Wednesday, December 2, 2015

It's your turn James - A sit down with James Spahn of Barrel Rider Games

1.  How did you get your start roleplaying? What system did you use?

I was 8 years old for most of 1987 and my 14 year old brother was really into AD&D. I'd look through the books because they had such cool artwork and talked about wizards, and elves and magic. I didn't quite _know_ what I was reading, but I knew I liked it. Then, a few weeks later I walked into the local flea market and saw this hardcover on the shelf with three familiar old friends: Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia. West End Games' Star Wars Roleplaying Game was calling to me.

Even with a very rudimentary understanding of what role-playing games are, I had never even grasped the idea of a role-playing game set in the Star Wars universe. I purchased it instantly, after begging my father for an advance on my allowance. Here was a world I had been familiar with since birth. The rules were light, quick and easy to understand. And all I had to do was raid the board games in the closet for dice! The next weekend I invited my friend Doug over and we began adventuring in a galaxy far, far away.

2.  How and when did you discover the OSR?

I discovered it initially when I stumbled across Labyrinth Lord while meandering around the web one day. To be honest, at first I was dismissive. "Who would want to play these OLD games? I played those when I was a kid - these newer games are so much more rich and complex!"

Well, eventually I ate my own words. I got sick of the endless flood of supplements for D&D 3.5 and having to keep up with players who could afford to buy every book the day it came out and expected me to recall every feat, skill and modifier over the course of the product line. I got frustrated and actually stopped DMing for a while right around when D&D 4e came out. I was just burnt out.

Of course, gaming gets in your blood and you can't get away from it. So while puttering around the web and discovered Matt Finch's "Primer to Old SchoolGaming."

I fell in love. THIS was the type of gaming I'd wanted. Fast, approachable, fun - something where I didn't have to slog through an endless stream supplements and could instead do what felt, holding to faith in myself and my players' faith in me to be a fair, fun DM. I gave Labyrinth Lord a second look and fell in love all over again. It was like returning to my halcyon days of gaming where all I needed was my Rules Cyclopedia and a few friends. It felt so good, so freeing. Gaming wasn't a chore anymore that required a rolling carry-on bag worth of books to play.

3.  Tell me about Barrel Rider Games, How did it start?

Barrel Rider Games started because of my wife. She looked at me one day and said "James, if you want to keep buying gaming books you need to make more money." So, I decided to use my addiction to feed my addiction. I decided to write a few Labyrinth Lord variant classes and sell them for a buck. I did that for years. Every time I had an idea on the long drive to work, I'd scratch it down and then start fiddling with mechanics that night. To date, I've put out somewhere around 70 Labyrinth Lord Classes or so, along with a few odds and ends here and there.

To be honest, BRG was also (at least in part) a back door resume in hopes of getting freelance work on some of my favorite games. To date, that’s worked out rather successfully. I’ve gotten to work on products for Cubicle 7 Entertainment and Frog God Games over the past few years and am hoping to get some more freelance work as it becomes available.

When I started doing White Box stuff, I did it because I saw there were no releases (or very few) on the game line. I said “OK, this is either a dead line or an under served market. So, let’s give it a shot!”

Needless to say, my success in White Box and later with White Star has exceeded my wildest dreams.

4.  Tell me about your latest release “White Box Chivalry”?

White Box Chivalry came about from a combination of things. One of the iconic images of fantasy is the "Knight in Shining Armor," and while that certainly has its place in fantasy gaming (as shown in the Paladin and Cavalier), I always felt like you shouldn't have to be a specific class to be a knight. Anyone could be knighted. Heck, Paul McCartney is a knight. So I set about writing a system that would allow any character, regardless of class or race, to become a knight. Granted, it is easier to do so if you already have the martial training it can be an easier road - but I thought it would be cool to have Magic-Users or even halflings who could find themselves suddenly knighted and dealing with the politics of protecting their land and obeying a lord. I also tried to step away from the "Honorable Knight" trope, because knights were not bound by honor. They were bound by their lord. So WB Chivalry uses an Accolade Points system that's based on keeping a character's liege lord happy - which can be tough. The whole idea for that came from Jaime Lannister, a favorite character of mine. In the novel Clash of Kings he says:

"So many vows...they make you swear and swear. Defend the king. Obey the king. Keep his secrets. Do his bidding. Your life for his. But obey your father. Love your sister. Protect the innocent. Defend the weak. Respect the gods. Obey the laws. It's too much. No matter what you do, you're forsaking one vow or the other.

I wanted to capture that conflict or some fragment of it, mechanically.

5.  What are you currently playing?

Playing? Nothing. I'm in the early planning stages of a Barrowmaze campaign, using BRW's Adventure's Dark and Deep. I plan on using T1 - The Village of Hommlet as a springboard for things and then replacing Nulb and the Temple of Elemental Evil with Helix and the Barrowmaze.

