Metal Pope:
How are Fates Worse Than Death and Tibet being received? I guess it's hard to promote an RPG without lots of money to back it up?

Brian:
It is hard. I've had enough money to run ads in place like Knights of the Dinner Table, but that's nowhere near the media blitz of a Wizards of the Coast or White Wolf ad campaign. I'd have to say that people who see and ad or see the game on the shelves take an interest in it, but there's still a large percentage of gamers who have never heard of the game.

Metal Pope:
Do you think that's one of the major problems in the industry? Just like so many other industries, it's not always the best RPG which is well-sold, but the best-looking one and the one with the best advertising campaign to back it up.

Metal Pope:
Re: D&&D, or Warhammer in the wargaming community.

Brian:
I've taken it for granted as a fact of life in the retail industry. I think someday, with the help of the internet, we might evolve to a point where things that are good naturally rise to the "top of the heap" and advertising will be useless and antiquated, but we are far away from ever developing anything like that. Yet every big RPG started off as a small RPG, they used their limited advertising budget wisely, and mostly depended on word of mouth by people who loved their stuff. I hope my games are growing in the same way and will someday reach a larger audience.

Metal Pope:
Do you have any idea how many people you are reaching now?

Brian:
Not really. I know how many unit's I've sold, but I don't know how many of those are just sitting on game shelves or (even worse) in the inventory room of some small online game shop. I've tried to encourage fans to get involved, with our message board and the Fan Rewards program, but I have no way of knowing how many people have bought the games, play the games, like the games, but for whatever reason they aren't joining in the community I've tried to create.

Metal Pope:
Well, several of us will be joining soon!

Brian:
That will be great. A community is one of those things where the whole is more than the sum of the parts, so every person who joins makes the discussions and the culture of the community that much more deep and interesting.

Metal Pope:
Yes, I want to talk about that later on, too! When and why did you decide to become an RPG writer and what were your experiences with RPG's before you started work on your own games?

Brian:
Well, first let me say that I have a bit of a problem, which is I want to try every creative endeavor I see. I remember when I was a little kid and I saw the Empire Strikes Back, all I could think about was that I wanted to create my own sci-fi movie.

Metal Pope:
(hahaha)

Brian: And when I heard about Magic: The Gathering, before I had played a single game I wanted to create a collectible card game. My older sister, who is 7 years older than I am, played D&D and would tell me about her campaigns and let me read her books, and so I was trying to design a game before I ever even played. I'm glad I did play, though, because roleplaying in real life and roleplaying in theory are very different.

Metal Pope:
Yes, that's why it's so difficult to explain role-playing to non-gamers.

Brian:
As far as my role playing experience: I've played some D&D, although sporadically and mostly with DMs who didn't really understand the rules and just winged it. I've played some White Wolf. I think the longest campaigns I played in were a couple of Fusion based games, one was an "anime-highschool with superpowered teens" and the other was a sort of "superpowered cops in a cyberpunk future."

Metal Pope:
What attracts you to RPG's? What do you find so special about role-playing? I did an interview with Steven S. Long last month and he thinks role-playing is escapism but I do not agree entirely. I'm a therapist myself, and I think role-playing CAN be about escapism, but I think many people, on a subconscious level, play because of what Blind Guardians's singer, Hansi K├╝rsch, might call 'keeping the glitter'. They play because they still have imagination, want an outlet of their creativity, and refuse to become jaded by problems in real life.

Brian:
For me, I think one of the main attractions of roleplaying is exploration. I've always had a huge drive to explore, but I've also had a desire not to get arrested or hurt, so I look to more abstract ways of exploring. Roleplaying gives you a world you can explore safely. Roleplaying is also the only "game" where you have unlimited possibilities. In a computer game, you can choose to attack, or to use a limited number of "usable" objects, but in a roleplaying game you can do anything. You can punch a hole in a wall, you can find a bubblegum wrapper and fold it in to a paper crane. You can bring the full power of your creativity to solving a problem and some up with something wonderfully unique and unexpected.

