the Fairgame Archive

2006-03-08: Interview with Clinton and Vincent
by Emily

We're going to do another asynchronous interview here at Fair Game.  This time I'll introduce and start off our two guests who will then interview one another.  After they've had their shake, they'll open it up to anyone else who has questions/comments. Once again, until then, everyone else can comment in marginalia.

So, with no more ado, let me introduce Clinton R. Nixon and D. Vincent Baker.  Clinton and Vincent are both independent role playing game designers. Clinton has Donjon, Paladin and The Shadow of Yesterday under his belt, and Vincent has Kill Puppies for Satan and Dogs in the Vineyard to his name. In addition to game geekery, both are learned in the ways of the computer, and support online fora for discussion and game development. Clinton is a proponent of the Creative Commons license and works with Lulu Press. Vincent works for the Baystate Medical Center. Both Clinton and Vincent have lived in a variety of areas of the US, Clinton having inhabited (at least) Seattle, New Orleans and currently—after having to re-locate due to Katrina—North Carolina.  Vincent was raised in Utah, lived in Colorado, New York and now resides in Western Massachusetts.  Both juggle full lives with family and work and will hopefully share some of their thoughts on game design and life with us today.

Hi guys! Welcome to Fair Game.

I'd like to ask you a question to start:  How did you come to design role playing games, and how do they fit into your life, and values even?

2006-03-08 19:43:51 Clinton

Hi, everyone! Thanks, Emily. You ask the hard questions first, huh? Questions like this make we wonder how long of an answer people really want to read.

Anyway, my road to design! In 1999, I was in Maryland, playing D&D with some friends. One of my friends, Peter, turned me on to a site called Gaming Outpost, which is now pretty defunct. I started posting there under the name "Prospero," and met Ron Edwards (who you know), and Scarlet Jester, and Ed Healy, and M. J. Young and all these other hoopy froods that aren't as around anymore. They got me excited about game design, but the biggest thing for me that year was Eric Noah's D&D News site - which is now EN World. Eric Noah was a school-teacher who collected all the info about D&D 3rd Edition as it came out and posted it in one place. You could really track the development process as it happened, and it got me to check out other games by Jonathan Tweet, one of the lead designers. Seeing this daily design work inspired me, and Peter and I wrote The Nutcracker Prince that year.

And then stuff got crazy, and I could talk for hours. That's the real start of it all, though.

Design played a huge role in my life until recently. It was my foremost hobby, and something I probably spent 10 hours a week on. The associated elements of that - running the Forge, mainly - still take a bit of time. I got married about five months ago, and, honestly, I'm finding it more fun than design. (Is that horrible?) I'm also expanding my social group, playing more than ever, and really enjoying just being a role-player with a family more than being a role-playing designer. That said, I'll have two games released this year, probably, so I guess I'm not as inactive as I thought. I'm doing a lot of "little design," the traditional thing a good GM does, where I tailor a game to my group. I'm running a game called "Deep in the Blue" soon, which is Vincent's Dogs in the Vineyard retooled to be a cop game, which I count as design, although I won't be releasing it, at least not for profit. I might type up my notes.

Design and my values? I'm not going into the whole story here in this post, but I've got traumatic issues with role-playing and being a kid. My parents did not approve, to put it mildly. Because of that, I continually reaccess its value in my life. My current theory is that stories are this awesome teaching mechanism our brains use to help us explore life's possibilities, and role-playing is this awesome practice arena where we get to create stories and test decisions about morals and morality that we won't get the chance to in life, or that would be too hard to confront in life. By testing them, we prepare, and are ready to really confront them. This is cool; hell, this is amateur psychotherapy for the masses. That's the coolest thing in the world!

Put another way, I've never had the real chance to find out if there's a just cause to kill a man, but I get to ask it at the table each week, and that's a good thing. So, yeah, to me, designing games is providing something good and wholesome and morally beneficial to the world. This ties into why I release games under a Creative Commons license.

2006-03-08 19:49:26 Vincent

How did you come to design role playing games?

I started roleplaying as a designer - well, a proto-designer. I was 9 maybe and my friends and I played a game of our own invention based on Zork, where I was the computer and they were the players. Probably within a couple of years of that I saw a D&D character sheet, or a Traveller character sheet, or something. I'd still never seen the inside of a published RPG, but I knew they included stats and dice, so I started creating stats and ways to roll dice for our Zork game.

I didn't play a published RPG until, oh, D&D in my sophomore year in high school. I kept designing games all throughout.

How do they fit into your life, and values even?

My values, huh? Well, I think that when they're good, rpgs are radical. Socially, personally, artistically radical. Every time I play I get a little stickin'-it-to-the-man buzz. Similar to the buzz I get when I eat Serena's mutton or eggs, you know? I KNOW where it's BEEN, and nobody had to work in a factory farm for me to eat it, and no chickens had to get their beaks cut off, and it's honest contact between me and the earth and life and death. Roleplaying is honest artistic contact between me and my friends.

Clinton, hey, along the same lines, I want to talk about music. You jam with your gaming group sometimes?

