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October 5, 2009 / Joe Osborne

Interview: David A. Hill Jr. & Filamena Young Talk Table Top Games

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David A. Hill Jr.

Last week while gallivanting about the Game Core Con floor, I had the lucky chance to sit down and talk with this year’s convention panelists, David A. Hill Jr. and Filamena Young. With David being an author of many White Wolf Publishing table top role playing games (RPGs) and Filamena being a novelist and avid table top player, of course we talked about stuff like what it takes to write a table top RPG, the RPG scene in Philly and the state of table top games today and how it’s shifted since the days of character sheets and saving throws.

What first brought you into the realm of table top RPGs?

David A. Hill Jr: Vampire: Masquerade is the reason I work in the industry). When I was growing up, I didn’t really get into the same fantasy gaming a lot of my friends did. It wasn’t ‘cool’ to my teenage sensibilities. Vampire was cool. It was cool in the way Lost Boys was, in the way Interview with the Vampire was. It was edgy. It hooked me. Since then, I’ve branched off, but Vampire is absolutely what got me into gaming.

Filamena Young: I got started with Paladium’s Rifts game. Sort of a post apocalyptic fantasy multiverse grab back with occult rules, very mechanics heavy. To me, at that age, it wasn’t the most inviting or welcoming game for me as a young teen gal trying to play with the guys I knew. But, it was the game they wanted to play, and I was dedicated to impressing the boys and keep up so I learned the crazy rule set, even mastered them and eventually had my own hacks and house rules to make it work. To this day, I’m the best Rifts Game Master I know. Really. I rock that game.

How do you normally begin to write the setting for a table top RPG?

David: For me, an outline for an RPG begins with one declarative sentence. I always go back to that one sentence when I’m writing the outline, in the same way that I go back to the outline when writing the main material. If I have a choice between two options, I choose the one that’s closest to the sentence.

Filamena: Like David said, outlining and having a core design concept is really important. I write novels from time to time, and try to look at that design concept like you would a pitch line for a novel. When you want to sell a novel, you’ve got to be able to distill the whole 300 page monster to one sentence. No different with a game. I need to be able to tell you, in a sentence, what your going to get out of my game. Sometimes that’s, ‘play the monster, feel the struggle,’ or ‘slay the dragon, win the princess, get some loot.’

More after the break!

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Filamena Young

Is there always some iconic villain to defeat in a table top RPG, or are there differences from the norm?

David: There are two ways to write the villain. Either canon or non-canon. Basically, you can write villains who are named, who play an important role in an overarching story, or you can help your readers build things with a more sandbox/toolkit approach. I prefer that method, since I’m the type of gamer who rarely runs a game as written, I like to add a lot of my own style and personality to it.

Filamena: My favorite table top games are the ones where I have a number of choices as to who my villain will be, that either as the Game Master I can twist the game and the mood to present the villain I want to use, or wait and see who the characters choose as their villain. The second option is always more fun, I’ve found, because my players so regularly surprise me. I know we talked a little bit about Fallout 3, and how through the decisions you make in game you can end up with any number of enemies. My table tops tend to go like that. It all depends on who you shoot in the head, right?

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Artwork from the World of Darkness Series

How do you feel table top RPGs have changed since the days of the original Dungeons and Dragons and what do you think of the games of today?

Filamena: We aren’t limited to playing geek games with whom ever we can find in our little corner of the world. With these massive online games, you can find people to share your geek with all over the world. Table top has to change to accept the fact that we aren’t hiding under rocks anymore. I don’t know that you’ll ever get the same experience online or digitally that you get around the table, face to face with the people your playing with, but we can’t ignore the internet. Added content, virtual tables, game chats and all those goodies are going to be the way to keep the hobby alive and modernize it at the same time.

David: There’s a huge indie market in RPGs. You don’t hear about that stuff the way you hear about your D&D and assorted big names. But those indie games really drive innovation in the industry. If there’s a major change in a big name RPG, there’s a good chance you can point to an indie game’s influence. And that’s great. It’s how it is in film, video games, everything. When you’re working independently, you can take risks.

What can you say about the table top RPG scene in Philadelphia?

David: It’s underground, but large. I play with about twenty to thirty people off and on. I know most of them play with other people as well. I don’t know them. It’s not as tight a community as maybe a decade ago. I blame that on the internet. The internet has a really strong community for RPGs, I think local communities have felt a little disintegration because of that.

Filamena: We’re everywhere, the area has a lot of colleges, and so you know where there are colleges I can promise there are some gamers. We’ve done a lot of gaming locally, LARP, table top, that sort of thing. One of our Vampire: The Requiem LARP we played totally in public. The thing about vampires is that they don’t want to be noticed as vampires. So here’s us, dressing up pretending to be vampires who were pretending to be humans. We’d play on Friday or Saturday nights on South Street, interacting with one another and trying to have a great time with high drama without getting noticed by the non-players. It was a blast.

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Artwork from the Vampire: Requiem Series

What table top RPGs would you recommend to someone who has yet to get involved, but wants to throw a d20 around?

David: D&D 4th, because it really captures a lot of the essence of the hobby, particularly for people who are interested in social-based fantasy gaming like all the popular MMOs. It just takes that to a new level. You might not have an avatar, but you can look your friends in the eye and talk about what you’re doing. You can share the Doritos. You can’t share the Doritos in an MMO. World of Darkness is another good one. Urban fantasy like Laurel K Hamilton’s books, True Blood and even Twilight are huge right now. World of Darkness can really satisfy those types of fans. Pen-and-paper has been opened wide recently. There’s been a huge movement towards licensed products. You can play Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Serenity, Supernatural, Red Dwarf, pretty much any fantasy or sci-fi media you can think of has been licensed as an RPG.

What projects are you working on right now or have released recently that we should be excited for?

David: I’m doing a neat project right now called “I’ll Write Your Game.” I needed money real badly, so I told someone that for $200, I’d write a short game for them. Someone said he couldn’t pitch the $200, but he could do $50. He got together with three other people to give me the $200 I needed, and pitched the game collaboratively. Now, I’m writing the game this month, at the end of the process it’ll be released as an open source game that anyone can download. Or if they really love me, they can buy it.

Maschine Zeit is another project I’m doing. I’m trying to break a little ground with this one. Instead of trying to focus on traditional game statistics, I’m writing a game of dramatic appropriateness. The kind of thing where the cheerleader beats the monster at the end, where the jock completely falls on his face in a fight. It’s a game about failing at unimportant stuff, but through when dramatically appropriate.

I’m also doing a Vampire: Requiem supplement. I can’t really say a lot about it at this juncture. It’s a pretty political thing. I’ve got a bit of an upcoming Shadowrun supplement. I’ve got a few third-party Dungeons and Dragons products coming out as well. I think that’s it at the moment, but I can’t always remember. In publishing, there’s a huge difference between when you finish writing something, and when it sees publication.

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