Metal Pope:
That's a very interesting viewpoint, and I think it's spot-on. It's about the wonderment you get when you explore, when you discover something new, solve a puzzle or a problem, etc. And role-playing, indeed, is the only game which is only really bounded by the imagination.

Brian:
A lot of people focus on the "taking on another identity" part, but the people I've played with seem to play characters who are just exxagerated versions of themselves. Maybe for some people the "being someone else" part is important, but I haven't played with them.

Metal Pope:
Really? That's interesting. I've been playing for 20 years now and although oftentimes some characteristics of the PC's are a reflection of the players', many roleplayers actually put in an effort to play someone else entirely. I think, however, it's a good observation many players do play characters who are, in many ways, exaggerated versions of themselves.

Brian:
Well, the people I play with do put effort in to "acting like" their characters, and adopting a few motivations that their characters have that they themselves don't (e.g. revenge on some ancient enemy, a desire to excel within a certain NPC group). Mostly, though, I see the way their characters act as the way they would act if they didn't have certain constraints on them. Remove the constraint of fear of injury and death, remove the constraint of trying to be a member of a society of laws, remove the constraint of being a "normal" person without any special powers of combat abilities, and then see how they would deal with certain situations. A lot of roleplayers I know seem to start with the question "If I was a badass with a big sword and I lived in a world of monsters, what would I do?" Thing get a little more complicated, and the questions they ask get a little more interesting, but I think the basic question for most roleplayers was still "If I had...."

Metal Pope:
In my experience, some players start out that way, but after they mature a little bit, they are far more interested in playing believable, three-dimensional characters. I think Fates Worse Than Death, for example, is a game which caters to those players. Sure, powergamers and munchkins will find lots of character classes they can adopt to become a powerful fighter, but most mature role-players

Metal Pope:
will be more attracted to an interesting background, a believable history, and strange or special personality quirks. And Fates Worse Than Death has a host of options available for those players.

Brian:
Thanks for the compliment. What I tried to do in Fates was to create a number of philosophies or ways of looking at the universe, and then build character classes with their own society and powers around each one. My hope was that people would find a philosophy that was similar to their own and that they would have fun exploring what it's like to be part of a group based on that philosophy.

Metal Pope:
That's funny. I never imagined you would create a game based on people finding a philosophy SIMILAR to their own! Is that the concept behind the quizzes on the website? Because my players had a lot of fun answering the questions according to WHO THEY ARE and then REPEATING the quiz and answering the questions according to WHO THEY WANT TO PLAY!

Brian:
Was there much of a difference?

Metal Pope:
Absolutely! One of my players always plays lone wolf-type of characters, and kind of got the same results. The others got something different entirely, although when they answered the questions according to their own personality, I could actually imagine them actually being in the character class they got as a result.

Brian:
Well, when I put together the personality tests I tried to incorporate some stuff from the philosophy of the PC groups, but I also put in stuff from the lifestyles of each character class, so that the results would not just match up with what the group tends to believe in, but also how they tend to live.

Metal Pope:
Do you have any experience in putting together personality tests? In the game, you often talk about things like philosophy, psychology and lots of technical issues. I read the interview on your site, but couldn't really get what you subjects you take at school or university yourself, what subjects you took.

Brian:
I was a psychology major in college, and I did study personality and advanced statistics, so I tried to use that info when designing the personality tests. I also minored in anthropology and I took a lot of philosophy classes. I worked for a few years as a computer tech, which is where I got most of my technical knowledge.

Metal Pope:
Aha! That explains a lot! I kind of figured as much. Did you want to share some of your knowledge with the players reading your books, or did you just use it to complement the game and make it more believable?

Brian:
Um... that's a hard one to answer. I guess I'd say that every subject I study, be it psychology, computer technology, philosophy, history, anthropology, changes the way that I understand the world working. And when I put together a fictional game world, I try to understand how it works as well, and so I naturally have to explain the history, computer technology, mental health issues, cultures, etc.

Metal Pope:
I think it makes the game a LOT more complete than the average RPG, the care you took to make the world believable and explain socio-economic and cultural phenomena shows through in both games.