2006-03-08 20:40:08 Clinton R. Nixon

Jamming with my gaming group

Oh, man, I wish more often. We did once, and it was great, and by we I mean two of us, and I think I've misrepresented this.

So, yeah, me and Remi tried to jam one night. It was harder than gaming, especially because I'm very self-taught musically, and so I don't know how to socialize my music playing yet.

We intend to do this again, although I don't know when.

2006-03-08 20:57:05 Vincent

I used to sing in an early music ensemble, and at the same time I used to hang out with these guys and sing in bars. I wish I'd been where I am now, game-design-wise, back then. I think I would have learned something from the two different scenes, compare and contrast.

Now, looking back , all I can construct out of it is: hey, Ijod the choirmaster was like a GM, but pub-singing is like co-GMing! But I doubt that construction, I wish I had good current observations.

Ask me a question!

2006-03-08 21:15:08 Clinton R. Nixon

Oh, yeah! It's back-and-forth questions!

Ok, an easy and obvious one, with a twist.

How are you managing time for game design with being part of a large family? The twist: how's being a father of three and a husband affecting your outlook on game design?

2006-03-08 21:21:18 Vincent

Managing time... Well... Notice how I haven't released any playtest documents yet?

I remember the late, late nights and going to work the next day back in the spring of 2004 when I was finishing Dogs. I don't know how I'm going to manage those this year. I guess we'll find out if I even can.

Twist: You'll love this one, I promise, Mr. Creative Commons. You know how you once said that when we start doing this with money foremost in our minds, we'll know we've screwed it up beyond salvation? Well, the reason I'm working actively on games other than Red Sky A.M. right now is because it's a lot of years before Sebastian's going to need cash for college, but not a lot of years - in fact, month to month - that my family can use the profits from a game. So I'm focusing on designing games that'll give us money to spend right now, instead.

Being a father and husband, in other words, means to me that I have to balance my artistic passion with my material responsibilities. My job, my providing for my family - when I make decisions about what and how to design, those are in the mix.

Hm. I think you said the same thing: "I got married about five months ago, and, honestly, I'm finding it more fun than design." It would be super stupid of me to approach game design in any way that took fun away from me and my family.

About the Forge: how come you? I mean, what was it at the beginning that made you want to be the one to make it happen?

2006-03-08 21:53:59 Clinton R. Nixon

Me and the Forge

Man, totally an accident. Not that I'm complaining, mind you - I love it.

The Forge used to be a static site. A few essays and reviews, and a big page of links to independent games. And that was cool. Then Ron, through ways we shall not discuss here, lost the domain registrations to and I hosted the two for a few months under (seriously, you used to have to go to and then recovered the Sorcerer site. The Forge, I moved to, and then said, "Hey, we should have a forum to talk to the 10 of us that are really excited."

And then, the Forge as it exists, was born.

It's interesting to reflect on this, because sometimes I freak out and wish I had that little crappy forum with my 10 friends on it again, and then realize that fate thrust - and pardon my hubris, all - greatness on my shoulders. Could have been anyone's, and they'd probably have done just as good of a job. But I got lucky, and have really enjoyed the ride.

A question for you, and super-specific: ok, in Dogs, the players define the morality of the setting, right? Yet, in all the games I play, the morality ends up being pretty harsh. People who don't obey the will of the King get shot. I rarely see someone go and say, "Hey, this is ok, even though the establishment says it wasn't until now." Why do you think that is? In the games of Dogs you've played, has anyone really bucked the established society?

2006-03-09 14:54:07 Vincent

Man, I'm a nit-picky bastard.

But the short, nit-pick free answer is, nope, nobody I know of has played Dogs and not killed sinners just for sinning.

But the game's like, "will you kill sinners just for sinning? Here's your gun. And here's how very, very badly they need killing. And here's how they provoke you and keep provoking you. And you know how in every Western you've ever seen, people shoot people? Anyway will you? Will you now? How about now? NOW? NOW?" No surprise that the answer turns out to be yes, eventually.

So here's my nit-picky answer: I think Dogs kill sinners for sinning, not for disobeying the will of the King of Life. That is, and there's a name in Christian theology for this way of thinking but I don't remember what it is, God forbids you to do things because they're sins, NOT they're sins because God forbids you to do them. What Dogs' town creation does is it gets the GM to make sinners, not just people who're disobeying some arbitrary moral code.

That explains why the Dogs make the corrupt, burglarizing mine owner into the new Steward after they shoot the theologically strict old Steward down in the street. They kill the sinner, not the disobeyer. Because they, as players, respond viscerally to the sin; because sin is visible to us as human beings, regardless of creed or doctrine.

Or, y'know. That's just how I figure it.

About God though. We used to talk about religion sometimes. How's God treating you these days?

2006-03-09 16:26:00 Clinton R. Nixon

God and I

God and I have been on pretty OK terms. There's no real spark there lately: I haven't gone to church since Katrina happened, not because of the hurricane, but just because finding a new place is weird. I'm not upset or anything - I just find the idea of God fluctuates in importance in my life. Right now, it's not that important, but I still dig talking about it.

