BrigadeCon Interview: Paul ‘Wiggy’ Wade-Williams

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When BrigadeCon was first proposed, the first thing that popped into my head was to request interviews with inspiring authors in the industry whose work manages to thrill and satisfy most, if not all, of the time. I consider myself fortunate to have gotten the chance to conduct two such interviews. This is the first.

Below you will find the thoughts of Paul Wade-Williams, known to friends, family, and forumites as ‘Wiggy.’ As part of the impressive publishing company, Triple Ace Games, and earlier with his work with Pinnacle Entertainment Group, Wiggy has brought us worlds of intrigue and imagination time and time again. Favorites on this blog include All for One: Regime Diabolique and Leagues of Adventure (both for the Ubiquity Roleplaying System) but he made his mark, so to speak with work with Savage Worlds on such titles as Hellfrost, Deadlands, Necropolis 2350, and Rippers.

Whatever he is working on, a GM can rely on Wiggy to produce inspiring settings, clearly defined and presented, that get you from reading to confident game-running in a minimum of time.

Enough of me. Let’s read what’s in our guest’s mind!

On Collaboration as an RPG author

Could you describe what it is like to invest yourself in the creation of a setting, live with it during the creation process essentially as its sole authority, and then set it free to be interpreted and reinterpreted by game groups all over the world? How does this sort of distant collaboration affect you, if at all?

A: At the risk of sounding arrogant, I don’t write for the fans. When I was freelancing my sole aim was to please the publisher—his dollars, his world, his view. Since I’ve been salaried I create worlds that I think are fun and that I’d like to play in. (Not that none of my freelancing products weren’t great fun to write, but they weren’t solely my ideas so there were constraints.) These are the worlds that get me fired up, have me writing day and night, and wanting to share. Once I’ve done my bit all I can do is throw it out there and hope people like the material. There’s inherent risk in that, of course, but if I’m enthused I like to think it shows in my work.

Writing a book is fun. Releasing a book is scary. Not just books, of course. Before the preview release of Rocket Race we were sat in the hotel bar trying to second guess whether it would be popular or a dismal failure (we didn’t offer up a half-way suggestion). It’s a horrible feeling, but I think it keeps us on our toes and stops us getting complacent. The day we stop caring about fan response and start producing things just for the money is the day I stop writing.

I don’t think the distant collaboration affects me overtly. There are times when fans come back and say “I’d have done X or Y here.” It’s very cool they want to engage both with me and my work, but what I write is just one interpretation—mine. The words are clay, not granite. Once the book is in their hands they’re free to change the setting to suit their gaming needs. It’s always uplifting to read posts thanking me for my work, but the ones I enjoy reading the most are those from gamers who have taken the clay and molded it to fit what they want. That shows they are really engaging with the work.

Has your writing process changed over the years as a result of the way that gamers interact with them?

A: Not really, though there have been a few wobble moments. When Land of Fire was announced, for example, a few people figured it would be the opposite of Hellfrost—a land being consumed by fire. That’s a logical assumption, but it wasn’t ever part of the greater world image to which I’m working. However, it got me thinking “Should I change my vision to suit their wants?” In the end I decided against any changes. My vision might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s the basis on which the world is built and there is method to my madness.

That’s not to say my ideas are fixed in stone. If someone makes a comment about a setting I may remember it for future use. Case in point: I got an e-mail from someone who suggested there should be different breeds of pegasus for the Pegasus Guard in Land of Fire. They were duly added in Realm Guide #19: The Al-Wazir Sultanate.

You are quite active and responsive on the TAG forum; do you have guidelines that you’ve set to facilitate a specific kind of interaction between you and the end-user of your work?

A: Not formally. The big unwritten rule is that if someone posts an idea then they own the copyright to the idea, though obviously not to any TAG copyrighted material they’ve included. If I want to use their idea in an official product (and I have several times) then I ask for permission first.

And products have been born from that interaction between creator and consumer. We didn’t ever plan to write the Hellfrost Region Guide series—that would never have been born without fans saying they wanted more information on the lands. That in turn has given birth to the Hellfrost Atlas and (hopefully), in months to come, Matters of Faith.

There are many opportunities for forum users to work with you on special TAG releases, such as collections of adventure hooks, where did this openness on your part come from?