EDITORS NOTE:  This is a fantastic idea! 

6.   If you could campaign in any world which would it be?

Star Wars. Without a doubt, without a question: Star Wars. It was my first game and it’s still my favorite. I'd love to be a Jedi Knight.

7.  You are an extremely prolific writer, where does this all come from?

Long car rides, mostly. I have an hour commute to work down a rural road - so I spend a lot of time in my own head. I get a fun idea in my head and just kind of scramble it out onto paper as fast as possible, then go back and refine it. My dear friend Jason McCartan once said I'm like a hyperactive terrier - I grab an idea and shake it, run around the room excitedly wagging my tale until finally collapsing from exhaustion.

8.  Tell me about White Star, where did it come from, how did it all start? What are your plans for the future of White Star?

White Star was born out of a few things. First and foremost is my love of Swords &Wizardry WhiteBox. It's a simple, flexible system that does everything I need it to and gets out of the way when I don't need it. I asked myself "What if Gary and Dave had made a Sci-fi game using the mechanics of D&D instead of a fantasy game?" That got me thinking quite a bit. Then, it naturally evolved into "What kind of sci-fi game would *I* write using those mechanics?"

Initially, White Star was just going to be a 28-page add-on for White Box. It grew in the writing. By the time I hit 64 or so pages I decided to make it into a stand-alone product. That changed things quite a bit, because I had to go back over Matt and Marv's work on S&W White Box and make sure I kept the tone and concepts of their work present in White Star. It was a conscious effort to make sure that White Star and White Box were 100% compatible. My big reason for this was twofold: One, I wanted players to be able to use fantasy products in their sci-fi campaigns to increase supplement availability and two, Spelljammer is awesome.

A lot of readers of White Star immediately saw the influence of Star Wars in its pages - and rightfully so. I'd be lying if I said Star Wars didn't have a huge impact on White Star. But White Star is more than just lightsabers with serial numbers filed off. Flash Gordon the classic comics to the Buster Crabbe serials and the fantastic 1980 film, played a huge role as did both the original and remake of Battlestar Galactica. I wanted White Star to be fast and loose - pulp sci-fi at its most distilled. Star Wars is probably the biggest influence on White Star, but not in the way people think. Ralph McQuarrie's concept art for Star Wars and the original Battlestar Galactica played a larger role than anything else in my "vision" of White Star. I even have a framed picture of "Luke vs. Vader" by McQuarrie above my writing desk and it was there the whole time I was writing White Star.

9.  What is one of your favorite adventures other than something that you’ve released?

I'm a big fan of Barrowmaze . It's a megadungeon done right in my opinion and has that gothic feel I love so much. Greg did a great job on Barrowmaze Complete and it was worth every penny.

I also really enjoy Tatooine Manhunt for the Star Wars RPG. It captures that "Star Wars Feel" perfectly.

10.  When you get a chance to play a character, what type of PC do you like to play?

Heroes. I love playing heroes. Whether Jedi Knight, Paladins, Farmboys turned Wizards - it doesn't matter. I want to believe in Good vs Evil and that Good is a true and active force in this world. RPGs and the characters I play let me do that.

Doing the right thing is hard as hell in the real world. It's easy to be a selfish person our day to day lives, so why would I want to fantasize about that when I sit down with my friends?

11.  What are you most excited about in the RPG scene currently?

Call ofCthulhu 7th edition has got me pretty hyped. I'm also really pleased with Fantasy Flight Games' line of Star Wars products. In the more OSR realm of things, I'm looking forward to Pete Spahn's Duchy of Valnwall book - his Amherth setting is fantastic.

12.   Would you rather be a Mandolorian or a Nautolan?

Nautolan, obviously. They smile more and they're fantastic swimmers. Any clown can rock a jetpack.

13.  What are the plans for Barrel Rider Games this year?  Anything in the works?

Wow... let's see...
White Star Companion, White Box Gothic, White Box Compendium, a few White Star setting books, a few more PWYW classes like the Uttin for White Star, Brainburn: Psychic Characters for DCC, and I've got some freelance work lined up as well. These are all in various stages of production, so I try not to give concrete release dates on anything.

EDITORS NOTE:  I try to get some pictures in as much as possible thru out these interviews, this one seemed the most appropriate.  If I'm not going for something specific and showing off a product, then I'm going for a giggle. 

14.   Where can we find you on the web?

The best place to find me is on G+ and I try to stay active in the White Star G+Community as well. Barrel Rider Games products can be found on RPG Now and DriveThru RPG.

Thank you very much James I appreciate it.  - Shane

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