My dad just got back from a mission trip to Africa, and I listened to his hour-long talk about it and it was pretty inspiring. I was super-glad to hear that he went and built roads as well as talked to people about God. I'm still not real comfortable with the proselytizing, but I really dig the idea of your actions showing what God's done in your life. My dad lived that there, and that's cool. I like to think I'm doing that now, even if I'm not thinking about it a lot.

I'd bet I end up at a new church in the next month or so. I'm interested.

Hey, it's 11:30. I should ask you what you're having for lunch. That would be kind of silly, though.

So, a different question (although answer that if you like.) What game do you want to play right now? I'm not asking for concrete answers - although that's cool. I mean, what are you looking for in a game these days? What innovations or features are exciting you, and what innovations or features aren't there that you're looking for?

2006-03-09 16:59:49 Ricardo

[Can I just interrupt for a second to complain that the & in the title "Interview with Clinton & Vincent" is messing up the RSS feed again? Vincent, you lazy bastard, you should have fixed this by now! ;) Thanks!]

2006-03-09 16:38:15 Vincent

Right now I'm kind of watching two different congregations in crisis about their ministers. I've been saying to Meg - when I'm the minister of a church, it's going to be a God-fearing church where they don't think the minister's their employee, instead they're afraid of the minister because he speaks for God. Won't catch me putting up with that crap. I'll be like, "God tells me you aren't happy with the direction I'm taking this congregation, Brother So-n-so. I just want you to know, God doesn't care for that kind of disunity in His body. Shape up, Brother So-n-so! This ain't the Girl Scouts."

I hope you find a good one.

Lunch: Hospital food for lunch. Bleh.

Game: At this moment, and ask me again in an hour it'll be different, but at this moment, I want a leisurely game with nice immersion in a character I like, but one I like as much for his flaws as because I like him. With good, moderate situation layout and resolution, not breakneck like.

Oh wait, I know the answer! Ask me again in an hour it'll be the same:

I want a game that lifts me over my hangups about sex and romance between the characters, that's what. Whenever I'm playing a game and it's time for my character to come on to someone elses, or someone else's comes on to mine, I totally freeze up. I stammer, clam up, blush, titter, fidget, and ultimately fail to go forward with the game. Violence and transgression, no prob; straightforward sex, crash and burn.

It's stupid and unnecessary and I want a game to teach me how to hold up my end of that particular bargain.

If it also happens to be a leisurely immersive game, cool.

You were in the army! What was that like?

2006-03-09 18:34:59 Clinton R. Nixon

Sex and romance in games

Man, you and me both. I get all embarrassed about it, and I don't know why. "Leisurely," though - I don't know. I get bored easily.

The Army

Also known as "the best years of my life." Seriously.

Ok, so I'm a flamingly-liberal pacifist that thinks war is society turned to evil and all that. Why join the Army?

First of all, at the time, I wasn't that. I was just a kid. I had an overly romantic view, thinking that I'd be a hometown hero and girls would want to hang out with me at the soda fountain in uniform or whatever. Also, I really wanted to leave rural Alabama, and it was a good ticket out.

But I feel good about what I did when I was in. I lived in California, learned Korean, lived in west Texas - just about my second favorite place ever, got married, learned to break codes, lived in Korea - just about my favorite place ever, met some really nice people, helped catch a North Korean spy, hung out monthly with Republic of Korea conscriptees - who are hilarious, worked at the NSA, got divorced, and learned a lot about life. I protected my country, and I'm really glad I did. For what it's worth, I volunteered to go to Afghanistan after 9/11 (they didn't need me, though) and sent in a letter of protest asking for my security clearance to be revoked when we went to Iraq. So that's that.

I think the memory I like most is the walk from the base to my rented house in Ahn-jong-ri, the little farming village I lived in. I had to walk down this alleyway and little Korean kids played soccer there every afternoon and little dogs scampered around. It was pretty magical.

Oh, and I played in a super-awesome Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay game.

Man, you keep asking me life questions, and I keep asking you game questions. Let me see here. I'll combine the two. Kids are such an easy thing to ask you about, but I'll continue to. Have you continued to play role-playing games with Sebastian and Elliot? I know you made up some to play with them before. What games do they seem to be most interested in and where do you think this'll lead?

2006-03-09 18:44:50 Vincent

I haven't kept roleplaying with Sebastian and Elliot, no. I was on a real kick a while ago - a year ago? I don't remember - but I just found it exhausting. I...

Y'know I'm totally lying. I've been playtesting Making a Tree with them right along. I guess it's because I don't think of it as a kids' game that I didn't think of it.

So yes, the answer's yes. I haven't made up any games to play with them, but they've been playtesting Making a Tree with us and it's been t-rif.

Elliot's funny. He's five and a total boy. So his character in Making a Tree has a sword and a butt; his deal is whacking you on the head with the flat of his sword or else farting you in the face with his butt. Except one time he got this light of inspiration in his eyes and he started bouncing so hard he like to fell out of his chair, and he said "I... I... I CHOP HIS PROPELLOR BEANIE OFF!"

