Thursday, September 27, 2012

RPGnet Chat with Dan Davenport

Last night I did a late night Q&A on the RPGnet Chat with Dan Davenport and others in the chatroom, discussing all things Conspiracy X, Doctor Who and WILD. Below is an edited and formatted transcript of the chat. Enjoy! (You can read the full unedited transcript over at Dan's site -


Dan Davenport: Alright! Dave, when you're ready, please introduce yourself and your games. The floor is yours!

Dave Chapman: Hi, I'm Dave Chapman. I've worked on lots of games for Eden Studios, including Buffy, AFMBE, Ghosts of Albion, Terra Primate and most notably I'm line developer for Conspiracy X 2.0. I was also system designer and lead writer on Cubicle 7's Doctor Who Adventures in Time and Space and now I'm working on my own project called WILD for my little publishing name Autocratik.

Dan: Any questions so far, or shall I get things rolling?

nick3: Well  I guess I should ask if more Conspiracy X 2.0 stuff is coming out

Dave: Yes, there's the Paranormal Sourcebook (thanks to Kickstarter) which is hitting shops this week, the Conspiracies Sourcebook which is in layout at the moment, and Extinction (the future of Conspiracy X) is in the works at the moment too... There's been talk of another sourcebook (The Operations Sourcebook) as well, and there are other books on my harddrive from the classic game that never saw print, so there's plenty of scope for the future.

nick3: The Conspiracies Sourcebook? Mind giving us a bit of information about it .

Dave: Sure. Like the other books, it takes existing classic ConX stuff and updates it (in this case, Sub Rosa, Aegis and Hand Unseen) but it also includes a lot of unseen material from the fabled Area 51 sourcebook... There's also some new stuff in there that builds to the future of the line (Extinction) and takes the game in a new direction. It's been Kickstarted, busted through its goals, and should be finished in the next couple of months. It's all written, it just needs layout, proofing and printing. 

Dan: And do I recall correctly that the Paranormal Sourcebook includes info from the 1st edition magic, psychic, and cryptid supplements?

Dave: Oh yes, only updated and converted to Unisystem. Kickstarter backers could get Zener cards with it, they'll be available to retail soon as well hopefully.

nick3: Are you guys going to aid some more stuff about CAPS?  That was a curious omission in the Paranormal Sourcebook

Dan: CAPS?

nick3: Dan, they are Aegis agency that studies the directly supernatural elements of the Conspiracy X world.

Dan: Ah, thanks.

Dave: CAPS is Center for Advanced Phenomenological Studies. Try saying that with a mouthful of marbles as my dad would say... As they're part of Aegis, I do believe they're covered in more detail in the Conspiracies Sourcebook's Aegis section. I'll check... I did write it five years ago, but I have been doing some additional updates recently.

Dan: Without giving too much away, the supernatural has a unified explanation in the ConX universe... How (or do) the cryptids fit in?

Dave: No problem. The book gives multiple explanations for each cryptozoological phenomena. Maybe it's seepage, maybe it's Atlantean constructs, it's up to the GM to decide what fits the campaign best.

Dan: Ah, I see.

Le_Squide: So, is seepage no longer the assumed truth behind all the weirdness?

Dave: Seepage is the cause of 99% of it, but weird things like the Loch Ness Monster, or Yeti, have very different origins... just to keep agents on their toes...

Dan: I spoke a bit about this to George regarding Extinction, but how do you plan on keeping it interesting and not just a matter of "Oh, great, more lizard guys"?

Dave: It all sounds a bit epic, but CJ Carella (creator of Unisystem) wrote Extinction before he became a recluse and vanished (hoping to avoid government agents I think). It's a huge game, but I see it like TV's "Falling Skies" meets "Halo", on a near future Earth. The Greys and the Atlanteans are about, but have very different parts to play in the battle against the Saurians. Lots of cyberware, nano tech, body modification, and magic has become recognised and public. It's gonna be interesting.

Dan: Really? I didn't realize it was that far in the future. Or is the high-tech stuff a result of interaction with the aliens?

