Monday, 14 January 2013

Interview - Claus Bornich


Please welcome to Farsight Blogger Claus Bornich, a writer and publisher of roleplaying books through Radical Approach.

Welcome to Farsight Blogger. Perhaps you'd like to tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hi, my name is Claus Bornich and I'm a roleplaying game addict. I live in London - south of the Thames - and I write and publish roleplaying books through Radical Approach. I've been playing for about 23 years and tinkering with systems and writing stuff for my games for all that time. I don't remember exactly when I decided to write my own system from scratch, but I think it was a year or two after the millennium that I started to pull together my notes and tried writing down my ideas in a language that might be interpreted and eventually deciphered by others. Long story short, I ended up creating Radical Approach which has since published several books and is still going strong and now in an exciting new partnership with Chronicle City.

Tell us about your RPG history - what got you into the wonderful world of tabletop roleplaying?

I think my very first roleplaying experience was either Cyperpunk or a Swedish game called Drakar och Demonar, but it was when a friend of mine handed me the boxed set of MERP (Middle Earth Role Playing) and told me that I had to GM because he didn't want to read all the rules that the hobby really sank its claws into me. As a consequence I became a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings and all of Tolkien's works (I only discovered Michael Moorcock, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert. E Howard and H.P. Lovecraft much later, but I'm now a huge fan of their writings as well) and I ran campaigns that lasted for years using Rolemaster and Spacemaster, as well as playing in all sorts of games such as Star Wars, Ars Magica, Earthdawn, Shadow World, Heavy Gear, Wereworlf, In Nomine, Mage, Vampire: The Masquerade and a bit of Call of Cthulhu.

What is it about the tabletop RPG hobby that attracts you? What do you enjoy most when playing a game?

I love all sorts of games from roleplaying games to computer games, but I'm having the most fun when I can fully engage my imagination in designing, creating and writing games. One of the most wonderful aspects of tabletop roleplaying games is their open-ended potential and complete freedom to take the game in any direction the group wants. I'm also quite enamoured with sandbox games at the moment, although I also quite like games which have sharply framed scenes and episodic structures. There is also so many great settings and systems out there that I struggle to maintain focus on any one game, but I really enjoy long running campaigns where you get properly immersed in the world and your character. I have a soft spot for dark settings and quite unbelieavably I have yet to play in a post apocalyptic sci-fi horror!

What's your favourite game? What games that are out there at the moment float your boat?

This is an impossible question. There are so many different games that I love for so many different reasons, but I'll try. Of course the games you have never played often seem a lot sexier, and both Transhuman Space and Blue Planet are two games that I often eye on the bookshelf when the wife is not looking. Primarily for the settings, although Blue Planet's Synergy System looks very solid. My most recent flirt is with Eclipse Phase and right now I'm thinking that this could be the one... I am also really hot for playing Hot War or Cold City, a couple of really fantastic indie games by Malcolm Craig. Another indie game I'm looking forward to playing is Durance by Jason Morningstar which I picked up at Dragonmeet and was funded on kick starter apparently. It gave me lots of ideas just reading it. Then there is the neat little indie game Witch: The Road to Lindisfarne which I first encountered at IndieCon and I now own a copy of! As for games I've actually played I have to name The One Ring my favourite this year. Not only is it beautifully produced, but the system works really well to promote the feel of Middle Earth and it is fun to play. I also had the privilege of playing a dark session of Cthulhu 7th edition with Scott Dorward at this year's Dragonmeet and the group of us playing enjoyed it so much we're thinking of getting together again for more punishment. I've also been working on my own Sci-Fi Dice system and I've just let me imagination and creativity go a bit wild and I'm dying to try it out soon.

Do you still get time to play? What are you playing at the moment?

Yes! There is never enough time, but you have to make it a priority. If it matters enough to you then you will find the time. It helps if you're open minded about trying new games with new people. With friends living so spread out I do a lot of my playing online or at conventions.

The real difficulty is finding a time that others can also fit in and where everyone has the energy to actually enjoy playing. It should be fun after all! I recently tried to get an online Sandbox game off the ground for Crimson Exodus (using Fantasy Grounds II virtual tabletop software) and gathered together a small group of players spread over Western Europe. Right from the very first session it was a struggle to find timeslots and then get everyone to show up. Overtime and an energy draining day at work is the biggest killer, with family a close second. Obviously both of those are incredibly important and I would never be upset with someone for prioritising either, but it can make it hard to schedule a game. Even so, it has been a good year for me gaming, roleplaying and writing, and my new year resolution will be to do even more roleplaying next year.

The tabletop roleplaying hobby has been through a lot changes over the years and it seems that its death-knell is always sounded when newer hobbies come along, such as collectible card games and online computer games. It still seems to be able to hold it’s own, though – what do you see happening to the hobby in the future? What changes, if any, do you think will have to be made to ensure its survival?

I think there are more quality and innovative roleplaying games being created today than ever before and the industry is vibrant and exciting, if not very profitable. There is a whole new industry of indie games that has been developing and I'm really enjoying all the clever new games being published, and often self-published at very high quality. It can often be hard to get new people interested in roleplaying because of all the investment in time to read rules and gamebooks, but many of these new games are designed to be run without any preparation in a single evening, and often with no need for a game master. I would think this should help a lot of people get into the hobby.