So let's pretend that I've got some sort of a parenting plan, I'm not just constantly winging it. In pretend world, the current stage of my plan wrt Sebastian and Elliot is twofold: play game games with them so they get playing games, and read to them - Sebastian particularly - so they get fiction. In the next stage, we synthesize those two into super roleplaying powers!

In real world, the same, except for the part about having a plan and not just constantly winging it.

So well, I should ask you some game questions then. How about, what are your favorite non-rpg games? Do you, like me, find game design and roleplaying game design to be fundamentally similar?

2006-03-09 19:08:52 Clinton R. Nixon


Dude, hilarious. I want to play in a game with this guy.

Non-roleplaying games

One of my favorite topics, to be sure.

I love with like fifteen hearts Memoir '44. A 45-minute wargame that's not mind-numbing complex or unrealistic, that's gripping in every way. I totally fall over for this game. All the Days of Wonder games are good. I remember when Ticket to Ride won the Diana Jones award and I thought you got screwed. Then I played Ticket to Ride, and, man, you were honored to be in competition with it. Insanely good game. (You still got screwed.)

What else? My wife and I love Balderdash. Card based games are great, too. My favorite's still Verrater, a German board game made of cards about errant mercenaries in a family feud.

I miss my Friday night board game group. It washed away with New Orleans, but we played a lot of crazy games. I really dug all the bidding games, like Colossal Arena, and Pizarro.

My wife is addicted to Neverwinter Nights, which is a computer role-playing game, and I sometimes play, too, helping her with her character builds by pulling out my D&D Player's Handbook and showing her what she can buy.

How do they relate to RPG design? I find myself not in agreement with you. Roleplaying game design has traditionally been very different from board game design. That doesn't mean we can't learn from board game design, though. My opinion of RPG design comes into play here: I think we know so very little about how to design good RPGs, at least good RPGs of the new model we're following. (The older model are like strategic board games without win conditions, which is why so many people have found themselves either playing them forever or abandoning them. That sounds mean, but I think it's true.)

There's only a few RPGs I'd say have good board game design. My Life With Master's probably the best.

So I'm talking in circles, but my pager went off for work at 4 this morning, so maybe I'm tired. Maybe I do agree. If I do, I say this:

- Traditional RPGs are bad, overly complex board games.

- New-fangled hippie RPGs have thrown out a lot of the board game stuff and moved toward talking and holding hands and getting along.

- The best new-fangled games learned how to harness board game design, and the best ones of the future will need to do this more.

That crazy ninja game I've been working on - Steel Shadows - I played it last weekend, and it was totally a board game, although it was kind of like Life. Go in a room, roll. Did you do ok? Progress or take consequences. I need to sit down and study some more on how to do this better.

Oh, as a side note, my game group and I are going to do something totally hot. We're going to play a WWII "Band of Brothers"-like game of Primetime Adventures. Before each game, we'll play a game of Memoir '44, highlighting which unit on the board is ours. Based off the outcome of the game, we'll then play an episode of PTA about that battle. How awesome is that?

Here's a massively simple question that will be a ton of fun to answer, and say a lot about you: what do you like to read? What have you been reading recently?

2006-03-09 19:49:16 Vincent

Dude. You totally just ate my brain.

I'll reply to your question soon, but right now I gotta say, you ate my brain. You'll see.

2006-03-09 20:27:14 Vincent

Anyhow, whether you agree with me or not, I think I agree with you. When I say "game design is fundamentally similar to roleplaying game design," what I'm really saying is "game design has A TON to teach roleplaying game design, if only we were smart enough to learn it."

Reading: I wish I had more time to read! I have this fugly commute that'd be much better spent if I could take a bus and bring a book. But I can't. I listened to Red Harvest unabridged on tape this winter, though.

Most of my reading lately's been game-in-progress related. I reread A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan and I'm in the middle of The Farthest Shore, on your recommendation. I read The Book of Atrix Wolfe by Patricia McKillip, on Emily's, and I have a couple more by her in the queue. Those for The Dragon Killer. Before that I read several military memoirs and novels, and Starship Troopers, which is a dumb book. Of them I liked Jarhead best.

I've got a bookmark in a book called Blue Blood, which is a NYC cop memoir, but I'm reading it only as I can steal minutes here and there. Mostly on the can.

I read to the kids most nights before bed. We've been reading Daniel Pinkwater books - Borgal, Lizard Music, The Snarkout Boys and the Avacado of Death. Now we're reading The Last Unicorn - not a Pinkwater book - and MAN but it's well-written. I enjoy every sentence of it.

(I read an account recently of an author at a college writing seminar. She asked a student "so what's your favorite kind of sentence?" She says that she knew he'd never be a writer because he didn't understand the question - "favorite? kind of sentence? huh?" I felt all hot and awesome because I have favorite kinds of sentences.)

Oh and I just read a Peanuts collection from the mid-80s. I hadn't read Peanuts in years, so I was blown away by the guy's mastery of the form. No surprise, I mean he would be good, but DANG I didn't realize how good is good.