Dave: Not too far, but with the way technology is developing at the moment, and with the Atlanteans predicting the return of the Saurian fleet they're stepping up the game and encouraging technological advances.

Dan: Aha. Gotcha. Are there any supernatural aspects to the enemy, or is that a purely human thing?

Dave: It's more of a human thing. Saurians are (*spoilers*) assumed to be Voids (except for the Dreamspeakers), so they haven't really gone into magic... but the idea of a corrupted Gna-Tall is a scary thought...

Dan: As I mentioned earlier, we discussed Doctor Who quite a bit with Nathaniel a while back, but I would just like to say that the system is awesome... and bears a more than passing resemblance to Cinematic Unisystem. Any thoughts on the subject? (Nat ran a demo game for me. He's local.)

Dave: Cinematic Unisystem was a great influence, one of the first games I'd played that really balanced a powerful lead (Slayer) and a group of White Hats (Scoobies).  When approaching Doctor Who, you had the same problem with The Doctor, and Companions, though in the more recent series, the companions have just as much to offer the story as The Doctor most of the time. Ensuring the poor player lumbered with K-9 has just as much to do and is just as capable in their own way during an adventure is tricky, but hopefully the game balances that.

Dan: How robust do you see the system as being? Obviously, it's been adapted to a more action-oriented setting in Primeval... Can you see it getting as much use as CineUni in various games? (And just because my regulars will be surprised if I don't ask this... could you see it handling pulp?)

Dave: I know the adaptation to Primeval was certainly more combat orientated, and it seems to work really well. I know it's also being used for a number of upcoming games that Cubicle 7 have coming out, but I don't know if I'm allowed to discuss what they are. As River Song would say... "Spoilers!"

Dan: Really? Cool. :)

Dave: I know one of the up coming games is certainly "Pulp-y" so hopefully that'll please your regulars!

Dan: DWPearce mentioned that it's a bit on the deadly side, Story Points aside.  What's your take?

Dave: It can be dangerous. It was a problem that initially came from Doctor Who - most of the weapons in the series are one-shot-kills. Hopefully, the Story Points keep people alive, and if you're running out of them, you're not doing enough dramatic and cool stuff to get them back!! Do something exciting!! There's also systems in play to exchange Story Points with other characters, and to keep you alive and healthy, but the best way to tackle combat in any game is to plan ahead, avoid conflict if possible, and take cover!

Dan: I saw that damage tops out at 1.5x in Doctor Who... Does that stay the same in Primeval? I tend to like rewarding sharpshooters/swashbucklers.

Dave: AFAIK, though you'd have to ask Gareth R-H about that, I haven't seen the final printed copy yet. Keep meaning to buy it!

Dan: Ah, understood. He's currently negotiating with the wife for a Q&A of his own. 

Dave: Yeah, must admit, he's the go-to guy for info on Primeval and Who at the moment, I had to take a step back from it all for a bit this year.

Dan: Okay, so can you tell us about WILD?

Dave: Ah, WILD... well, it stands for Wake Initiated Lucid Dreaming. It's an RPG that takes place in various levels of consciousness - from the waking world to many levels of dreaming. I like to think of it like Inception meets SuckerPunch.

Dan: What's the system like, and how does it handle what would have to be a wildly crossgenre setting?

Dave: It's even looser than anything I've worked on before. It's a new system, I've called "Rapid Die Movement". It's very fast and easy, and should handle anything. There's also an element of Tarot cards, and mandalas... Jung would be proud. 

Dan: How does the system work?

Dave: I can't give too much away, it's early days. There's only four stats, and five "skills", fairly simple dice pool. The depth comes from how dreams work, who's in control of the dream, how much you can alter them, and what happens when you lose control. In the real world there's a technology that allows dreamshare, built for medical and psychotherapy use but, then the military gets hold of it, there's black market copies for underground fight-clubs, dream recording, weirdness like that. Hopefully it should be good. And it may help with your real world problems and induce Lucidity too!

