Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Five or So Questions with Adam Koebel

I got to interview Adam Koebel about his current projects and his photography. It was super fun!

Tell me what you’re currently working on. What’s new and big in the world of Adam?

Right now the big thing on my plate is working on what’s we’re tentatively calling Inglorious - which is the Dungeon World “mass combat” or “war” or “large scale conflict” supplement. Whatever your preferred method of describing big messy battles with lots of craziness going on. Sage and I have been hammering away pretty hard at that, and it’s in the hands of playtesters right now. So we’re kind of in that harrowing phase of wondering if we’ve made something as cool as we think we have or if we’re just embarrassing ourselves with something crap. There’s always that to wonder about when you’re in the process of unleashing new stuff on the world. I think it’ll turn out okay, though. We’ve been really inspired to make it particularly old-school in the sense of it being inspired by pre-D&D war-games with a referee. Blame Jon Peterson for teaching us what a kriegspiel is.

Other than that, working on some miscellaneous little projects. Helping Sage polish up Black Stars Rise (his minimalist creepy horror game) and poking away in fits and starts at my unnamed space-opera-future-romance-game-based-on-an-IP-I-would-never-be-able-to-afford-in-a-billion-years project. Taking photos of myself and posting them on G+. Getting in heated debates about design. Making new friends on Twitter. Business as usual!

Inglorious sounds interesting! What kind of mechanics are you messing with for mass combat?

What we’re trying to do with Inglorious is port the core concepts of Dungeon World out of the dungeon and onto the battlefield. The idea that narrative is paramount - that what really matters at the table is the stuff that the players’ characters are actually seeing and doing - is something I don’t think we’ve seen in many mass combat systems before. So we’re playing around with the idea of units designed much like monsters, with their own stats but also their own agenda and foibles. Players who want to lead an army will have to rely on messengers or magic to carry their orders to their troops who, depending on the way the dice fall, will interpret those orders according to their tags. So, it’s going to have all the potential for chaos and craziness that you’d see in a more tightly-focused dungeon-based adventure. We’re really being influenced by what came before - by Chainmail and older games in the genre. Though, there’s definitely some impact on the mechanisms coming from some more modern war-games we’ve been playing lately; astute readers will see some similarities to Sekigahara or Commands & Colors when they bring Inglorious to the table. Influences aside, our big goal was making sure that Inglorious felt like a Dungeon World game. That drove our designs more than anything.

Dungeon World was a huge success. What's your takeaway from the success and aftermath?

It’s crazy, right? I think that we had some idea that the game would be popular. To be completely honest, we kind of hit the right audience at exactly the right time with a product I think that people were already looking for. Most of that was blind luck - I’m sure that if D&D Next had released a year or two earlier, we wouldn’t have seen as much of a big jump in not-quite-D&D games and their popularity. We’re lucky to belong to this weird little outcaste set that's are filling that “waiting for D&D” void - 13th Age, Torchbearer and Numenera particularly. Rob Donoghue said some really smart stuff about the D&D Offramp, as he calls it, over at The Walking Mind a while back (

I think the takeaway has been that dungeon crawling as a genre still really represents what “roleplaying” is for a lot of people. We were surprised because I think at first our intent was to make a D&D for the Apocalypse World crowd but we ended up making an Apocalypse World game for the D&D crowd. Some of our most ardent supporters are folks with little to no experience in the hobby outside of Good Old D&D (whether that was actually a TSR, Wizards of the Coast or Paizo “version” of D&D…) who discovered Dungeon World looking for something with a different focus, but that felt familiar. What I’ve really loved, though, is seeing how people are taking it and making their own. I’d like to think we set a positive precedent by making the game creative commons licensed and offering The Planarch’s Codex as a “launch title” for the game. I like the idea of DW as a platform rather than just a game in and of itself. There are some amazing supplements for it that we had literally nothing to do with. It’s a great feeling!

What I really hope, in the long run, is that DW is a comfortable start for folks who want to expand and try new stuff. A Dungeon World fan who’ll give Sagas of the Icelanders a try because the system feels familiar or who’ll pick up a copy of Dogs in the Vineyard because it’s connected to DW by way of Apocalypse World. I think everyone should try every game there is - an informed gamer is a happy gamer.

Tell me your secrets about this unnamed space-opera-future-romance-game. What are the mechanics? What does it feel like? (No need to name the IP.)
It’s okay! It’s fairly easy knowledge to come by that I’m working on adapting some of Dungeon World’s mechanics to a Mass Effect game. It’s an amazingly deep canon with great setting and characterization but what really drew me to Mass Effect is the humanism of the stories it tells. That’s not to say I don’t love transhuman sci-fi, Freemarket and Eclipse Phase are both favourites of mine. What I love about it is that it is, ultimately, about being human. Not transcending your humanity, not becoming part of the galactic melting pot but really embracing your humanity and staking a claim on the galaxy. On top of that, I love what Bioware is starting to do with game-character romance? They have this cavalier attitude, barring a few missteps, wherein your protagonist can love who you want, regardless of their sex or gender or even species. I want to make that a core part of a tabletop game, because I think the venue of face-to-face roleplaying can create an experience that video games aren’t able to, yet.

It’s an ambitious adaptation, but I’m trying to bend the apocalypse engine to my will by stealing liberally from all the other games published using it and putting in some weird twists. It’s a little like DW was to D&D - I want the game to feel like a proper tabletop RPG and leverage all the cool, intense personal stuff you can experience in that venue but also, I really want to make it feel like a Mass Effect game. I want players to make Renegade and Paragon choices. I want shield timers and ammo types but I also want big messy interspecies poly love. I’m smiling just writing about it, which must mean I’m onto something.

Your photos are great! What kind of camera do you use? What do you like most about photography?

Thanks! I’ve been taking photos longer than I’ve been designing games, though I mostly do it for fun, these days. I picked up a Sony RX1 from a camera shop in Akihabara this past June and it’s really fired up my love of photography. Right now, I’m really into taking convention shots - some of my favourite photos in the last year have been folks at GenCon or GoPlay Northwest just hanging out and playing games. It’s such an intense experience, certainly as intense as sports or theatre, but so intimate and subtle. It’s really great being able to capture someone in a passionate moment at the table. I don’t think anyone is really taking convention photos like that right now.

Thanks so much to Adam for the interview! You can catch him on Twitter @skinnyghost and read more about Dungeon World here.

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