Thursday, January 4, 2018
Interview with RPG Author Craig Campbell
You can check out Murders & Acquisitions right here.
You can get the CAPERS preview right here.
Recently, I reached out to ask some RPG professionals to play on one of my Youtube shows. One of them is Craig Campbell, a man who's written a pile of D&D stuff and is now making his own RPG products.
I really wanted Craig on my show because I love his version of Baba Yaga's Hut and I think his nerdburger podcast is hilarious.
I was even able to interview him! I wanted to pick his brain and learn more about D&D and RPG stuff. Here's what I got.
How did you get into freelancing for Wizards of the Coast?
"I went to college with Jason Bulmahn and he became an organizer for Living Greyhawk back in 1999/2000. He had me write a module for the Highfolk region."
"Eventually, I wrote a feature article for Dragon Magazine when he was an editor at Paizo. Through him, I met Chris Tulach who had me write a few adventures for the RPGA. Around 2009, I started freelancing in earnest. My name sort of got passed up the line to other folks at WotC, which got me work writing for the website as well as both digital magazines during the 4e period."
"I pitched a lot of ideas and got a few accepted, but much of my work came from specific assignments. Also, WotC pitched a list of things they’d like to see to regular freelancers and I picked up a few of those articles and adventures."
You knew Jason Bulmahn in college? Did you game together? What RPGs did you play?
"We were both going to school for architecture. We actually met playing Magic: the Gathering at a hobby shop across the street from the college. Eventually we were each playing in each others’ games. We played a lot of D&D but also some Vampire, Call of Cthulhu, Deadlands, and even tried Rolemaster."
Tell me a little about Murders & Acquisitions.
"It’s a game of subterfuge, espionage, intrigue, theft, and murder in an absurd, over-the-top corporate world. Characters are literally backstabbing their way to the corner office. It’s filled with hyperbole and not meant to be taken too seriously."
"The game system is a custom one I designed. Pretty simple dice versus target number but with a few other things added in to make things fun when dice hit the table. The character sheet looks like a resume and features skills like Loss Mitigation, Force Application, and Resource Management."
Can you give an example of how to work monsters into a Murders & Acquisitions adventure?
"The optional stuff for monsters is built around the idea that monsters exist in this version of the world. So any of the intelligent monsters, particularly those that pass for human, can be actual corporate officers and workers. Some of the monsters have descriptions of how they’re used by corporations."
"For example, the cockroach people are used as scavengers and cleaners. Some of the bigger monsters might be employed as bodyguards or to watch over sensitive technology or information."
Do you have any good campaign stories about sessions of Murders and Acquisitions that you have run?
"In the magic and monsters variant of the game, there’s a monster called a thumpster. It’s basically a mimic that looks a big, green, trash dumpster. I had a character prepping to throw a lit Molotov cocktail at the thing in an alleyway when it opened its maw and pulled him inside it with its trash-tentacle tongue. Then the cocktail exploded. Things went poorly."
Tell me a little about CAPERS.
"CAPERS is a super-powered game of 1920s gangsters. You play gangsters looking to make their fortunes in the Prohibition era of the US, but you have mid-range superpowers. And so do your rivals. And so do the feds."
In CAPERS, you use a poker deck in place of die rolls. Have you thought about making a custom deck of cards to use in the game?
"Already done. When the Kickstarter goes live (Tuesday, March 6, 2018), you’ll see more specifics, but suffice to say there is a CAPERS-themed deck of playing cards that will be available. If the Kickstarter does well, the face cards will feature portraits of NPCs from the game."
Any good CAPERS playtest/campaign stories?
"During playtests, I was trying out different scales of combats to run the system through its paces. I had five players and we’d been playing for a few sessions when I introduced a big combat. Five super-powered characters versus four super-powered foes along with five weaker mooks. The whole thing took about an hour. It was my first chance to see that big combats aren’t necessarily going to bog down."
"I’ve had multiple playtesters tell me the system is very engaging. When you roll dice, you often roll it, look at the number, determine what that does, and move on. In CAPERS, you can flip multiple cards on your turn, but each time you flip one, you have a choice to make. Players really get into it, including paying attention to other players’ turns and giving advice on whether they should flip another card."
In Murders & Acquisitions, you play as ruthless, backstabbing corporate types. In CAPERS, you play as a super-powered gangsters. It seems like the players are playing some fairly villainous character types in both games. Why did you make that choice?
"I didn’t make a conscious choice. It occurred to me that my first two games are about playing “bad people” a few months back. It just sort of happened. I guess maybe I find “bad people” and antiheroes more intriguing with more potential for character depth. Or maybe I just like to pretend to be a bad person. Hard to tell, really."
What do you plan on doing once CAPERS is released?
"I’ve started designing a GM-less, dice-lite, narrative-heavy story game called Die Laughing. You play characters in a horror comedy movie and you’re all gonna die. It’s just a matter of when and how funny it is. Even after your character is gone, there are things for you to keep you involved in telling the story. A single session only lasts 1-2 hours, depending on the number of players."