Dan: Are dreams potentially dangerous in the setting?

Dave: Dan, yes... think Nightmare on Elm St. And there's always an element that the dreams may escape. Just watch Paprika

Dan: (Oh, that's right... I do need to watch that. I bought it a while back...)

Snake_Eyes: Hello DaveChapman! what is your favorite Dungeons and Dragons module?

Dan: (Snake loves that question. :) )

Dave: Snake! Haven't played D&D since 1st Edition! Demonweb pits is the one that sticks in my mind. Dangerous!!!

Snake_Eyes: Awesome!!!

Dan: Yeah, I love that one. Even had a steampunk spider before steampunk was cool. :)

Dave: Oh, I may have played a 3.5 demo of Eberron about 3 years ago... Looking forward to seeing where 5th Ed goes though!

Snake_Eyes: What would you say is the best advice to give to an aspiring RPG writer?

Dave: Know the system, email the company, and WRITE! Write for free! Prove you can do it! My blog covers my attempts at getting into game writing since 1986, but I think the supplement I wrote for AFMBE is what convinced Eden to give me work. I wrote it on-spec, and it's never been used, but proved I could write for them... I became developer for Terra Primate from it, and the rest is history.

Snake_Eyes: :) Cool, nice to know.

Dan: Terra Primate is awesome, by the way. But you know that, because I reviewed it. ;)

Dave: Many thanks for that, dude. I didn't do much, just plugged the system into existing text, but it's a very underrated game.

Snake_Eyes: What is your favorite personal design you have created for rpgs, as a in rule mechanism?

Dave: Hmmm - I think the Initiative system for Doctor Who. That seems to go down well... allowing the Doctor to talk people out of a fight... I'm hoping the new system for WILD will surprise people too.

Dan: Would you mind saying a bit more about the initiative system, Dave? I've read and played it, but I'm not sure if Snake (or everyone reading the log of this chat) is familiar with it.

Snake_Eyes: Oh, yes I am a little familiar with the system, it allows the protagonist that wishes to engage in diplomacy a chance to act before violence begins?

Dave: Yes... basically, it breaks down into 4 phases. Talkers, Movers, Doers and Fighters. In that order. Gives people chance to talk their way out of a fight, to run away, to do something cool like open a door or trigger an alarm... anything rather than fight. You can fight, especially if you're in a UNIT style game. But in Doctor Who, the Doctor usually slides into a fight and gets them to lower their weapons - giving everyone a chance before the blasting and exterminating starts. I think it's that order... (it's been a while)

Dan: I'm told that there will be an alternate system for the UNIT supplement?

Dave: There's certainly mass combat rules in UNIT for when the troops are called in to fight armies of Cybermen, etc.

Dan: How would you describe the work of a line developer as it relates to the authors of individual game books?

Dave: It's not too different from just being an author, except when there's a line of books coming out, you're not expected to do them all yourself. So you call upon the people you know and ask them to help. Then you take their cool text, merge it into the format you need, and ensure the books have the same "voice"...

Snake_Eyes: What RPG books are you enjoying reading atm?

Dave: Just reading Nobilis (3rd) at the mo, as I loved (2nd) and wanted to see the difference. Leverage is amazing and highly underrated, and I'm looking forward to the Star Wars Beta making it to the UK... Speaking of being in the UK, it's 2:10am here and I've a dull day job tomorrow, I'll need to sleep soon!

Snake_Eyes: cool :)

Dan: So as line developer, is it your decision what comes out, and when?

Dave: Not really, it's usually when it's done, it's ready! Most of that's down to the publisher and the line developer's boss. They set the deadlines (if any)!

Snake_Eyes: well thank you very much DaveChapman, I hope you have pleasant dreams!!

Dan: No problem, Dave! We can call it a night if you need to hit the sack.

Dave: Thank you! I consider all dreams research - I'm cataloging some of them here for the game -

Dan: Cool. :)

Dave: Thanks guys, it's been a blast. Anytime!