A: I’d really love to say it was about giving the fans chance to contribute to a setting they’ve invested money in, but that would only be half true. Sometimes I run out of ideas* or feel what I’ve written is starting to feel the same. It’s great to get other viewpoints and use them in a constructive way rather than just leaving them to rot on the forums.

The exceptions to that were the Hellfrost Heroes & Villains supplements. We had 60 or so character images lying around the office and we wanted to make use of them, so creating 60 or so player characters was the obvious choice. New players could pick one, they were handy for conventions, and GMs could turn them into NPCs.

Rather than just writing from my imagination, I set out to ask the fans what they’d like to be if they lived in the setting. Aside from a small handful (several of which became NPCs), all their suggestions made the cut. The characters had names based on the contributor as well. Those products were our small way of saying “thank you for supporting us.”

* This is especially true during layout. While I now write straight into InDesign and layout the text as I go, the old system was that I wrote in Word and we imported the file. Sometimes that meant an overflow and things had to be cut to fit, but sometimes it left a gap I had to fill with new material. When you think you’ve written everything that needs to be said, suddenly being told to find another page of material pronto can be damn hard.

Do you feel there is a knack to writing in a way that inspires the imagination of the reader rather than constraining it?

A: It won’t please everyone, but my answer is “Never explain everything.” Hellfrost is a prime example. What is the cause of the Siphoning? Where has the liche Angtharinax gone? When will the wards on the Liche-Priest’s tomb fail and what will come next? Was the creation of the Mistlands related to any of these events? What caused the Hellfrost?

I have ideas for all of these things, but they’re my ideas. By my leaving them unanswered (there are clues in the various books), GMs get to decide the solutions to these big setting questions as best fits their campaign rather than play follow-my-lead. I’ve enjoyed reading people’s ideas and suggestions over the years.

You obviously can’t do that in an adventure, but in a setting you have much more freehand to cover the details in a shroud of mystery.

Although your ability to produce vast quantities of excellent written material borders on the legendary, if rumors are true, you are still as limited as other mortals. It’s simply not possible to single-handedly produce content for all the fantastic settings you have penned simultaneously. If you were somehow able to defy the restrictions of time and flesh, what material would you be working on in addition to your current projects?

A: Oh, I’m definitely as limited as other mortals. It’s all smoke and mirrors (though no ghost writers) combined with a healthy disregard for sleep and the effects of nicotine.

If I could write anything, what would I write? I’d really love the time and financial backing to work on a new fantasy setting that is formulating in my head. Unless fans want to hand me a sack of cash now, that has to be put aside in favor of supporting our existing worlds. It might rise to the top of the pile one day, I guess.

Although I can’t draw, I have a fondness for fantasy art books. I’d love to see a “The Art of Triple Ace Games” physical book. We have a lot of very good art in the library and to see that pooled together into a single volume, along with comments from the artists and setting designers would be cool.

About Rocket Race

Tell us about the genesis of Rocket Race, and what went into producing it.

A: One day I’ll keep a diary about why and how things happened so I can provide insightful answers.

Rocket Race began in January this year, though we’re not sure how. Sometimes ideas just appear and we act on them if we think they’ve got legs. Rocket Race was one such idea. Steampunk is in favor in our house thanks to my wife and Leagues of Adventure included exploring the Moon in its second supplement, so I guess the seeds were germinating for some time.

Producing it was a fairly short process because we wanted to preview it at UK Games Expo in the May. The first step was obviously designing the basics—what you were doing in the game and how you were doing it. I came up with the basic idea of building a rocket by acquiring key components and accessories, which was for 3-6 players, while Rob later added the advanced version which allows for 2-4 players.

Once the idea of having a Reliability total sprang to mind the next stage was to design the cards. We settled on three core components—capsule, propulsion, and steering—plus accessories that would boost your total. Assigning them a Reliability value was just a matter of creating a spreadsheet and assigning numbers that felt right. Playtesting helped us refine those to the final versions. The worst rocket you can launch has Reliability 4 and the best Reliability 18. We’ve seen the worst win the game and the highest fail (double 6 is always bad).

While I was playtesting and writing the card flavor text, Rob was busy ordering the art to fit the card names and designing the card layout. Then it was just a matter of combining everything together into a final version.