I also mentioned the virtual tabletop Fantasy Grounds II in my previous answer and that along with online forums, google documents (and google wave, R.I.P.) and so on have meant that I have played more games with more people than ever before. I'm a bit of a transhumanist and I love new technologies and I think tabletop roleplaying games can and will benefit, even if you still sit around a table most of the time. I see people using tablets for battle maps or to save themselves from dragging around a heavy backpack of books. There are clever google apps for organising and scheduling atmospheric music and sound effects aimed specifically at roleplaying, virtual 3D dice rolling apps on your phone and much more. The Fighting Fantasy books were some of the earliest forms of roleplaying and now they are having a revival with interactive books on your tablet. All these new technologies and ideas create new communities and opportunities for new ways to roleplay.

I have played my fair share of MMORPGs and some have good stories, some have fun gameplay (for a while), but none of them are anywhere near as creative, open and exciting as a good roleplaying game. I always feel restricted and forced in my choices in MMORPG and online games all have in common that they are very repetitive and don't allow for much, if any, creativity. I also know several people who were introduced to roleplaying through MMORPGs and then progressed to tabletop roleplaying. Online games will keep getting better and will challenge tabletop roleplaying, but I hope that eventually the line between a tabletop and an online MMORPG will become blurred rather than one killing the other. Eventually, I'm sure there will be engaging and interesting virtual roleplaying worlds and we might use augmented reality devices to really immerse ourselves around the gaming table. I look forward to seeing how it all develops.

Out of all your projects, what are you most proud of?

Probably Crimson Exodus. My first published roleplaying game and a very comprehensive system and fantasy setting. If I had understood how much work would be involved I would never have attempted it, but I'm proud of the result. Over the years I have spent a stupid amount of time on games and settings that ended up in the bin or in an archive never to see the light of day again, but I think you need to experiment and all that background material has given Crimson Exodus a rich setting with some depth. Not least because I spent a lot of time thinking about the history, interaction and purpose of the various races, kingdoms and empires. Also, without Crimson Exodus the Fantasy Dice system would never have been published and I think that would have been a shame.

I'm also very proud of Trauma, which although it was a side-project, made it into second edition by the time Crimson Exodus was finished. Trauma is a roleplaying wound encyclopedia and post trauma game system which I spent years researching because I wanted to write the most accurate possible gaming book on human anatomy and all the horrible ways we can be hurt. I find it a really handy tool for bringing in some realism when someone is shot in the stomach or get an arrow in the knee. It's always fun to terrorise players with a sucking chest wounds or acute kidney failure! I know, I'm cruel.

You’ve no doubt mixed with other great names in the roleplaying community – do you have any stories or anecdotes to share? Any horror stories? Be as frank as you like!

One of the things that have kept me going all this time is all the friendly support and advise of people in this industry - both online and at conventions. Anyone interested in roleplaying games, and especially in writing them, should attend a few conventions every year and get to know other like minded people. It really helps morale, and it has been invaluable in getting inspired with new ideas or just the will to keep going sometimes.

Getting into a partnership with Angus Abranson (Chronicle City) was a big moment for me. I have a lot of respect for everything he has done and been involved in from Cubicle 7 to Dragonmeet. I was also honoured that the Collective Endeavour was willing to share a stall with me for a few years and there I got to meet some great game designers such as the always friendly Andrew Kenric who wrote such terrific games as Dead of Night and Lost Days of Memories and Madness. Neil Gow (Duty & Honour) and briefly meeting the man behind Hot War and Cold City Malcolm Craig. I was also very happy to get to play in one of Gregor Hutton's games, a tribal take on his simple but fun 3:16 Carnage Among the Stars, and I've enjoyed getting to rub shoulders with many other writers and game designers at various conventions. I have also really enjoyed working with artists on my books, and especially Chris Pritchard who did much of my artwork for Crimson Exodus and Forest Immel and Robert Altbauer who created some wonderfully terrifying artwork for Echoes of Death and a very cool map respectively.

What are you working on at the moment?

I have just finished Fantasy Dice and that along with Trauma is due to be printed and circulated by Chronicle City. Fantasy Dice is the revised rules from Crimson Exodus and is designed to be a fast and elegant gaming system with some crunch that focuses on roleplaying and tactical gaming. For more take a look at the Radical Approach website.

Even more recently I've finished Crimson Exodus 2nd Edition as well as the first stand alone adventure Echoes of Death - again both which will be printed by Chronicle City. Echoes of Death has been playtested and worked on for over a year now and I've had a lot of fun writing and running it. It can be set in most fantasy games, but it was written based on the lore of Crimson Exodus and stars a party of four orcs and a dwarf stuck together for survival deep in the underground warrens of the mountains near the Rocky Seas (obviously it can be also be played by any other party but those are the pre-made characters). It is my favourite game to run at cons even though it can easily last for two sessions if there is a lot of group conflict or getting lost. I speed it up a bit by running the Turbo Dice version which is a fast-play, turbo-charged version of Fantasy Dice and will be released for free in the new year.

I'm also a software developer so I've create a Fantasy Dice ruleset for Fantasy Grounds II that I'm proud of and will be releasing in the new year, although a few people have already got their hands on it and I use it in all my online games. I also host a site for sharing your Fantasy Dice characters online, and it even has a simple chat room with dice rolling features. It's completely free to use and you can find it here.

PDFs of all my books are always available from DriveThruRPG / RPGNow, as well as from Chronicle City where you can get it together with the printed version.