Dan: Thanks very much for staying up late to talk to us!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Roll Your Own Life (10) - Like My Father Before Me

After a tense couple of weeks, my wife has returned and I am once again able to write. There was something about her being the other side of the planet that meant that I just couldn't concentrate. I don't know whether it was the lack of sleep from sitting up to video-Skype with her, or just that fidgety restlessness you get when something isn't right with the world, but in the two weeks she was away, I hardly wrote anything.

I chatted with friends about WILD though, and some absolutely genius ideas came up. There are times when I'm describing what I have in mind for the game, and one of them replies with a simple "why don't you do this?" And I'm left wondering why I didn't think of that genius solution before? Maybe I'm just too close to it sometimes. I needed that break to "catch the big fish" as Lynch would say.

Before I continue with my bizarre history of the world as seen through my life in gaming, I just wanted to point people in the direction of a particularly wacky podcast called Bros and Cons, hosted by Bret and Tim (who, once again, I met through gaming). I recently appeared on Episode 5 - The Poo Poo Wizard episode, and it was a blast. Have a listen, the language is a little colourful, and there are in-depth discussions ranging from genetically grown organs, the legalisation of prostitute assassins, to catching Pokemon. Enjoy.


Back to the tales of yore!

The West End Games STAR WARS RPG
After a brief stint of trying to write Price of Freedom adventures, I discovered an advert for the forthcoming Star Wars RPG in a magazine and I was immediately sold.

Star Wars was a life defining moment for me. I may get a little sad for a bit, but bear with me. The local cinema was 15 miles away from my home town, and Hull made a big deal about the release of the first real blockbuster. This movie was big, the reception in the States proved it, so Hull reopened one of its old cinemas, The Dorchester, especially for one film, and one film only. Star Wars was the only film shown in the big one screen cinema, and it showed it for about six months. The demand was so high that I remember my dad bringing home the tickets for the film and the earliest we could go and see it was at least two months away.

I have even earlier memories of Star Wars. I remember the page in British comic 2000AD that had some stills from it, saying "This film is going to be big, you should like it." Hell, if 2000AD told you something was going to be good, in the late 70's you darn well listened.

After that (and before seeing the film), I remember my dad had to go away for conferences/training maybe once or twice a year. He went away on one of these trips and when he returned he had a couple of presents for me - two Star Wars figures - Chewbacca and R2-D2. I had no idea who or what they were, but I remembered the 2000AD feature and those were the coolest toys I'd ever had.

When the fateful day of the cinema trip arrived, it was early 1978. I'd seen a couple of trailers on TV, but knew only parts of the story. There was a Marvel comics adaptation (which I still have) that was in two parts, but published HUGE, almost A3, but I'd only read the first half. But there we were, on our way to Hull in the car, with my mum and dad, about to go and see Star Wars.

We'd had a couple of cinema trips before. I remember vaguely the trip to see Michael York in The Three Musketeers, but I have a better memory of going to see The Man with the Golden Gun, and The Spy Who Loved Me (which obviously influenced my love of James Bond movies from an early age), but Star Wars would change my life.

We sat quite near the back on the ground floor as it was near the door and easier to get my mum's wheelchair into the cinema, but it meant that the balcony seating overhung above us, cutting a fraction of the top of the screen off from view. Not much, but enough to mean that when the rebel blockade runner and the star destroyer first appeared on screen in those opening seconds, my mum was convinced they'd flown out from the balcony.

It was like nothing I'd ever seen. I was glued to the screen. It was the most amazing thing in the world. I'd seen movies before, witnessed the way the stories worked, but when they escaped the Death Star I thought the film would end... but no, there was the whole attack on the Death Star which was the most jaw-dropping spectacle my young eyes had ever seen. I could feel Star Wars seeping into my very existence, and from that day there was nothing like it.

I saved up for the toys, my dad dressed up as Darth Vader at the town carnival (with me as Luke, and my friend Jinx as Han Solo). Even my mum loved the movie - sad to think that her last birthday this year, she asked me to get her the original trilogy of Star Wars on DVD (even though they're no longer available) because they didn't have a VHS player in the home where they were trying to nurse her back to health. She never did get to see it again.