Brian:
Thanks. I sort of feel like I didn't necessarily "design" the game world, I created a few historical and technological changes and then I tried to figure out what changes to the society would have necessarily happened because of those changes. To a degree, the world sort of designed itself.

Metal Pope:
What do you think sets Tibet and Fates apart from most other games? What would be a good reason to buy these games, either as the first RPG ever or as the newest RPG in a long line of games.

Brian:
Well, frankly, I don't know if Tibet or Fates would be a good first RPG for someone to buy. There's not a lot of information in there about how to play, the books sort of assume you've been roleplaying for a while. I did it this way mostly because I was designing the games for a more "mature" audience. A good reason to buy the games is if you want a very complex and detailed game world you can share with your fellow players. I've seen peopel create great homebrewed game worlds, but the problem is that they aren't written down, they exist only in one person's head, and so the players can't browse through information about the game world. There's plenty of good free rule systems out there, so I think the only reason to buy a game is if it gives you a nice shared world. Both Tibet and Fates have worlds that allow for a lot of different styles of play and a lot of different types of characters. You can run the gamut from horror, to politics and diplomacy, to organized warfare.

Metal Pope:
Correct! Are you yourself fascinated by the subject matter specifically, and are there any other ideas you would like to shape into an RPG system? The rules system you designed is simply excellent, and since Tibet and Fates use the same system, you can concentrate on the setting. On the other hand, it would be great if more supplements to Fates and Tibet would eventually be available.

Brian:
I get fascinated by just about everything I try to research, so I went from "hey, a game about Tibet might be interesting" or "I think I should set this game in New York" to being completely fascinated by Tibetan culture and New York history and reading every book I could get my hands on. As far as supplements, I have the first supplement for Fates at the printer right now. I'd like to create more Fates supplements, and at least one Tibet supplement, but that all depends on how many people buy these games. It's a significant investment to create a supplement, and it would be foolish to do so if nobody it buying the core book.

Brian:
You also asked about ideas I'd like to shape in to new RPG systems. I have tons of ideas. There are probably about 10 complete RPGs I'd like to write. At the rate I'm going it would take a long time to do that! You are right, now that I have the basic rules system written, I don't have to rewrite it and that will make things easier. I also hope to create a basic set of "modern world" skills and equipment, which will make it easier to write modern world games, allowing me to focus on writing about what's "different" in this setting.

Metal Pope:
Tell us something about what to expect from the upcoming supplements, and what other supplements or maybe even RPG's may be coming in the near future!

Brian:
Well, I don't want to make promises too far in the future because I don't want to disappoint anyone. The supplement at the printer right now is Behind the Eyes of Madness, which deals with mental health issues in the world of Fates Worse Than Death and stuff that effects mental health (religion, sex, ideologies, etc.). Behind the Eyes of Madness will hopefully be the first in a trilogy of sourcebooks called the "After Midnight" series. The second book in the series I hope to write will deal with the history and past of the people and places in the Fates universe, and specifically about how unresolved issues from the past can come back to cause problems for the characters in the present.

Brian:
The next RPG I'm going to write will be called In Dark Alleys. It will be a modern horror game. I've put an ad for it in the back of Behind the Eyes of Madness, which means I've committed myself to doing that game next rather than some other game.

Brian:
I'd also like to do a new non-RPG projects before I put out In Dark Alleys. I've got a card game, a novel, a comic book and a negotiation game in the works. Although none of those will get done until I choose one to focus on and work only on that project.

Metal Pope:
Wow, that's a lot of projects! (next day)

Metal Pope:
Yesterday, you talked about your studies... I was wondering if you are now working full-time on RPG's, or if you are still doing something else.

Brian:
For a little more than a year, I've been working on writing and publishing almost full time. I do other jobs but they are intermittent or one-day-a-week. My wife just had a baby and when her maternity leave is over, I will be watching the baby as well as writing/publishing. I'm a bit worried about how much writing/publishing I will get done, as little Victor Tenzin is a bit of a handful.