"I have a few other ideas floating around my head, including a couple that DON’T involve the players portraying “bad people.” There are some heroics in there somewhere."
Dungeon #177: Nightmares Unleashed
This one has Blando maps! Do you get to pick who makes the maps?
"I never had a say in which cartographer or artist worked on my adventures. Though I did write some of the art orders during the later projects, so I had some say in what the artwork would look like. And I had to submit my own crudely drawn maps which people like Jared Blando would then make much nicer."
Redra's Nightmare is listed as a devil. Is the nightmare something conjured up by her dreams, or did that devil exist prior to all of the nightmare episodes?
"I imagine the devil existed previously but didn’t have a way to exert influence until it latched onto Kirstal’s (and then Redra’s) dreams."
The nightmare monster serves a devil currently trapped in the plane of dreams who believes that it will be killed by Redra's daughter when she is grown. Did you have a particular devil in mind? Is it a new pseudo-archdevil?
"Given that this was a side trek adventure, I didn’t have plans for the devil beyond that little adventure. I suppose it could be an “up and comer” devil that could turn into a recurring villain if you were to devise a way for it to keep coming back. If it’s a devil that’s specifically tied to recurring nightmares, it’s only appropriate that it be very difficult to kill once and for all."
Dungeon 193: The Beached Leviathan
Did you come up with this?
"I had told WotC I was open to doing quick pick-up work when an author had to drop out for real life reasons. The only time this happened for me was right in the middle of working on Baba Yaga’s Dancing Hut. The Tavern Profile series was still running then and they wanted something to tie into Neverwinter. So I crunched this article out in two evenings and then went back to Baba Yaga."
Any ideas on how someone could turn a person's shadow against them? A ritual? Infusing an actual shadow (monster) into the person's shadow?
"Using a ritual is kind of the default for something like this, but I feel it lacks flavor. Maybe a side trek to the plane of shadow to commiserate with a being that lives there and convince it to inhabit an enemy’s shadow."
"Or if a shadow is the “negative” of a person, maybe you give up a little part of yourself, your soul, to create the shadow being. This could be part of a pact with a greater being (like what warlocks do) or an ability in a devious artifact."
Dungeon 196: Baba Yaga's Dancing Hut
Why did you change Elena the Fair to Elena the Mad?
"In previous iterations of the hut, Elena is generally mentioned only in passing. She’s a blonde and she’s kind. I wanted to twist her up a bit. Spending centuries with Baba Yaga should do things to you. So I built on how her sister Natasha had left the hut and Baba Yaga was off trying to become an archfey, leaving Elena all alone and eventually going a little mad."
What is your take on the connection between Natasha the Dark and Iggwilv?
"My understanding is that Natasha the Dark left the hut and eventually BECAME Iggwilv. Dream Natasha, who is still in the hut, was conjured out of Elena’s madness at missing her sister."
Did you refer at all to the 2nd edition Baba Yaga adventure?
"My adventure is a reimagining of the classic 1984 Dragon magazine adventure “The Dancing Hut” by Roger Moore. The bulk of the layout is the same, just with a few things repurposed. The inhabitants are similar, though some changes took place translating an AD&D 1st edition adventure to 4th edition. Certain monsters didn’t match power level. Some didn’t exist in 4e (allowing me to create a few). And a bunch of new stuff came out of 4e design principles."
Did you consider taking the tank out of the adventure?
"Gods, no! Part of the charm of the adventure is that it expands Baba Yaga’s world hopping to our actual real world. I even briefly considered writing rules for using it. But that felt a little too Barrier Peaks to me."
Did you run this adventure?
"I ran two playtests, though we never made it through all the rooms in either playtest. I focused on things that needed actual playtesting, like some of the random stuff and the curses. I didn’t concern myself with most of the combats, since 4e design principles already had CR and EL and all that stuff worked out."
Dungeon #207: Starhaunt - with Chris Perkins
How did this work? Did Chris write an outline that you worked from? What was it like working with Chris?
"This adventure came from a list of things WotC folks wanted to see in the magazine. I’m 99% certain Chris Perkins put it on that list. I designed the whole thing and submitted it."
"Normally, anything submitted by an author goes through a certain amount of development before reaching its final form."
"Chris added and modified so much that he felt it warranted a co-design credit and I agree. He got rid of a few parts that didn’t work all that well and added some really fun stuff."
Dungeon 217: A Rhyme Gone Wrong
This one has a whole sleep-theme going on. You've mentioned the plane of dreams in another adventure. Do you have a particular interest in the plane of dreams?
"I’m fascinated by dreams, mostly because I rarely remember mine in any detail and I have friends who have recounted very specific dreams. I even know someone who is adept at lucid dreaming, which makes me super jealous."
"In gaming, I like how dreams can be used to manifest things that don’t otherwise have rules for such a thing. I’ve used dreams a number of times as major plot points and important milestones in several campaigns I’ve run."
Thanks to Craig! You can check out CAPERS right here.