How about you?

2006-03-09 20:52:55 Clinton R. Nixon

Now we're just talking about books

Holy crap, we read similar stuff. I can't wait until you hit Tehanu (from the Earthsea series.) It'll be on with the Dragon Killer. And Blue Blood is awesome. I read it to prep for "Deep in the Blue."

I read a bunch of Lone Wolf and Cub comics recently to prep for the game I'm in now, and they were pretty great. Lately, I've been deep in a bunch of programming books, which is cooler than it sounds. I hit up Raph Koster's A Theory of Fun this week, which taught me a lot.

And I'm just going to mention great books here. If you're writing a game or playing a game about war, read James Brady's The Coldest War immediately. It's awesome; it's funny; it's terrifying. Shit, writing that, I really want to write a game about the Korean War now. Argh.

Because it's later in the day, and I've mentioned I'm exhausted today, my next question is loopy. Assemble your dream role-playing group from history. Who's playing? Who's GMing? Why?

2006-03-09 21:36:15 Vincent

My dream roleplaying group from history!

We're playing My Life with Master. It's me, Jesus, Salvador Dali, and Christopher Robin Milne (as an adult), with Michael S. Miller GMing. Jesus gets really into it, he's all like "yessss masssster" and rolling his eyes wildly, but Michael makes Salvador Dali cry. Christopher Robin Milne OWNS the horror revealed.

Before we throw it open to the crowd, maybe let's let Emily and Meg ask us questions if they have any, as our gracious hosts. Then they can open it up when they're done. Sound good?

2006-03-09 22:48:27 Clinton R. Nixon

Sounds great by me. Meg and Emily - shoot!

2006-03-09 23:13:57 Emily

I'd like to hear Clinton's dream game group from history would be, and from both of you: what person from your childhood/young adulthood had the biggest positive impact on your life? (Or about one of those that did!)

2006-03-09 23:24:47 Meguey

I want each of you to answer the questions you asked. This has been really neat to follow.

2006-03-10 00:50:13 Clinton R. Nixon

Ok, I can answer the questions I asked. I'll do them each as a separate post so I don't have to answer them all at once.

2006-03-10 00:51:07 Clinton R. Nixon

I asked Vincent, "How are you managing time for game design with being part of a large family? The twist: how's being a father of three and a husband affecting your outlook on game design?"

Obviously, for me, the question's different. How am I managing time for game design with being a new husband? How's being a husband affecting my outlook on game design?

Well, I'm not managing my time all that well, and that's ok. I did finish one game already this year, but it's on hold for publication as I think it needs another playtesting and revision. I'm letting the games come as they may, and not letting it cut into my family time.

It sure is nice to have an outsider to gaming that has to listen to my ideas, though.

As far as affecting my outlook - my games before were about how one person could change the world to their vision. The Shadow of Yesterday is all about that - how you can rebuild the world. The Face of Angels, my new game, is about that - given the power to do so, what would you do to change the world?

Every game design I've thought of since then is about what it means to me a man. I know that's not a popular topic. But now, I'm not a boy, or a bachelor. Changing the world isn't as important, and that sounds pretty bad, I guess. Protecting my family and learning how to wisely fulfill my role in a relationship and household just seem more interesting and important. The Princes' Kingdom, which also should come out this year, is all about that.

2006-03-10 14:11:55 Vincent

Let's see. Since I mostly asked Clinton life questions, most of them'll be N/A to me.

I asked him about jamming with his gaming group, which I don't do, although some of us have sung together in various circumstances.

I asked him how come he founded the Forge, which I didn't do, although I did join up pretty early. I'd designed the Cheap & Cheesy and kill puppies for satan and I was working on cockroach souffle, and I wondered what else was up. So I googled "free rpg" and landed in the Forge Resource Library. I stuck around.

I asked him how God was treating him. I gave most of my answer already: I'm pretty disgusted with church right now, the whole idea of church. Absent some tyrannical God to keep us in line, church has a combination of "subject to intense small-group pettiness and politicking" and "totally voluntary" that leaves me scratching my head why anyone goes.

Yeah, yeah, church != God, I know. Whatever.

I asked him what the army was like, which I've never been in the army.

I asked him about his fave non-rpg games. Mine are: Zero (that is, Down in Flames), Pit, Spades, Squint, and Canasta.

I like Carcassonne but MAN we've played a lot of it. We have the Hunters and Gatherers one; is the regular one different enough to rekindle the romance? I like Formula D&eacute Mini, but it's not sustaining itself replay-wise, I'm not sure why. I keep looking at Memoir '44 in the game store, but last time we bought Blokus instead.

I'm psyched as hell about Mechaton right now.

...And that's them.

But I have another question for you, Clinton, after all. It's: recommend me some music! How about, recommend me a band you've been listening to for a year or less, a band you've been listening to for five years or less, and a band you've been listening to for over five years, something like that. Music you don't think I know about already.

2006-03-10 14:54:47 Clinton R. Nixon


Vincent, I'm crazy-glad you asked.