Metal Pope:
Haha. I've worked one year full-time with kids, but I now concentrate more on youngsters and adults, and I'll be starting in a major corporation next week (working 1, 2 or 3 days a week).

Brian:
After school, I worked a full-time job, and tried to do writing too. I got some work done, but it just doesn't compare to being able to sit down and do writing or editing or page layout for 8 hours straight. I would come home from work and if I wasn't too tired I would sit on the couch with my laptop and work on games until bedtime, but the quality of work wasn't that great.

Metal Pope:
Let's talk about the rules system somewhat! What do you think a good RPG rules system needs?

Brian:
Healing rules?

Metal Pope:
Haha! :)

Metal Pope:
How realistic should it be? Is it important that it can be played fast? Etc...

Brian:
I think it depends on the style of play. A lot of people play "cinematic" or "heroic" or "cartoonish", which in my mind are just different styles of purposeful un-realism. When I play, I prefer as much realism as possible, and so I try to write rules that support that kind of play.

Metal Pope:
(Same here. I love systems like Hero System.)

Brian:
A lot of the time I think of rules as surplus. The GM's job is to figure out what happens when the PCs do things, and mostly the GM doesn't need rules, he or she just uses his or her mind. A rule exists for when a GM wants to make an objective decision based in part on randomness, or when a player wants to be able to calculate ahead of time what the effects of an action will be without having to ask the GM. How I prefer to play, any sort of dice rolls or use of rules or stats is a rarity.

Metal Pope:
Absolutely. I think there's another reason to have rules: players often take on the role of characters who have skills they don't have. A gamemaster can't expect a player who takes on the role of, for example, an archeologist, to know everything about archeology!

Brian:
That's true.

Metal Pope:
I've been practicing martial arts for 15 years now and I noticed the combat system is simple yet very intuitive and even realistic. As long as everyone has a table with all of the possible actions listed on it, combat can proceed pretty fluidly. How did you come up with this idea of combat and do you have any experience in martial arts or something like that yourself?

Brian:
No, I don't have any experience with martial arts. The combat system is something that grew and evolved over a long period. Mostly it was an attempt to correct two things that bugged me about combat systems for most other RPGs. The first thing that bugged me was that there was no chance to use an intelligent strategy to give yourself an edge. You basically rush in to battle, attack and dodge, attack and dodge until you or the opponent are dead. If combat is going to be so important, I wanted people to be able to strategize. The second thing that bugged me was that in most RPGs there is only one type of damage and very few ways to improve the amount of damage you do and the likelihood you will do it. I wanted a system where you could use intelligence, strength, agility or willpower to your advantage and where you could do more than just "if I do this enough times you will die" types of damage.

Metal Pope:
And you succeeded admirably! One thing I was wondering: why fixed damage?

Brian:
I know it's not entirely realistic, but I figured if I made combat as realistic as possible it would be impossibly complicated. Damage seemed like a good place to draw the line and say "well, we can sacrifice a little bit of realism here and make combat go a lot quicker." Remember, though, there's wings, which target extremities and do half damage, and vital strikes, which target vital areas and do double damage, so there is some variability in damage done, it's just a matter of the strategy the player chooses rather than luck.

Metal Pope:
True. If you had to rework combat knowing what you know now, after feedback from the fans, is there anything you would do differently?

Brian:
I haven't gotten a lot of feedback about the combat system, and all that I've gotten has been positive. I have noticed, and a few people have pointed out, that combat skills can make a character so much more powerful than an untrained individual that the untrained person has no chance. I might try to make combat skills a tiny bit less powerful.

Metal Pope:
It would also be relatively easy to include some more martial arts! :)

Brian:
I would like to include more combat skills, and I probably will, I just have to do more research on martial arts. One problem with Fates that a few people have pointed out is that there are very few skills that improve dodge. I'd like to rectify that.

Metal Pope:
I think the point of being so much more powerful if you've got combat skills is: normal people try to avoid combat as much as possible, and so should the PC's! Combat can be very deadly, after all.