What people might not grasp on the first play is the tactics. It’s all well and good focusing on your rocket build, but you need to keep an eye on your rivals. Buy or discard (depending on which rules you are using) the cards they want or hit them with Event cards!

All that probably isn’t very insightful to your readers, but to be honest it was all a blur—we went from first idea to final product in five months while also running a Kickstarter project and running the core business. It’s also pretty much an automatic process of logical steps so it doesn’t tend to stick in my mind.

Does this mean that TAG will be adding more games of various types to its offerings as time goes on?

A: That’s the plan, yes. Rob and I sat down before Gen Con a few years back when TAG was still relatively new and wrote up a list of things we’d like to do in the future. Card and board games were on the list and we’re now at a stage where we can start to do something about them.

Are there any secret projects currently being conducted along these lines about which you can hint in a vague and tormenting fashion?

A: It’s no great secret that I’m working on Rocket Raiders, an expansion for Rocket Race that will see the Leagues arm their rockets and battle their way to Mars. Of course, there is a reason for them going to Mars, but that’s a story for another day.

I’m also working on several smaller card games (as you know being a playtester of two of these) but these are in the very early stages of development. Rob has a few card games up his sleeve as well. Our plan is to produce a couple of big games, like Rocket Race, but more smaller, pocket-money games who can play when you’ve got a few minutes spare.

About Kickstarter

Like it or loathe it, Kickstarter and other crowd-funding platforms seem to be here to stay. TAG has distinguished itself in its deft use of Kickstarter to work with its backers to print and deliver great product with a minimum of fuss and bother. Could you share with us a little about how you approach these campaigns, and what your goals are whenever you launch a project?

A: I love and loathe Kickstarter in equal measure. I love that it enables small companies like us to fund bigger projects than we could fund by ourselves, but I hate the wait of knowing whether a project will get produced or consigned to the bin.

Each campaign is set up according to its specific needs, but our sole goal is to raise the funds to produce the project—anything else is a bonus. Normally we’ve done all the writing, which is the longest part, so we’re looking for money to pay the artists and printers. Writing and layout is done in-house, so we don’t include funding for them in Kickstarter—our existing product catalog helps cover the wage bill.

We try to keep new add-ons (as opposed to existing products you can buy at a discount) and stretch goals to a minimum for two reasons—producing them costs time and it costs money. There have been exceptions. The Hellfrost Atlas, for instance, offered (and reached) a possible 28 pages of bonus material in the form of more words and maps. But they were directly related to the project and I could do the writing as each stretch goal was hit, so we lost no time.

Similarly we’ve pretty much settled on some basic pledge levels for books, starting with just a PDF and ending up with a signed hardcover. These might be tweaked to fit a particular project, but we think four or five pledge levels are enough to fulfill our funding aims.

About Leagues of Adventure

LoA is widely held as one of the most accessible and supportive Victorian RPGs in terms of its presentation of the period, and its extensive offering of adventure seeds. How did the project come about, and how did writing it compare to writing your many other settings?

A: I can say with hand on heart that Leagues of Adventure was not my idea. It was born back in 2006 (possibly even earlier), when Rob was running Legion Publishing, for whom I had freelanced writing adventures. Rob suggested TAG turn it into a setting sometime in 2010 or 2011. What he handed me was a handful of rough pages that mentioned Leagues, globetrotting, and weird science as core elements.

Rob’s rough notes were actually for Savage Worlds, but I created the first draft for a narrative system I’d recently come across. There might be some readers who wonder why I abandoned using Savage Worlds, for which I am best known. It was, and remains, my opinion that it wasn’t a good fit, especially since Rob wanted the globetrotters to be able to produce weird science devices from scratch.

In the meantime we’d produced All for One. Having fallen in love with Ubiquity’s Resource system and seen what a powerful and versatile tool it was, and with Ubiquity already having a build-your-own weird science system, we decided to convert Leagues over to Ubiquity.

Initially I had little love for the setting—it wasn’t my idea and the notes were extremely skimpy. Once I started writing, though, it became my setting—I had no constraints on the final product. Writing it took some time. Not because I didn’t like it, but because of the research involved. There were plenty of chances to use my imagination, but there was also a lot of real-world material that needed to be included.