A band I've been listening to this year: The Mountain Goats. You will love this, I think. There's about 40 kajillion albums, but they're all good, so don't worry. A note: up until about 2 years ago, this guy - and it's just a guy - recorded using an old boom box. So, if you find something that's not "The Sunset Tree" or "We Shall All Be Healed," expect to hear a scratchy recording of a guy with an acoustic guitar. Which is great.

A band I've been listening to for five years or less: Bobby Bare Jr. Holy crap, what an amazing musician. This is another folky guy with a weird voice, like above, but pretty different. Most of youse won't remember this, but Bobby Bare Sr was a fairly well-known outlaw country guy, like Merle Haggard or Willie Nelson. His son grew up to play crazy rock music first (Bare Jr was the band name) and now makes really beautiful happy and sad folk-rock songs.

A band I've been listening to forever: The Byrds. Of course you've heard them, but go back and listen again. "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" and "The Byrds Play Dylan" are my favorite two albums.

Those were all male artists, which is weird because I love female vocalists. One quickly: Jolie Holland is wonderful and great and has another weirdly beautiful voice. She's on Tom Waits' label, because he requested they sign her, as I understand it.

2006-03-10 15:23:34 Clinton R. Nixon

To answer Emily's question:

What person from your childhood/young adulthood had the biggest positive impact on your life?

Emily, what a question! How am I supposed to answer this with one person?

Ok, two people.

I'm going to use these people's real names, because they deserve it. Who knows - maybe they'll find this on the Internet some day and smile.

When I was pretty young - about 10-12 - I had this thing at church called RA's or Royal Ambassadors. It was like Boy Scouts for Christians. Mike Hamrick was the guy in charge, and we never did any Boy Scout-like stuff. Mainly, we played tag football and talked a lot. He talked to us like we were his peers, and that was the first time a male adult had ever done that to me.

Now, I was squirrely. I was a weird little dude. As I got older - about 13-15 - I noticed that Mr. Hamrick wasn't like everyone else, either. Other adults didn't quite know how to react to him, and he bucked cultural norms. When everyone else's wives had short hair and were joyless, Mrs. Hamrick had hair down her back and was beautiful and laughed all the time. They had 9 kids, I think, which was insane in the 2.5 kid/household small town we lived in. They didn't have a

TV. And he was this very successful architect that was just a kid at heart. Heck, he taught us all the "hambone" - a freaky hand-slapping dance - and let us call him "Hambone."

So, he taught me that I didn't have to conform to anyone else's concepts, and never would when I got old, and that'd be ok. I'd still be successful. He was right, too.


The other one is Kay Whaley. I could swear I've thanked her in one of my games, but I can't find it now. Anyway, she's the best English teacher in the world. (I'm saying now for the first time this: man, I had the hugest crush on her.)

Early on in class, we had some assignment - I can't remember what. We had to read each others', though, and I read about 5 others. When she graded the papers, I got a C+. The people around me all had A's and B's, even though I'd read theirs and I absolutely knew mine was better. I was so convinced that I went to her after class and asked if there was a mistake. She said no. I said that I knew mine was better,

though. And then she told me that that was true, but I wrote at about 75% of where I could write, so I got a C.

Man, I was sorely pissed for a long time about that. But she made me work hard, and I got an A and I'd like to think I was a favorite student of hers. I think of her every time I write a word, and I hope I get to tell her someday that I'm a writer.

2006-03-10 15:27:42 Clinton R. Nixon

And to finish my round, the last question.

My dream group from history

I'd like to play Breaking the Ice with Harper Lee. I'm a Alabama kid, and she's amazing. She once spoke in my hometown!

I'd also like to play a game of Dogs in the Vineyard with Thomas Jefferson, Mae West, Wyatt Earp, Mark Twain, and Ambrose Bierce. Twain's the GM, of course. Jefferson's all "the-what-the-what" when he finds out what happened in the western US. "A theocratic governorship? Nonsensical fantasy!" And we all laugh, and Mae's character shoots someone in the face and then she winks at me across the table.

2006-03-10 15:46:14 Emily

Can I just say how awesome this is!  Let's open the thread up the rest of the way.

2006-03-10 15:54:42 James

You guys are both fairly big names in the 'indie' RPG scene, such as it is.  How often do you find yourselves getting treated like icons instead of people, and how do you deal with it?

2006-03-10 15:57:41 Clinton R. Nixon


This only happens when I really don't want it to, and it never happens when it'd be useful.

More seriously, I try real hard not to curry that behavior from people. It seems useless, and antithetical to what I believe about independent publishing. I've not got a high opinion of anything I've done outside of The Shadow of Yesterday and that one's some serious shoulders-of-giants work. When people do have that reaction, I try to disillusion them, and if I can't, honestly, I blow them off.

Every once in a while, I'll get into some stupid pissing match online with some kid, and then, "Hey, don't you know who I am?" But that's just the prideful human in me, and I try to keep a close watch on it.

2006-03-10 16:37:56 Vincent

James: "You guys are both fairly big names in the 'indie' RPG scene, such as it is. How often do you find yourselves getting treated like icons instead of people, and how do you deal with it?"

