Monday, October 16, 2017

Licensed to Play

I have a bit of a problem, and I know the cause. 

Like many tabletop gamers of my age, I started playing with the classics - Traveller first, then Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and Runequest - before starting to run my own games when I bought Star Frontiers. Y'know, the old school classics.

I really started Traveller (and Star Frontiers) because I loved Star Wars. Of course, neither of these games are Star Wars - especially Traveller - but I needed my science fiction fix. And while I was never a huge fantasy fan in my youth, I loved the games of D&D and Runequest we played.

But along came the licensed games. Games that used similar rules to the classics, but were actually properties that I knew and loved from films and TV. We played FASA Star Trek and Doctor Who, TSR's Indiana Jones, West End Games' works of genius - Star Wars and Ghostbusters. It was in licensed games that I found my real love. Maybe it's my lack of imagination, but I had less trouble mentally visualising a Rodian walking into a dimly lit cantina, or the inside of the TARDIS than I could a Scout/Courier in Traveller, or Castle Greyhawk. 
Cover for a Ghostbusters scenario I wrote
to submit to WEG back in the late 80's.

It's no surprise really that my favourite RPGs of all time are all licensed properties - Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Eden), James Bond (Victory Games), Star Wars (WEG) and Ghostbusters (WEG).

My addiction to licensed games followed me as I ventured into the realms of writing RPGs. My first attempts at writing supplements were submitting scenarios for Ghostbusters to West End Games (though heavily influenced by Back to the Future, Weird Science, and Moonlighting). When I started talking to the lovely people at Eden Studios, who really gave me my break in game writing, it was because I'd picked up Conspiracy X (which, in my head, was as close as I could get to an X-Files RPG), All Flesh Must Be Eaten (which owed a lot to Romero's classic zombie movies) and Witchcraft (whose awesome cover just made me think of The Craft).

Ironically, though I'd submitted some suggestions for supplements for All Flesh Must Be Eaten (one heavily influenced by my love of 80's horror movies, called "Summercamp Stalkers and Unstoppable Evil", and another which was basically Aliens only with zombies), when Eden silenced my nagging it was by letting me work on their Planet of the Apes RPG (in all but name) - Terra Primate.

Then it was a slippery slope. I worked on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG (which was a dream come true knowing my love of Buffy), and Army of Darkness (groovy).

Then after talking to Angus and Dom at Cubicle 7, and Chris (who would later go on to create the publishing juggernaut Modiphius) we started pitching to the BBC to create a new Doctor Who RPG.

Cover for the original pitch to the BBC to produce
the Doctor Who RPG.
I was in my element. Pitching to the BBC, writing a licensed game, making sure it felt like the series. It was licensed gaming at its purest. I was an addict, and I'd found the purest drug. Doctor Who was a blast to work on. An absolute joy. Getting to read the scripts for Matt Smith's first series months before they aired, sitting in BBC Worldwide's offices with a portable hard drive to pick cool images we could use in the books. If I smiled any wider the top of my head would have come off.

Then I got distracted. I wrote and helped film a nerd comedy webseries. I'm still happy with my scriptwriting, and I still think it's funny, but I turned down game writing work for that, which I regret. I should have stayed on target. 

Luckily, I had my own project - WILD. I figured, after feeling a bit scarred by the film-making experience that I'd do whatever the hell I wanted and it would just be me. Autocratik was reborn. Hence the name.

But that drug - the pull of the licensed game - it keeps calling to me.

I managed to get aboard with Modiphius for their amazing and glorious Star Trek Adventures, helping to shape the game - from the skills, to the publishing schedule, to the very name of the game. That was fantastic. But, working seven days a week (dayjob and dreamjob) was exhausting and I had to step back from the control panel.

So, I'm back to writing WILD. And while it fills my urge for an RPG that incorporates many of my favourite things - Inception, Elm St, Twin Peaks, and more - that addiction is still nagging away at the back of my head.

Sample layout for a proposed Licensed to Kill RPG (c)2012
Text by me, layout by Will Brooks
I still really want to do a James Bond RPG. I loved the original game, and can see how it would work modernised and updated to the new movies. In my head I can see the supplements, the game, everything...

Sample layout for a proposed Harry Potter RPG (c)2012
Text by me, layout by Will Brooks
I still really want to do a Harry Potter RPG. I love Harry Potter and I think an RPG would be great - not only for gamers, but for fans of the wizarding world yet to break into gaming. It'd be great for kids, and get them using their imaginations. It could do for tabletop gaming what the original books did for kids book publishing. Well, maybe not. But it would be a heck of a lot of fun. Yes, I've written about it on this blog, many, many times before...

Mock Stranger Things RPG cover -
I mean, it's just begging to be a game
isn't it?