Anyway, the Star Wars RPG was a work of genius in my eyes. It took the basic system of Ghostbusters which I already loved, and made it Star Wars-y. It was epic, you could do heroic and cinematic things, you could duel with lightsabers and use the Force. It was fantastic.

My GM's eye view of running Star Wars, with
Pete peering over the screen (1989)
The presentation was a revelation as well, with its fake adverts for the Imperial Navy and tourist guide to the planets. There was a humour there, and it brought Star Wars to life for me again, just in the cold times when there was no Star Wars to light the way.

I GM'd Star Wars for a while. A group of rebels lead by Deeko Smiggins, scoundrel and pilot of the Ballistic Wombat, who would roll 30D6 to out-fly those stupid TIE Fighter pilots. And for a while, it was great.

But my gaming group was mostly away at University. The few of The Eight left behind were busy having real lives, and I just kinda festered. My only real social life besides the Eight when they returned was hanging around with the people I knew from the Council job (and then the Archaeology Unit when I was transferred over to them).

There were a few gaming highlights (mostly Pete's creation called "Odyssey" which we played as a RuneQuest-y type thing, a superhero game and in its finest incarnation, recreating the worlds of James Cameron's Aliens and beyond), but things started to go quiet on the gaming (and the writing) front.

Looking back, now, I still have very fond memories of Star Wars, and I still have the RPG books (and I've bought the more recent incarnations, and eagerly await looking at the new Fantasy Flight Star Wars game), but Star Wars itself has become tarnished by endless recuts, remasters, re-edits, and a series of prequels that try to make you sympathetic to the stormtroopers and reduces Darth Vader to a sulky teen who didn't get his own way. To me, it'll never be as cool as it was that first time, sitting in the cinema with my parents, where all three of us were transported for the first time to a galaxy far, far away.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Roll Your Own Life (9) - Dice of Freedom

Been a while since I posted about my ancient gaming history, and it's a good exercise in getting back into writing again - WILD is progressing nicely, I know the backstory, know the system, worked out character creation, know how the book's going to look and the style of art and layout, I just need to actually crack on with writing the damn thing. I seriously think it's going to be a real experience to play and read, but I just need to get on with it. Maybe I'm just putting myself off, worrying that what I put on the page will never live up to the scope and madness that I've envisioned in my head.

Anyway, back to the "Entire History of Me," - a rather vain and ponderous reflection on my history in gaming. My way of revisiting the past, and getting all nostalgic for a slightly less painful time.

Last time I posted (in Roll Your Own Life (8) - Ghostwriting for the USA) I told you about sitting in my bedroom after I'd left school, typing away on the huge electric typewriter, desperately hoping to get a job writing Ghostbusters RPG scenarios. Well, as you can guess, I never did become a paid Ghostbusters writer, and there was only so long I could spend sitting around at home without getting a paid job.

Me at the desk in "Clerk/Tracer" mode 1989
Luckily, the job centre managed to point me in the direction of the local county council who were looking for what they called a "Clerk/Tracer". Yes, a job tracing. I can just imagine all the "Mallrats" jokes now about inkers being nothing but glorified tracers, but this was absolutely skill-less. It really was tracing. The job was working for the council's nature conservation unit, updating their ordnance survey maps for sites of scientific interest. In the days before doing it all on computer, this involved taking their big sheets of film with the map printed on it, and drawing and colouring in the areas of interest. If the area changed, the ink was scraped off of the film carefully with a scalpel blade before being re-inked to incorporate the alteration.

Tedious? Yes. Part time? Yes. But it paid well, got me off of the dole, and gave me enough spare time to continue writing, but we'll come back to that later.

How did I get the job? Well, I showed off my comic drawing that I used to do (the old Wormbusters stuff) which proved I could use a rotring pen, and I could type...  but the thing that clinched the deal, and got me the job?

I roleplayed.