Once. It was Ben Lehman. I dealt with it by talking to him until it went away, which took a very short time.

The indie RPG scene is really, really little. Ten minutes and we're all on a first-name basis, there's not much room for awe.

2006-03-10 17:16:05 Troy_Costisick


Will both (either) of you have a new game ready in time for GenCon this year?  If so, which one(s)?



2006-03-10 17:25:04 Vincent

Troy: Lord willing and the flood don't rise. The Dragon Killer and/or Making a Tree.

2006-03-10 18:12:24 Clinton R. Nixon


Yes. I will have, at a minimum, TSOY Revised (again! with new cover! and textual errors fixed, but nothing else!) and The Princes' Kingdom. Expect a third piece of weirdness from me, but I don't know what yet.

- Clinton

2006-03-10 22:30:21 Luke

C, V,

Do you make a scratch pad of design ideas and if so do you find them useful later down the line? How so? Can you point to a concept/mechanic in your current games that was developed for one of your earlier (unpublished) ideas?

During the design process, what's your lowest moment? And aside from actually finishing, are there high points in design process for you?


2006-03-11 03:47:33 HOT

Vincent: I've heard that Ars Magica has been one of your favourite games. What lessons from Ars have you brought with you to your games. Also, to the both of you: What mainstream games do you currently enjoy and what elements do you want to highlight from mainstream games.


2006-03-11 12:26:09 Clinton R. Nixon

What mainstream games do you currently enjoy and what elements do you want to highlight from mainstream games?

Of all the mainstream games out there, I think I like Shadowrun the best. Which is crazy, I know! But I've had some really good experiences playing it a few years ago. Honestly, I haven't played a "mainstream RPG" - whatever that is - in a long while. There's just a limited amount of time.

A lot of The Shadow of Yesterday, though, came from the RPGs I did like when I was younger and playing. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and me were bonded at the hip. I loved D&D 3E when it came out, of course, and I've read Iron Heroes and dig it. I think I'd like Blue Rose a lot, but can't find anyone local that'd want to play it.

That was sort of a non-answer. I'll spark it up by saying something controversial - in most of the cases above, the really good time I had with those games had little to do with the game, and lied solely with the group. So, um, system didn't matter. Of course, I obviously don't feel that way these days, but I understand the point of view well.

Oh, and Shadowrun's directly responsible for Pools in The Shadow of Yesterday to give a concrete example to your question.

2006-03-12 00:45:37 Lisa Padol

Minor question for Clinton: Did you ever get the email I sent, um, a long time ago (post-'05 GenCon Indy, I think, as that's where I bought TSOY2nd but not by much) asking about Bringing Down the Pain?


2006-03-12 02:56:37 Clinton R. Nixon


Probably. The amount of e-mail I get is staggering. If you're not one of about 10 people, there's a two week response time, which sounds insane, but I get about 40-50 substantive e-mails a day, many of which take 5-10 minutes to respond to. Heck, that's a full time job on a bad day!

So, I batch them up, and sometimes they fall through the cracks and I feel like a jerk. If you've got a copy of that e-mail, send it my way, and I'll see what I can do.

2006-03-13 06:58:09 Kirk

I'm trying to find a way of asking this question without it sounging like a "how do you get your ideas" question (and I know I hate those, so I never ask them)...but how do you guys decide what's a good idea and what is a good idea and what isn't? And following that, how do you decide what games you are going to make and finish and what games are going to fall by the wayside?

This is a serious problem for me. I have like six or seven designs that I'm attempting to parse through and am curious as to how you guys do it, considering you have significantly more experience than myself.

2006-03-13 12:04:52 Vincent

Emily asks "what person from your childhood/young adulthood had the biggest positive impact on your life?"

Well, I had a great English teacher too, Mrs. Nacca my AP English teacher senior year. I never caught her grading me unfair, but her telling me when something I wrote was good and when it wasn't was an important part of me learning the difference myself.

I remember one time sitting back from a practice AP exam going, "this is the best essay I ever wrote," and then next day when she handed it back to me, she said, "this is the best essay you ever wrote." And I said, "yeah, I wish this had been the real thing," and I was going, "I've learned to read my own writing! Yay!"

2006-03-13 12:15:04 Vincent

Luke asks, "do you make a scratch pad of design ideas and if so do you find them useful later down the line? How so? Can you point to a concept/mechanic in your current games that was developed for one of your earlier (unpublished) ideas?"

I do keep notebooks and I do read back through them occasionally. When I'm reading back through, mostly what I do is remember why I stopped working on whatever I'm reading - "oh yeah, I remember the insoluble problem that led to." But occasionally I'll go "hey, that was a good idea, I wonder if it solves what I'm working on now..." and I'll spend the next few days seeing if it'll fit in.

I can't point to any specific examples, off the top of my head. I think it's because I regard the whole process as, like, leftover stew - by now I can't remember what meal this bit was originally part of.

Red Sky A.M. uses Otherkind's roll-and-assign mechanic, but that's more a case of me building on my successes than me finding a gem in my notebooks. I love that mechanic.

