13. juli 2011

En goblin dræbt i første hug og en overtegnet Silmarillion – et interview med Luke Crane

Luke CraneVi har netop drukket en øl. Spist en håndfuld toasts og en Mars til dessert. Og nu gør vi Luke Crane stævne på græsplænen, hvor eftermiddagen snart bliver til aften og hvor myggene gør deres indtog.

Luke er en kendt gamedesigner der er bosat i New York, og han har designet følgende spil: Burning Wheel, Mouse Guard, Burning Empires og Freemarket.

Planet Pulp: What inspires you in your game design?

Luke: When I play good games they trigger floods of thoughts in my mind. But. My mum was really good about putting me in front of the right authors when I was a kid. She had me reading Chronicles of Prydain, a British fantasy series by Lloyd Alexander (Kampen om landet Prydain, red). And I had to read Tolkien in school – of course I read The Hobbit when I was a kid. And that helped giving me the ideas.

My mum is a big reader and she wanted me to be a big reader too. She was smart enough to know I was a kid and therefore dumb. So she picked the books for me. Punishment for me, when I was a kid, was the books taken away from me. It freaked med out: I had to read. Today, I find fantasy boring and modern fantasy makes me wanna shoot me in my face.

Planet Pulp: What about the fantasy classics?

Luke: I reread The Hobbit – it is amazing, and the Chronicles of Prydain is amazing too. In roleplaying games I love the epic fantasy – give my character a sword and I will do whatever it takes – but in books its often boring.

Planet Pulp: What about Mouse Guard?

Mouse Guard
Mouse Guard
Luke: Mouse Guard is my homage to young adult fiction. Mouse Guard has, I hope, the quality from good young adult fiction. The very, very best young adult fiction has the protagonist in a harsh world where the adults a kind off look over the young protagonist. And its not certain that the hero will survive in an adult world.

It’s brutal, like Treasure Island and The Black Cauldron. And that’s Mouse Guard, too: Everything wants to eat you and you have to step up as a hero or die. The fact that everything is against you is just an opportunity to prove yourself.

There are no bombastic heroes in Mouse Guard. You can do something super heroic maybe once and pull it off, but eventually nature is gonna get you! And that stops the story in the right place – yeah, we killed the big bear and saved the community, and then we die. So we are a long way from modern epic fantasy. I love simple fantasy.

Planet Pulp: Please tell us something about the creation of Burning Wheel.

Burning Wheel
Burning Wheel
Luke: Burning Wheel came out from a different hole than other indie-stuff. At the same time there was a bunch of guys, Jared Sorensen, Jake Noward, Ron Edwards, and me – everyone laboring in obscurity in the US in different cities, but with the same kind of impulse and different ways to tackle the roleplaying games. This was in 1999, 2000 and 2001. In 1998 Burning Wheel was very bad – I started working on it in 1994. And it was VERY bad back then.

Planet Pulp: Did you have the ambition to publish it?

Luke: No, just to make it. I did not know that one could publish roleplaying games. I was kind of dumb: I never made the connection between the book I hold in my hands and that someone actually had made it. It had never occurred to me that I could do that.

So, in 1998 I said to my friends, who had been playing the game for a long time: Should I publish it? Can we do that? I made a bunch of copies of Burning Wheel by myself at copy shop – which is the story of probably every roleplaying game in history: I made them, gave them to my friends and we played. It was terrible.

So it was not published yet – only copies for my friends. But it was thrilling to see the books in real life, to see them on print and hold the book in my hand. I was so excited, and I still get that feeling when I pull a new book out of the box.

My friends said: Yeah, publish it! The game kept evolving ’cause we kept playing it. And I was smart enough to look at the game and see what could be done better. Actually, my friends tapped out in 2001, they were like: No, no, do not publish it, this game sucks and it is to much work. And I was: Fuck you, it is to late, here we go!

I published the fucking thing. A few of my close friends stuck by me and was helping and even donating money to the print run – which have since been paid back, and that was a great feeling to pay that money back! Burning Wheel Classic, as it is known now, was published in november 2002 for the first time. And Burning Wheel Revised in 2005.