To conclude, and despite anything I’ve written that may imply otherwise, Leagues of Adventure is my second favorite setting I’ve written (Hellfrost is first, in case anyone is wondering). It is literally a world of potential!

Were there lessons learned in the creation and production of All for One: Regime Diabolique which informed how you approached the development of Leagues? On the surface, at least, it would seem the two followed a similar model.

A: Very much so! The Musketeers had their loyal lackeys and it made sense that the globetrotters have a trusty henchman. Without wishing to harp on about it too much, the Ubiquity Resource system proved ideal for this. With a very simple tweak of the rules every hero could begin with a follower. Although not great in combat, they allowed the party to fill in missing skills. If no one wanted to play a doctor of medicine, for example, you could create a nurse with the Medicine skill as a henchman.

More importantly, the Leagues weren’t just names on a piece of paper. Through the Rank Resource you not only got bonuses to your skills based on your League rank, but you could rise up through the echelons. This really gave the Leagues a prominent role in the setting, rather than reducing them to background flavor.

Since then we’ve created expedition funding rules, which make your Resources even more important. Having a big gun and a high Firearms Skill is handy, but without funding you won’t get much chance to use them!

About Lego

If by some quirk of fate, Lego figures could rise up against their human overlords, in how much peril would you be?

A: Oh, I’d be neck deep in trouble! In addition to the army of heavily-armed mini-figs I’d be hit by a squadron of biplanes, a fleet of vehicles, and a time-tunnelator. I’d be battling Lego across time!

I still use my D&D and Reaper minis for fantasy games, but for everything else we have Lego. My mini-figs are currently set up for Leagues of Adventure, though I have Gothic Horror and All for One Lego minis as well.

On waxing poetical

In your opinion, what are the great stories of the past 20 years? What imaginings or re-imaginings have you seen take root in the minds and hearts of readers and viewers, which as a result have taken root in our consciousness as gamers? Citing the greats of an earlier period is a much easier question, but for the sake of discussion, from what modern inspirations do you see your colleagues and yourself drawing?

A: I don’t tend to read a lot of fiction and what I do is invariably outside the 20 year window—the Gray Mouser series, H. P. Lovecraft, D&D novels (my wife is a huge Drizz’t fan and has all the books, but I’ve never read a word), F. Paul Wilson’s The Keep (which I try to read every year), Dr. Who (I read some new books, the basic idea is old), and Fighting Fantasy books (do they count as great stories to anyone but me?). Most of my shelves are stuffed with reference style books, since they’re the most useful to me. As a result, I’m not on any fan forums or following any authors on Facebook or Twitter.

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned Game of Thrones or Terry Pratchett anywhere. I’ve never read a word of Mr. Martin’s work and the only Pratchett book I’ve read is Dodger (and I didn’t much like the writing style).

On RPGaDay

A lot of gamers took part in the RPGaDay posting exercise in August – at least to varying degrees. I noticed that you were one of the few who not only found ways to get through the whole list, but also offered some insightful and informative posts along the way. Did you learn anything about your own gaming from the exercise?

A: Only that most of my favorite games ones are long out of print. It was definitely a fun exercise in memory and selectiveness. While I did wobble a few times and give multiple answers, trying to pin down one answer made me think about all the great experiences I’ve had gaming. Sometimes picking one example just wasn’t possible.

Were you able to read other gamers’ posts? Can you remember something you learned from someone else? I, for example, was very interested in the Squadron UK material that crept into some posts, as I am not sure I had ever heard of it before.

A: I don’t tend to trawl through Facebook for hours on end. If something in on the first page or within a scroll down or two I read it; otherwise it gets ignored. The upshot is that I didn’t read that many responses. Of those I did, it was interesting to see what others gamers put for answers. I can’t remember any specifics, but there were definitely times when I thought “I remember that game!” or “Oh yes, that would have been a better answer.”

Would you say that you are more or less satisfied with your own gaming? How would you describe the games you participate in, as GM and player? (If you get to do both)

A: Right now, I’m not satisfied, but that’s only because our kitchen flooded in the spring and we still don’t have a gaming table in place. We soldiered on a for a while, but until the new kitchen arrives we’re on hiatus.