Brian:
That's another thing I wanted to do in the combat system, is make it so that anyone, including the PCs, can receive mortal wounds very quickly. I wanted combat in Fates to be something that is not entered in to lightly as it is in some other games.

Metal Pope:
So... what about those healing rules, eh?

Brian:
When I decided not to write any, I had no idea that so many people would want them. The basic problem is that so many things can effect rates of healing: how much do you rest, what nutrition do you get, do you keep wounds clean, are you a generally healthy person, etc. I figured that instead of creating a complex system of variable healing rates, I'd just let the GMs come up with whatever they think is appropriate. It seems that people really want healing rules, so I'm going to write some up, post them on the website and add them to the rules section of the next RPG I write.

Metal Pope:
I think one of the main problems is that you don't talk about why you didn't include any in the game itself. That way, it just seems like an omission instead of a conscious decision. Another thing is that so many different types of injuries are possible in game terms. It was an excellent idea not to use a single set of damage, but specify blunt damage, cutting damage, electrical damage, etc. However, if you do THAT, it's not that big a step to include different ranges of healing time with each type of damage.

Brian:
I'll come up with something. Rules go through a lot of revisions with me. I usually write something as realistically as possible, then I come back later and look for ways I can simplify it. The cryptography rules, for instance, started as a page long table, and I was able to distill that in to a few (relatively) simple rules.

Metal Pope:
The hacking rules ARE somewhat involved. (But it does make for more exciting hacking attempts.)

Brian:
I don't think the hacking rules are more complex than, say, the fighting rules. Yet everyone has seen a fight in a movie or in real life, so I don't have to explain as much to them. The hacking rules are big, but a lot of that is explaining what's going on and what it means to people who don't actually know about hacking.

Metal Pope:
There seems to be a problem with legality ratings. Some items include them, others don't, while it's obvious they're probably illegal. Or aren't they?

Brian:
They probably are, and I just forgot to put in the legality rating for them. Are you thinking of anything in particular?

Metal Pope:
No, there's different examples. I thought of writing everything down, but that would have been too much work so I didn't do it so far. The one thing which could really be improved on is the proofreading. Will there be another print?

Brian:
At the rate I'm selling books, not for a while. Maybe someday. It's all a matter of getting a fan base going. If a few people buy the book because they think it is interesting, but never actually play it, then my sales will slowly trickle down to nothing and I'll probably be left with a huge stack of boxes of books in my living room. On the other hand, if people start playing the game, then that gets other people involved in the game universe, and that creates a self-reinforcing cycle where the more people who play it the more valuable the game book is and the more it sells. I can only hope that I'll be able to make a second printing and I'll be able to get rid of some of the more embarrassing mistakes.

Metal Pope:
If you had more money to do a different layout, and maybe do something about the cover (the Fates cover is too light), what would your ideal versions of your games look like?

Brian:
I guess I would make Fates a little bigger (pagecount-wise), then decompress the layout a little. Make the text a little bigger and put a little white space so it has room to breathe. I would also have a lot more art. I probably wouldn't do the interior as color, just because it would increase the cost of the book to the player without all that much reward (the Fates universe isn't all that colorful anyway).

Metal Pope:
Hehe. One more thing: just by looking at the website, it's obvious you care a lot about the fans, or at least want to give them loads of extras (which should help sell the game). What are your thoughts on providing these kind of things to players?

Brian:
Well, some of the stuff on the website I just put there because I thought it would be cool, like the personality tests, or the background music, or the character sketch generator. The Fan Rewards program was something I stole from a couple of programs my wife was in to. These programs would give you points for taking surveys or logging in to a certain legal research site, and you could redeem those points for free prizes. When I stole the idea, I was thinking "why pay advertisers, who don't care about the game, when I could pay fans to advertise the game, and pay them with stuff that would be cheap for me to produce but have value to them, like game posters and postcards and stuff." What I didn't expect when I started the program was that I would find people willing to do translations. For enough points to get a free book, a couple of fans just translated all of the Organic Rule Components in to Spanish. That was a great deal for me, and the fans seemed to enjoy participating and getting stuff.