Planet Pulp: When did you start gaming and how did you get into it?

Luke: My story is similar to gamers everywhere. I am pretty sure it happened like this: My mom loved me very much when I was a child so therefore she was trying to get rid of me in the summer! She sent me away to my aunt and uncle. They lived in a very American style community in Gaithersburg, Maryland – near Washington DC.

New houses, new tracts of land and no shops or other buildings. Just houses. “Housing developments” it’s called in the states. Nothing to do, nothing to do at all! But not a bad place for a kid – pretty safe as a playground – but at night giant mosquitoes and bugs would eat you alive so you played inside.

There where two kids – one lived next door, and one lived across the street – and they where both playing roleplaying games! And one night they asked me if I wanted to play D&D and I said: ”Sure”. And I made a Dwarf – I had a chain mail and an axe and a helmet, and I was so fucking excited. I killed a goblin and it was the best moment of my little life – I rolled, did six points of damage and the goblin died! And there was this little map that the GM used, and I was ”Wow, yes this is cool!”. My best time ever!

And the next night I went up to my other friends, and we played Marvel Superheroes. We randomly rolled up a fucking superhero that made no sense. Marvel Superheroes is a wonderful terrible game! It had so many innovations and so much cool stuff. But what did we do as kids? We fought! We did it for years: Fight, fight and fight: We were playing Car Wars with superheroes.

The third part – after D&D and Marvel Superheroes in the summertime – was coming home. A friend of mine introduced me to Paranoia – in sixth grade, tough stuff for a young man! That was a blast.

I was on a train with Greg (Greg Costikyan, forfatteren af Paranoia, red) a couple of years ago. And I said: ”Greg, can I be your fanboy?” – I think he is a brilliant mind. He looked at me. I said ”One of the first games I played was Paranoia – and we played it straight with no comedy!” and he looked like: Oh, poor boy. And he laughed and we started talking.

So those were the three points. After Paranoia, actually the next week, I started designing – I was about 12 years old. My parents did not understand what I was doing – they thought it was bullshit – so some of my earlier designs where lost to the trash can. But they where really no great loss. No genius there. But I never stopped designing games.

Planet Pulp: What happened next?

Luke: Between sixth and eighth grade I was on my own. I made my own shit and went LARP around 1985-86. Me and my friend Joe would dress up in our medieval looking clothes. We made bows with bamboo and string. And we ran around in the rocks and woods by his house. We made our own story and our own world. And it was not called LARP back then – or I did not know if it was.

But it all changed in eighth grade. I was moved to another school, because I was getting kicked the shit out of me in the old school. Someone had the mercy to move me and sent me to a place where I would not get beat up every day. And in the new school there was this kid who was running roleplaying games in the classroom.

He had a calculator with a randomizing function and I fell in with that group of kids. We became friends and started playing D&D. And we played hard fucking core for the next five years. We played AD&D – fuck second edition, fuck Rules CyclopaediaAD&D man!

Planet Pulp: What else did you play with your ”new” group?

Luke: I introduced them to Marvel Superheroes and we played Twilight 2000, Top Secret, Timelords and other stuff.

And we made our own games. My friend made a hack of Marvel Superheroes where you played yourself – we all had powers and that was awesome! It was so intense. He had this little plan on how our powers would develop and what kind of emotional things that would happen to our ”characters” – like fights with your mom, girlfriends, you know, really good superhero stuff. It was great.

Running around in our own town, in the game, playing me and hooking up with girls while my superpowers grew. A great game, and one that the Marvel Superheroes system did not support at all. So my friend was doing all the work and doing all the heavy lifting. And we loved it, but to him it was exhausting.

We had meetings, called the Imperial Senate!, where we discussed changes to the rules to the games we where playing. We would vote for changes and vote for the next game we would play. And one time we went up to my room and collaborated on an idea and we had a design meeting and my mom was like ”what are you doing? You guys are so weird!” So: I was a hard core table topper when I was a kid.

Planet Pulp: When you get a good idea, how do you put it in your game?

Luke: If you look at my copy of The Silmarillion you will see that it is underlined all the way through. I try very hard to get into the perspective of the source material. That helps me frame the design: This thing is possible, this thing is not.