The only game I’m currently running (or rather will start again once we get a table) was set up for my wife. I acquired all of Reaper’s Mouseling figures for her and I’m using them in a fantasy game set in the Fighting Fantasy universe. She’s still relatively new to gaming and isn’t overly confident in her abilities, so there’s just one other player. It’s been great fun, though, and I’m looking forward to slinging dice again soon.

How would you say your gaming style has changed over the years? Is this reflected in any way in the gaming material you write, and the way in which you write it?

A: Well, we no longer start our games at midnight, which I miss. Of course, I was much younger when we did that sort of thing and we had fewer responsibilities. In the old days we’d normally write up scenarios. These days it’s more fun to come up with a loose plot and let the players go explore.

In Ye Olde Days I was a munchkin of sorts. Gaming for me was all about combat, treasure, and experience points. These days I’d rather build a flawed (not inept) character and have fun interacting with the other players and NPCs.

About Publishing

What challenges does TAG face these days, and how are those challenges different from when you first started the company?

A: When we started out in May 2008 we had a few hundred dollars, some unfinished manuscripts, and a lot of good will. In cooperation with our artists, editors, and a small number of freelancers we worked hard in the first few years to build up a catalog of varied products. At one stage we were producing and releasing an adventure every week. That was essential to establish our name in the marketplace, but two people (at the core of the company) can’t maintain that pace for ever. Six years on, 300+ products later, and having built (and still growing) a customer base, we’re now at a stage where we can use our time more effectively and in new ways.

The big thing is remain at the top of our game and not slip into complacency. We set ourselves high standards from the outset and our customers expect to see those high standards. The challenge is not maintaining them, but actually pushing ourselves to higher levels on our budgets.

Do you foresee a time when TAG might forego print runs of its material altogether? What would you say stands between us and that eventuality right now? Is it simply that gamers want books on their shelves?

A: I can’t see print disappearing from our catalogue, mainly because I’m old fashioned and want to hold a book in my hands. Most of the material I’ve written has been in electronic format out of necessity, but I find I have less love for it. Not in terms of effort—I put the same effort and love into a freebie PDF as I do a 256-page printed book, but it’s harder to be proud of something intangible. I can touch and feel a book—it’s not living but it has a life of its own, if that makes sense.

On humor:

I get the sense that there is a great deal of humor in your group’s gaming. How important would you say humor is to you, and how does it usually manifest in your gaming?

A: While it’s fun to play a serious game every now and then, most of our games are light-hearted. It doesn’t always start that way, but it inevitably ends up a laugh riot. I’m fortunate as a GM that I can rely on my players to create their own humor, so I don’t have to focus on creating amusing situations—it’s more natural, rather than responding to “canned laughter” or “laugh” prompts.

Typically the humor is entirely character driven. Every hero we create has flaws and the players make sure to play them up. Lord Fanhard, in our Pirates of the Spanish Main game, would become flustered if he couldn’t find an occasional table on which to leave his calling card or try to pass himself off as a pirate while speaking in an upper-class accent. El Toro, my lovable Spanish rogue, would go out of his way to court ladies even during combat.

Q: What lies on the bottom of the ocean and trembles?

A: Either a jellyfish or Cthflulu (everyone trembles when they have the flu).

Have you considered producing an intentionally comedic setting, or would you like to do so?

A: I wrote Toyland: A Savage Worlds Supplement of Dubious Sanity back in 2009 during my winter break. It made use of a lot of Pinnacle settings, so it was never intended for publication, but it was fun to turn my head to comedy for a short while.

You played secret agents who just happened to be toys and explored alternate realities. So there were worlds such as the piratical 50 Inches (instead of 50 Fathoms), the dark and disturbing Necfluffolis (in place of Necropolis), and the monster-hunting Stuffers (better known as Rippers). It was assumed the action took part in your own house, during the hours of night when toys come alive.

As for whether I’d like to write a comedic setting for actual publication, that would depend on whether or not I get a good idea to run with—humor is very subjective.

 

Thank you for taking the time to traverse the talented tunnels of Wiggy’s mind during this opening BrigadeCon event. Please feel encouraged to leave comments here or on the Triple Ace forum if you have any further questions for Wiggy!

Check out the BrigadeCon Schedule for the next thing you can do on November 15th, 2014~!

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