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Chinwag: Interview with RPG writer Allen Farr

1 Jun

Well, to kick off this month’s Post a day, we’ve got an interview with RPG writer Allen Farr, author of our recent adventure module “The Witch’s Daughter” (available from Grinning Skull Studios), we sat down and had a bit of a chinwag to discuss all things RPG, writing and life…

Grim: Hello Allen, welcome to Chinwag, and thanks for taking the time to talk to us, So lets start by introducing yourself to the audience, tell us a little about yourself.

Allen: Talking about myself doesn’t come easy, so I guess that makes me shy. I’m the shy person that once he gets to know you, he comes out of his shell, and then you get to spend the rest of your life trying to figure out how to fit him right back into it.
I’ve enough hobbies, interests and projects to last me a lifetime, or two. Other than playing and writing role playing games, my other main hobbies are gardening, and sea kayaking, which includes building them.

Grim: So then, at what point did you get involved in the hobby?

Allen: Like many people my age, I got into the hobby when I was introduced to Dungeons & Dragons. I was twelve or thirteen then. I can still remember my group furiously rubbing wax crayons into the etched numbers on the dice and trying to speed paint some really bad quality miniatures.

Grim: So tell me, when was it you decided you wanted to start writing?

Allen: As a child I was either writing stories, or reading them. Yet, it never crossed my mind that a writer was something you could be.

Other people wrote books, more specifically, adults. As I had no intention of growing up (and still don’t) that didn’t seem to be an option. Later, when I had moved on to other games such as Shadowrun and then Earthdawn, I would always write out my adventures to match the structure of the published modules. I can remember thinking it would be cool to write for FASA Corporation, but it remained nothing more than a thought.

Much later, after FASA Corporation had closed its doors, and Redbrick had the Earthdawn licence, I was on the forums, lamenting about a book that had been promised, but not delivered, Travar. The line developer then challenged me ‘Why don’t you write that book’. After I picked myself up off the floor my first thought was ‘how hard can it be’? Long story short, as soon as I started writing Travar I realised I was enjoying the whole creative process, and I’ve been writing ever since. That was almost eight years ago. As we speak Travar: The Merchant City is sitting with FASA Games, ready to go to print.

Grim: What would you say, inspired you the most in both your hobby direction, and your writing?

Allen: Dungeons & Dragons was my first RPG love affair, and nothing can take that away. It definitely inspired me, not just its concepts, which were new to me, but the beautiful artwork. Yet, there were things about Dungeons & Dragons that didn’t quite make sense, or rubbed me the wrong way, and it took me a really long time to put my finger on what they were. The dungeon in the middle of nowhere for no explicable reason, the trapped doors, treasure chests and passageways, rooms full of creatures that seemed to have been waiting an eternity in a sealed underground chamber just for the chance to attack a wandering explorer. Undead aside, what did these creatures eat, where did they get their gear, who cut their hair. With rust monsters lurking down there, how come they still all had steel weapons? It was these unexplained questions that eventually eroded my suspension of disbelief and made me look to other games.

I find the artwork on RPGs inspiring, and it was the Shadowrun artwork that got me running the shadows of Seattle. It was Shadowrun (Tom Dowd at Euro GenCon 94’ to be exact) that made pick up Earthdawn, and it was Earthdawn that offered a fantastic background that instantly made sense of all the things in Dungeons & Dragons that I couldn’t quite reconcile. Shadowrun set the bar on what something new should look like, and Earthdawn set the bar on depth of setting, and they both inspired the direction of both my gaming and writing.

Grim: What do you think of the state of the RPG hobby today?

Allen: People often talk about the Golden Age of RPGs and lament that it’s now a thing of the past. Personally, I think the hobby is in a great place today and the Golden Age has just evolved.

Yes, the age of companies making millions of dollars on their products is mostly over, but with the advent of the Internet, all manner of things are now possible. PDF publishing and POD have really shaken the market up and anyone who has ever wanted to publish their own RPG can have a go. Yeah, sure there are hundreds of Heartbreakers out there, but so what. The more people that have a go, the more likely we are to see new developments in the future.

I think the hobby will continue to evolve and crowd funding is probably the most recent tool helping this process along. Without the Internet and crowd funding, I wouldn’t have any writing credits. Another tool gaining traction is 3D printing. As the technology improves there will be a lot of RPG related innovation and I’m not just talking about miniatures, but other game aids, custom dice, scroll cases for player hand outs, dungeon tiles, printed 3D maps and maybe things that haven’t been thought of yet.

Grim: I totally agree, the industry is going to evolve with new tech and ideas, speaking of PDF publishing  You recently wrote “The Witch’s Daughter” for us here, could you tell the readers a little about it?

Allen:The Witch’s Daughter’ is an example of the evolution of the hobby. I saw a ‘Writers Wanted’ advert from a hobby designer on RPG.net who wanted an adventure to complement the upcoming release of his game. Unfortunately, the game never materialised, leaving me with an outline adventure. When Grinning Skull Design Studio advertised for writers, I pitched the adventure to them. It still needed quite a bit of work, but the core of it was there. It was the first time that I had to write something that was system agnostic.