"During the design process, what's your lowest moment? And aside from actually finishing, are there high points in design process for you?"

My two lowest moments are: once the design's complete in my head but I haven't figured out how to write it, yet; and before the design's complete in my head, and we playtest what I've got so far, and it suuuucks. I have a nice high point in between, when it all clicks into place. I wish I could live there.

2006-03-13 14:11:31 Vincent

Haakon asks, "I've heard that Ars Magica has been one of your favourite games. What lessons from Ars have you brought with you to your games."

I had a conversation with someone at GenCon '03, I think it was Jeff Miller but I can't remember for sure. He said, "so you play Ars Magica?"

I said, "well, I played Ars Magica 2nd for a little while. Then I played Ars Magica homebrew, then Ars Magica GURPS, then Ars Magica homebrew 2, then Ars Magica Pendragon, then Ars Magica homebrew 3, and now I play Ars Magica Freeform."

He was laughing. He said, "exactly."

To answer your question: the lessons I learned from Ars Magica were about co-GMing, playing multiple PCs at a time, creating active adversity for one another - techniques for collaboration that functioned above the level of the game's actual rules. Ars Magica 2nd Edition said "oh hey, if you want, you can co-GM, play multiple PCs at a time, and create active adversity for one another, but you'll have to figure out how for yourself, since I'm too busy telling you about soak vs. damage and spell guideline levels." So we figured out how for ourselves, and that's where I learned the lessons.

It's significant that when the game went to 3rd Edition, its rules went from not supporting these higher-level techniques to aggressively undermining them. Ars Magica 3rd Edition said "I guess I'm supposed to tell you that if you want, you can co-GM, play multiple PCs at a time, and ... I don't even know what active adversity means ... but frankly I don't see how it's possible, so good luck with that, and don't blame me if it sucks."

"Also, to the both of you: What mainstream games do you currently enjoy and what elements do you want to highlight from mainstream games."

I don't play or buy any mainstream games anymore. For the kinds of play I enjoy, mainstream games are wicked poorly designed.

2006-03-13 22:35:50 Clinton R. Nixon

C, V,

Do you make a scratch pad of design ideas and if so do you find them useful later down the line? How so? Can you point to a concept/mechanic in your current games that was developed for one of your earlier (unpublished) ideas?

During the design process, what's your lowest moment? And aside from actually finishing, are there high points in design process for you?


So, anyway, here's the answers.

I have about 15 notebooks and pile them around and use them so haphazardly that they're useless. I still love writing in them, though. I'm kind of a office supply fetishist.

I can't think of any mechanics that go from game to game. I do end up writing games that I've been taking notes on for years, though. "Inside" in Matt Snyder's Daedalus magazine had been in my head and notebooks for like three years.

The lowest point for me in game design is when it's done being designed, but it ain't written yet. Secretly, I hate writing the games. I just like designing them.

2006-03-14 15:04:23 Vincent

Kirk asks, "how do you guys decide what's a good idea and what is a good idea and what isn't? And following that, how do you decide what games you are going to make and finish and what games are going to fall by the wayside?"

Got me.

Personally, I muddle through, insofar as I manage to muddle through, and otherwise I thrash and dither.

Follow your gut. Five years from now we'll probably have enough collective experience to talk about it. Meanwhile I can only tell you that looking back, Dogs in the Vineyard seems inevitable to me, but I remember when it seemed impossible. The games I'm working on now seem impossible; looking back, will they seem inevitable? I have no idea.

2006-03-14 18:14:28 Clinton R. Nixon

Answering Kirk's question:

This is the exact problem I'm tackling right now. One of my current games, The Face of Angels, seemed like a great idea when I wrote it. (Stupid shameless plug: you can download it from my files area on RPGTalk.) After some playtesting, I'm not sure it does what I want. What do I do? Do I hang it up and say "Good try?" I don't know.

I write whatever's exciting me at the time. A game tentatively called Shadow of the Lamb seemed like a great idea at one point, didn't seem like that for a few months, and now, a book I'm reading is getting me more excited. Again, I don't know!

2006-03-14 21:04:43 Troy_Costisick

To Vincent:

Did you do all the layout on the pdf version of Dogs in the Vineyard?  If so, was it time consuming and/or difficult?



2006-03-15 14:25:15 Vincent

Troy: the current PDF version, yes, consulting with J, who did the original layout.

It was time consuming, difficult, fun and satisfying. I recommend it, if you're a DIYer like me. (If you're not, I strongly recommend hiring someone friendly.)

Oh, and if you're doing it yourself, still find a good graphic designer to consult with. Every time I showed J a draft, he said "this is good, I like how it's coming together, here's something you don't know that'll make it even better." He was always right, and it was always something I wouldn't've noticed just from copying a book I like.

2006-03-20 21:19:00 Vincent

Thank you, Emily and Meg, for hosting this! It was great fun.

2006-03-20 22:16:00 Emily

Thank you, Vincent & Clinton.  Hope it was as fun to write as it was to read! Y'all rock!

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