cthulhu has a special place in my heart. It really taught a generation of gamers how to roleplay a believable character. CoC is more about who you talk to than who you beat up, and that was a revelation without which Ars Magica would not have been possible.
obskures.de: Who is your favorite game designer and/or game artist?
Lee Moyer: There are so so many brilliant game artists working at every level and in every category of this strange business. Where does one even start? Rick Berry, Michael Kaluta, Echo Chernik, Howard Lyon, Daniel Dociu, Justin Sweet, Vance Kovacs, Kieran Yanner, Adam Rex, Brom, Therese Nielsen, Brian Despain…. It’s just an amazing time to be an artist and gamer.
Rob Heinsoo: Roleplaying designer? Robin Laws. Current boardgame designer? Chad Jensen has been doing things I’ve greatly enjoyed for GMT. And Eric Lang has done a couple of the games I’ve enjoyed playing most in recent years.
obskures.de: Tell us three required attributes of a great roleplaying product in your opinion? What was the last one you bought or read?
Jonathan Tweet: A great roleplaying game gets you excited about doing a cool, new thing with your friends. It does real work in helping you have a great experience instead of expecting you to make it work through improvisation and wit. Its rule system balances well enough that you can lean on them instead of propping them up. My last purchase was Hillfolk, by Robin D. Laws. He’s another designer who’s always inventing new ways to use games to tell stories, and Hillfolk looks like it might be his best story game yet.
obskures.de: What do you think about projects of ex-colleagues like Numenera by Monte Cook? I really thought 13 True Ways would be more successful than Numenera, but I was wrong.
Jonathan Tweet: Monte deserves all the Internet success he has enjoyed. He’s earned every bit of it by being such a master of what makes D&D cool. Now we’re in for a treat as Monte tackles a major RPG challenge: an all-new setting with all-new rules. Monte and I have a lot in common, so I’m extra eager to see Numenera.
As to your original guess about relative Kickstarter performance, I don’t know of any alternate worlds in which a 13 True Ways Kickstarter could have out-performed a Numenera Kickstarter.
obskures.de: The crowdfunding movement seems to win every day more momentum. We have a really strange situation on the market. The former market leader kills his product line step by step without a “good finished” replacement product or a fully accepted development and beta cycle. Currently, a clone without much further system development seems to lead the market. There are many disoriented and unsettled customers. I think this is a huge opportunity for a fresh wind. What do you think about this market reorganization?
obskures.de: What do you think about the RPG market development in general? I think there are very interesting topics in this field like current (indie) game design trends, online gaming of traditional RPG, electronic gaming support via smartphones or tablets, missing a young(er) generation of role players, the stronger/more direct connection between players and game designers via Kickstarter (or direct sales) and the important changing role of retailers.
Jonathan Tweet: Frankly I’m a bit overwhelmed at the design talent in the indie movement. A lot of these designers credit me as an influence, but they’re way past me by now. Watching this movement build up over the years has been one of the most satisfying parts of my career. Mark Rein*Hagen and I imagined that there would be bold new ways to roleplay some day, but we had no idea.
obskures.de: Do you plan a 13th Age society, novels etc.? What do you plan next for 13th Age and in general?
obskures.de: Finally, some fun and quick questions. We start with: Role playing is …
Telling collaborative stories can be amazingly powerful, and it has been incredibly valuable and therapeutic for me more than once.
obskures.de: Fighter, Cleric, Rogue or Wizard?
Jonathan Tweet: I have played them each so many times that I don’t have a favorite class any more. In 3E, probably the cleric because they are so damn powerful. More important than class or race is irony, Every one of my characters has to have at least one level of irony in their back story.
obskures.de: Gamemaster or player?
obskures.de: Your favorite game product you worked on (except 13th Age)?
Rob Heinsoo: Shadowfist for Daedalus. King of Dragon Pass for A-Sharp. D&D Miniatures for WotC. And a game that isn’t public yet from Fire Opal Media. In truth, however, 13th Age IS my favorite above all of these. Just saying.
obskures.de: I get the best ideas for my games when … or I am most creative when …?
obskures.de: What is the meaning of the nickname “Mad Genius“?
obskures.de: Thank you. Anything else you want to share with the fans?
Finally, I want to thank my readers Kazekami and Marcus L. for their motivation and suggestions. A special thank you to Wade Rockett and Gerald Linn. They made this in-depth interview about 13th Age possible.
All 13th Age images are used with permission from the authors via email on 14th December 2012