I still think an official Stranger Things RPG would be awesome. Yeah, I know Tales from the Loop is genius and kinda filled that void (though it's more tech than paranormal). It still amazes me that someone hasn't done a game, especially as the series uses Dungeons and Dragons as a main plot element! You could do all sorts of paranormal investigation and uncovering government plots. It'd be great!

Yes, I get twitchy and mock up the covers for RPGs
that don't exist but I wish did...
I still think an RPG of Lev Grossman's The Magicians would be cool. If Potter is impossible, how about the cool and (more adult) take on the magical place of education? Brakebills is just the beginning, with sourcebooks for Hedge Magic, Fillory, etc... It's diverse, cool, edgy, and doesn't take itself too seriously. And you could go really dark, or burst into a musical number. Awesome!

Cover for mocked up Twin Peaks RPG
I did for a bit of fun.
I still think there could be a Twin Peaks RPG. Multi-levelled with a basic game of small town intrigue and murder mystery, before expanding into the weird and surreal Lynchian realms. 

I still think there should be a new Indiana Jones RPG. I loved the original TSR game, and with a new Indy movie coming, the time is right...

Mock up cover for John Dies at the End RPG
Original Artwork by Vincent Chong for the
limited Cemetery Dance edition of the book.

Hell, recently I've even started thinking that the novel series (and movie) John Dies at the End could be an RPG. Cthulhu-like paranormal investigations with more jokes, dimension hopping and weirdness. It'd be like a gross new version of the Ghostbusters RPG with more dick-jokes.

To the many people in the industry I bug, or have bugged in the past - I'm sorry to be such a pain. I hope, one day, to work with you all again. I'm sorry, but I've tasted the purest licensing fix there is, and that hunger to taste that joy again keeps rising in me. I can hope, but sometimes I need to remember not to bug people too much and get on with WILD.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Start of Something New

It can be a little terrifying, big changes in your life, and today marks a big change in our lives. My amazing, talented and wonderful wife, Debs, has gone to her day job at Waterstones for the last time after over sixteen years.
Debs at one of her successful Harry Potter Nights

After working in that bookstore for so long, from its early days as one of the new flagship Ottakar's stores (remember Ottakar's? Those were the days...) to being bought out by HMV and becoming Waterstones, to being sold off by HMV to become its own company again, she's been there.

Working the midnight launches of three Harry Potter novels (and the midnight launch of Cursed Child), dozens upon dozens of author events, and creating amazing displays for the windows, the author signings, and organising all of the Bloomsbury "Harry Potter Book Nights".

Back in the old Ottakar's days, when I used to work alongside her, we both contributed to the company's intranet, as editors and advisors - me looking after science fiction and fantasy, Debs looking after the mind, body and spirit section. A duty that had us working closely with publishers, and was rewarded by our MD with dinner parties and trips to HMS Belfast and the Globe Theatre.

She stuck with it through the change of company, and when Waterstones decided every shop should look the same, through to now when the shops are encouraged to create unique, exciting displays to promote the events.

Handwritten giant parchment poster to advertise Harry Potter Book Night 2016

Amazing display to promote Fantastic Beasts

It has been sixteen years of incredible highs, and dreadful lows, but in a move that surprised both of us, she's leaving. Even though I've suggested that she should leave for years, I never actually thought she'd do it - and I don't think she did either.

Window display for the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child script book -
a display used (uncredited) by The Bookseller magazine as a cover!

Dementor and discover your Patronus activity for Harry Potter Book Night

Defence Against the Dark Arts display with quiz at Harry Potter Book Night

It is scary, but I've been trying to reassure her during her times of freaking out and asking "what have I done?" by reminding her of the opening of High School Musical - it is "The Start of Something New".

Handmade Sabriel costume and display for Garth Nix event and signing

Ingenious display for Ben Aaronovitch event and signing to promote
The Hanging Tree

What that is, she doesn't entirely know. It could be crafts, putting the skills she's honed in her amazing displays to work.

I hope that part of it will see her polish off the three novels she's written - the first part of three inter-connected trilogies of awesome urban fantasy. Stories that have been buzzing around her head for over twenty years.

She could go back to her amazing skills in graphic design - never have I seen a more pedantic and accurate page layout than when she was working for 64 Solutions magazine.

Debs can do anything she likes. Whatever she chooses, I just want her to be happy.

She still loves books, and is one of the most creative people I've ever known. If I have one request from readers of this blog post, I ask you to both follow Debs' future adventures on Twitter -


And check out her new blog, where she talks about writing, the creative process, and whatever else is in her mind. It's brilliant, and well worth following.

Dead Chapter Graveyard

Thank you. I look forward to seeing what she gets up to!