The adventure itself is a mix of fantasy, murder mystery and horror and is set against the tense background of an expected spring offensive between warring nations. Of course, the player characters find themselves right in the middle of it all.

Grim: So tell us what were your inspirations in creating the adventure?

Allen: The witchcraft theme of the adventure was partially inspired by the setting theme it was originally intended for, but more than that I often write material where not everything is down to the ‘Evil Monster’. Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for the traditional high fantasy monstrosity running about and eating villagers, but I like a little ‘Grim’ that only humanity can provide, thrown into the mix. While there are a few low level monsters in the adventure, it’s more about the monstrous side of people.

Grim: You’ve written some ‘100’ titles for us, so would you say that you prefer writing those, or adventure modules?

Allen: I love writing adventure modules. I love the process of crafting the story arc and putting together a background to set the story arc in. So, writing adventure modules is at the top of my list. Having said that, as a writer, the ‘100’ titles are a great writing exercise. Take the Fatal Blows – Bladed Edition, there are only so many ways to describe the cut and thrust of a bladed weapon and the trick was to come up with 100 fatal blows without becoming repetitive. So word usage became very important as did sentence structure. 100 City Encounters was a different beast. It wasn’t as tightly subject focused, but it was still challenging to make each encounter unique, and as many of the encounters are also adventure hooks that made it all the more challenging.

Grim: Is there any advice you could give aspiring RPG hobby writers based on what you’ve learned on your writer’s journey?

Allen: Honestly, I could write a book on hobby writing, and I’ve only been doing it for a handful of years. Hobby writing is fun, and you want to keep it fun. Unless you want to become a full time freelance writer, be careful of the projects you work on.
Large projects with hundreds of demanding Kickstarter backers and tight timescale are probably best avoided. From my experience, smaller publishers are more likely to give the first time writer a chance and they also tend to pay promptly, the rates are often better and negotiable. Small publishers tend to have a quicker turn around, and you will see your work published sooner.

Getting your first writing credit is important, it can lead to other things, and its not as difficult as it might seem. Get involved with fan projects – I’ve been involved with a couple that have been picked up by publishers. Some forums have a freelance or bulletin board section, check these out regularly. There are plenty of pitfalls also. RPG publishers come and go regardless of their size, and you can be left high and dry with an unfinished project. Then there is the dreaded contract and Non-Disclosure Agreements, royalties, work for hire and getting paid… Its interesting ride, get writing and get it out there…

Grim: Great advice there! What are your writing plans for the future?

Allen: There is a lot more collaborative stuff with Grinning Skull Design Studios. There are more adventures planned. Singularity, a one shot Sci Fi adventure set on a scientific research vessel. Betrayal At Tarsus Mor, an adventure for beginning characters introducing them to the City of Tarsus Mor, which will be getting more attention in future products. Lament of the Gargoyle King, another adventure in the pipeline, which is also based in and around Tarsus Mor.

I’m also chipping away at a source book called, Mekello – The Forge of Eldorande, for the Warsong RPG. I have a couple of adventures written for the upcoming Travar sourcebook for Earthdawn, but I’m unsure if they will get released as an official product or a fan project. I’ve also written an adventure for FASA Game’s 1879 London Sourcebook, called Baby Boojum, which is in the development pipeline awaiting artwork. On top of that I have a couple of home brew settings that I would like to see published, High Frequency, and DemonPunk. I hope I will get a chance to return to writing them soon.

Grim: So here’s a question I always ask, Marvel or DC?

Allen: I’m not sure I would know the difference (I can almost hear the disapproving intake
of breath!). While I do read the odd superhero comic book and love the movies, I preferred Judge Dredd or the Aliens comic books.

Grim:  An excellent answer! I love the old 2000AD strips from last century, they are something that doesn’t get enough love or respect as they should! Here’s another one for you, is it Trek or Wars?

Allen: I’m going to throw caution to the wind and say Battlestar Galactica. I love the cheese fest of the original, and the dark gritty themes of the reimagining. But to pacify at least half of the crowdand antagonise the other, while I do love Star Wars, I think I love Star Trek a little more. What Star Wars needs is a tv series.

Grim: Well, thanks for taking the time to talk to us in this edition of Chinwag, it’s been great talking to you! Is there anything else you’d like to add? Like where can you be contacted or can be found on the interwebs?

Allen: Almost anything RPG related I’m involved with can be found on my G+ page. Folks can check it out and if they want to strike up a conversation or comment on anything I’ve worked on.

https://plus.google.com/108772548112027786997

Grim: Thanks again Allen for taking time out of your busy schedule to have a chinwag!!

Well, that’s it for this edition of Chinwag, we’ll be talking to author Tyler Omichinski next time in Chinwag to discuss more things about the writing, RPGs, life and the universe!

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