Doug Smith at the Nature Conservation office - 1989
I was interviewed by two guys, one was the head of a department for the council (nice chap called Mark), and the other was the leader of the team I'd be joining, a guy called Doug Smith.

Doug told me after I'd been given the job that they had a few people apply for the post, and it was a close thing between me and some other guy, but the thing that swayed their decision in my favour was roleplaying. Doug had played D&D and thought that because I was a gamer I would know how to work as part of a team, could problem solve, had the imagination and self reliance to take the initiative, and could draw maps.

Obviously, Doug had never witnessed my D&D playing or he'd have probably thought differently!

It was a pretty easy job, I got on well with the team, although they vanished off doing surveys of the places I was drawing the maps of, driving all around the county in their little yellow council van. Gave me plenty of time to do the map work, and plot my next bit of writing.

I'd advanced onto using a word processor - wow, I know it sounds like nothing these days, but back then I didn't have access to a real computer. I had a Sinclair ZX Spectrum which was mostly used to play video games. In order to do word processing, certainly something I could print out and send to West End Games, I needed something a bit more professional. At that time, it was an Amstrad with a green screen that I could use at the town's "adult education centre". They saw it as me getting experience using word processors and writing, I saw it as a way to write.

The Price of Freedom RPG core boxed set
However, I'd moved on from Ghostbusters, but remained loyal to West End Games. I picked up a copy of "Red Dawn" inspired RPG "The Price of Freedom". A controversial game at the time, as it featured guerilla warfare in an America occupied after a Soviet invasion. Very Red Dawn.

However, I had two problems.

One was that none of my players wanted to play Americans fighting Russians. Maybe they saw it as being politically incorrect, maybe they just didn't like the idea, so I eventually ended up replacing the Soviet forces with Visitors and running the game as "V", based on the TV series.

The second problem I had was that I wanted to write for West End Games, but I had no ideas of a plot for an adventure to submit to them. I ended up taking the basic plot of Star Wars, having the vice president as a woman being captured by the Soviets, and the player characters attempt to rescue her from a fortified train that had some huge gun on it. Basically, it was rescue the princess from the Death Star before it gets within range of the resistance's base and it gets destroyed. I don't remember much about it other than the spell checker on the computer kept trying to change the name of one of the NPCs from Suzie Morgan to "Saucy Organ" which amused me to no end.

I never finished the adventure, I guess I lost enthusiasm after I couldn't find anyone to playtest it, but my interest in Price of Freedom was wavering after West End Games brought out their newest game... STAR WARS.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Trying to Be Positive

I said I wasn't going to do a blog post this week, as it's another tough one, but sitting at home, nothing good on TV, with just the cat for company, I really just needed to get into the swing of writing again...  this seemed like a good tool to get started.

I may be too tired for this, just spent over nine hours driving back to my old hometown for the burial of my mum's ashes at the "family plot" with my dad and grandfather. Exhausting, emotional, draining, but I couldn't have missed going. I'd have never forgiven myself.

Wife's flying at the moment, just about to enter Australian airspace on her first flight, leaving me home with a particularly grumpy cat, the trial month of Netflix (not finding much on there) and the sounds of powersanding/drilling echoing from next door depriving me of any sleep I could be having. You call it sleep, I call it research.

Not a lot to discuss at the moment. On the subject of dreaming and sleep, my other blog that's being used to record real dreams for use in my latest project is building. Check it out at WILD Dreaming to see what's there, and there's a link/email to submit your strangest dreams for inclusion on the site.

The game's progressing, and I know what I want the design/art to look like, so it's really just a case of getting started.

Meanwhile, I treated myself to a couple of t-shirts. I know, it sounds trivial, and bizarre that they are both the same, but the cool guys at Norwich Screen Art did an awesome job of them. Thanks guys! Handy in case I do any video things...  still pondering that (as you can imagine, my head's not in the right place to film anything).

And that's it. Sorry it's a dull one, but I'll try to continue my epic tale of game writing next time when I'm a little more awake.