For those who don’t know, what are some of the projects you’ve been involved with?
I got my start in the early ’90s when the UK cycled through about four tabletop RPG magazines in a three year period. I wrote for a couple of them, and learned a lot from the stuff I read in them.
At the same time I was active in my local tabletop RPG group and when I went away to University I ended up basically working three jobs: my degree; assistant manager at my local game and comic store (staff of two) and a 4-5 night a week tabletop campaign that ran 3 years.
It did almost kill me.
But it also taught me a vast amount about module construction, knowing what rules to use and what rules to ignore, and fixing adventures on the bounce. It also taught me to read, watch, listen to and play everything. That campaign, nominally Project: Twilight the old White Wolf (slightly half-assed) X-Files-alike ended up drawing in influences from comics like Xero and the Garth Ennis Unknown Soldier, movies like The Saint and tons of others.
I got my professional start about six years after that.
I was on nodding terms with Angus Abranson, who ran Cubicle 7 at that point and we got talking about Doctor Who. One thing led to another and I ended up being put in contact with Dave Chapman, who wrote DWAITAS (Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space), the C7 RPG.
We hit it off and I ended up writing two full length adventures and a bunch of adventure seeds. I then stepped across to the Aliens and Monsters set and did a bunch of stuff for that and from there was put on the Doctor sourcebooks and various other projects. At the same time I was parachuted onto the last Primeval book, did some work for Victoriana’s Concert in Flames campaign and wrote a background for All Flesh Must Be Eaten that has yet to see print.
How did you get into the world of roleplaying games? How did you make the leap into being a writer?
I was weirdly lucky in that I grew up on the Isle of Man in a small town and somehow still ended up with a local RPG club. I learned my trade there on multiple systems, messed up so magnificently bad at least three times and slowly learned how to write good adventures.
That’s the short version.
The long version? It’s all Vampire: The Masquerade‘s fault.
V:TM 1st and 2nd Edition hit and suddenly we ballooned from about 15 members to 40. Now, the majority of the group just wanted to play Vampire. All the time. And they did.
But you can’t have a 40 person Vampire game so in the end, someone had to run a pick up adventure.
That was me… And it was awesome.
I did a 6 month Star Wars game I’m still ridiculously proud of and a Cyberpunk 2020 follow up that I’ve mined for ideas this year. It taught me everything about plot design, clue trees, how to build adventures for multiple groups and styles. That was when I stopped being a gamer or a GM and became a writer.
Never did level up my Nosferatu though…
You’ve been involved quite heavily in Dr Who games. What is it that’s so distinctive about Dr Who? What do you personally love about it?
Doctor Who’s history is as weird and convoluted as the show’s own internal continuity. Short version; originally intended to be an least partially educational drama series whose lead would change identity and gender as needed, it has morphed into the cornerstone of British contemporary genre fiction.
It’s a series about a functionally immortal shape changing alien genius who travels space and time in a box that’s bigger on the inside.
It’s also, far more importantly, a series about kindness. The show, especially in its modern incarnation, has really dug into the idea that intellignece and knowledge is not a weapon but a tool. Where Rick Sanchez from Rick and Morty would use his intelligence to create a weapon, the Doctor uses their intelligence to try and avoid conflict, solve problems and often run down corridors in long coats looking awesome.
The simple fact the main character is called the Doctor is practically the show’s mission statement; here is a character who is brilliant and kind and weird and makes people better. If you’re kind and weird and brilliant, then this is for you. If you want to be kind and weird and brilliant, this is for you.
That’s what I love about it. From the feral joy on the 9th Doctor’s face as he screams ‘JUST THIS ONCE, EVERYONE LIVES!’ to the look of awe and determination and barely contained joy on the 13th Doctor’s face as she heads towards her TARDIS, it’s a show about tiny, kind personal victories and how they save the universe.
You’re about to be stuck on a desert island with three other people and 1 RPG. What do you bring – and which supplement?
Vin Diesel, Matthew Mercer and Dame Judi Dench. Diesel because he’s a massive gamer, Mercer because he’s one of the best GMs on the planet and Dench because she purportedly became one after working with Diesel on Chronicles of Riddick.
Star Wars. The original West End Star Wars. I would love to see what Matt Mercer could do with that. And the Imperial Sourcebook because it’s still one of the four best supplements ever printed.
Our audience comes mostly from the boardgame world, where there’s been a bit of a renaissance for at least the last decade or so. How does the RPG industry look from your perspective? What’s changed?
I’m seeing two things really light a fire under the industry: licensed games and YouTube.
My career has been almost entirely licensed properties so far and from where I’m standing, C7 broke the stigma surrounding them. They’re a perfect on-ramp for fans of the series or movies; they’re a great way to get people into the hobby; and they’re an open, universal concept in a way very few extant RPGs are.
In other words: put a D&D manual in front of a newcomer and they’ll struggle. Put a Doctor Who game, or the Critical Role D&D sourcebook in front of them and they’ll GET it pretty much straight away.
That brings us to youtube and specifically Critical Role. The massive, massive fan base for a series which is (fundamentally) half a dozen voice actors playing D&D is extraordinary and actually put me off for a while. Then I listened to the podcast version and I get it.
Critical Role a great show that’s universally appealing. You want epic fantasy? Here you go. You want moments of real emotion? Got them. Dick jokes? Those too. It’s tabletop RPG, good and bad, but presented with incredible enthusiasm and care.
I listen, and I can’t stand D&D – so if they can win me over they can win over anyone.
What advice would you have for tabletop gamers looking to get into RPGs? What are some good gateway titles for people who only know about Dungeons and Dragons?
- There is absolutely more to the industry than D&D. If you’re a sci fi or horror fan you’ll be just as spoiled for choice as fantasy fans.
- Look at licensed titles. DWAITAS is great, likewise the Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones game and the Dragon Age one. They’re all really fun, really detailed versions of worlds you already know and they’ll teach you to play inside those worlds. Likewise, one more time for the Critical Role sourcebook. It’s the perfect combination of D&D and something very new.
- Be open to everything. There are some incredible games out there right now, as well as classic games that are getting new leases of life. Listen to podcasts like Dissecting Worlds and the Grognard Files, check the weekly release sheets from companies like Esdevium Games and research anything that looks fun. This is a massive hobby with room for everyone, and you’ll find a place that works for you.