For those who don’t know, what are some of the projects you’re best known for?
I’ve mostly done self-published work including games like School Daze, One Shot, and Iron Edda: War of Metal and Bone. Most recently, Brian Patterson (my creative partner) and I have worked with Evil Hat to publish Karthun: Lands of Conflict.
It’s generally accepted the board game world has been going through a renaissance for the last decade or so. How does the RPG industry look from your perspective?
The RPG industry is going through a lot of changes. It has been for the last decade or more, really.
Indie RPGs began booming a few years back and with the rise of crowdfunding and patron models of support, more people than ever are making and publishing games. I think it’s wonderful. The industry is also going through a lot of the same problems as other forms of media (and society in general). Racism, sexism, transphobia, ableism and problems like those are as prevalent in RPGs as anywhere else, and people are speaking out against them in strong, meaningful ways.
Change in those areas is always slow and difficult, but it’s my hope to see the industry become ever more diverse and inclusive.
I would love to see a crop of games published by people whose backgrounds are vastly different from mine. There are some amazing creative, talented people out in the world, and RPGs have room for everyone.
Can you remember the day you started work on School Daze? What attracted you to the high school genre?
When I started School Daze, I was driving back from a visit to friends in Kansas City. I began rhyming words with “lank,” following a joke on Twitter that a friend of mine and I have “ranks in lank” (as a D&D skill) because we trip going up the stairs.
As I was rhyming, I realized that all of those words were good descriptors for people.
I specifically gravitated people in high school because that’s where you’re often known as the “______ kid.” So if you’ve got Ranks in Tank, you’re the big kid, etc.
The game just proceeded from there and by the time I finished the 12-hour drive I had a good starting point.
Your answers reveal a pretty clear political stance. How do you see politics and gaming connecting, and how do you see the scene evolving?
I touched on this above, but I see games (and all creative work) as inherently political.
Every choice that is made by a designer expresses something about how they view the world and how they see people. I see people online saying that they want to leave politics out of their escapist hobby games because they don’t want to see diverse teams of creators, or to see diversity or representation in a game’s art.
People will argue against seeing people who are not cis, straight, white dudes as protagonists in video games, say, because they say that’s not realistic. The choice to exclude people is a political one, as is the choice to include.
I want to see a gaming industry that reflects the broad diversity of the entire world, not confine it to the colonialist type of narratives and forms of representation we’ve seen for so long. I think progress is being made there, but it’s not just pushing back against problems in an industry, it’s pushing back against some deeply held and deeply flawed cultural perspectives.
In terms of what’s next, I’m learning from my past mistakes and trying as hard as I can to not be my own publisher again. I’m bad at the logistical work that it takes to be a publisher. The time I could spend getting to be good at that is time I would rather invest becoming a better writer and game designer.
To that end, I’m working with both Evil Hat and Encoded Designs on new Karthun and Iron Edda products (respectively). I’m also pitching projects to publishers who are open to new IPs and RPG designs. Those publishers are few and far between, but it’s a segment of the industry I see growing.
There are people who love games, but are not designers. They’re project managers, distributors, and the like. As the industry continues to grow, I think we’ll see more people handling the business side of things for people who lack those skills (like me).
Any advice for anyone curious about the world of indie RPGs, whether designing or simply playing? Top three gateway games to indie RPGs?
The best advice I can give to people interested in indie RPGs is just to get out there and try them. A lot of larger conventions have spaces like Games on Demand where you have a bunch of different non-traditional indie options (though a lot of those are becoming standards which raises a question about what’s “indie” and what’s not, but that’s a topic for another time).
In terms of games to play to introduce yourself to things that aren’t D&D or similar, I’d suggest Fiasco!, Apocalypse World, and Fate. Those three games were all pivotal for me, and Fate is my system of choice whether I’m playing, running, or designing a game.