In Mouse Guard you are at the bottom of the food chain – everything wants to eat you and the weather is a big deal, too. I talked to the author David Petersen and tried to feel the logic of the world: This works like this, why does it work like this and can I find any evidence in the source material that links it together?

In The Silmarillion, elves die from heartache and violence. Tolkien does not say it specifically, but if you look at all the examples, you will see it. And that’s very important. That’s telling me something about these creatures. And if you read deeper you will see that the elves channel this heartache into rage and wrath. They can be spiteful but they can also reflect and withdraw from the world – they can realize that their long lifespan is not the best thing.

And all these amazing things is in The Silmarillion. And as I was designing the elves for Burning Wheel I realised that the Tolkien elves had to be reflected in the characters. Elves have to have grief – that’s the symbol of their immortality: The longer they live, the greater the burden.

It is real, tragic grief and not just melancholy – it’s not soap opera stuff but viking stuff – playing to my audience: You guys are vikings and live in country full of vikings – COOL! But I am serious about it: Tolkien derived from the viking stuff as well. And I am deriving from his stuff. And if the grief is solid, you can die from it. And Burning Wheel is designed for long term play, so that’s why I incorporated that, which would be not important in one shots: You do not die from grief in one session! I am looking for examples in the fictions and looking for names and numbers. And then I try to distill it out: How do I land it in the game?

Planet Pulp: What about the inspiration from Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay?

Luke: I played it a few times in high school. It looked great. I was salivating over it: I want a dwarf with a crossbow, oh my God! We made characters and that stuck with me. And we all died in the second session! And we did not play again. End of story.

But it really had an impact on me and my game design and there are some references to Warhammer in Burning Wheel. I thought Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay was dead, and the Rat-catcher was my homage to Warhammer. But it was not dead, I found out later. Damn. Roleplaying games never die, they get new editions.

Planet Pulp: Was it because of Warhammer that you chose Ian Miller as an illustrator for Magic Burner?

Luke: Oh, no! It was because of Tolkien and my badass mother: David Day’s Bestiary! I still have my copy from 1979 (hvor den udkom i første udgave, red). It was a huge inspiration on me. Especially Ian Miller’s illustrations. And it was interesting to find him later on the Warhammer stuff: Oh my god, it’s Ian Miller! And later on I contacted ham: I was obsessed with his work. And he is a crazy artist!

I worked on a project with Jesper Myfors, the art director for Magic: The Gathering. And one time I went to Jesper’s house – he lives in a haunted house! Crazy stairways going up and down and a fucking well in the basement with plexiglass and light to scare the kids! We had a meeting there and I was terrified. But Jesper had some Ian Miller originals, he even had one from The Bestiary and I was like: Is that Ian Miller original? And he was, ”Yeah, he is a buddy of mine”. So I had my contact. I paid Ian very little and he was so nice.

Planet Pulp: How did you hook up with Jarred?

Luke: It’s a great long story. My introduction to this madness goes like this: Geekdom in 2000-2001 was not so cool, as it is today. I was a little shy about my geekdom back then. Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings opened the door, so I thought it was probably a good time to get out there.

And if I do this, I have to go to conventions. And I have to go to Gen Con. In 2003 I was ready for Gen Con with Burning Wheel! I had met some cool designers who pointed me to The Forge. And I joined their forum. And I posted a thread that said ”Hi, can I be a part of your booth at Gen Con – I have a game and its called Burning Wheel?”

And Ron Edwards (medstifter af The Forge og forfatter af blandt andet Sorcerer, red) wrote ”Sure, we would love to have you”. And I was staring at the pixels in the night and was ”Wow, ok, that was easy”.

So I went. It was fucking great! I met some cool designers and smart people that was doing the same as I was doing: Making interesting games that was addressing what was happening at the tables rather than just remaking D&D! I had my polish friend Dro with me, his first Gen Con as well. We did not know anyone but everyone was so nice to us!

Everyone except one person was nice to me: Jared Sorensen! He was a complete dick to me. Though he and Dro bonded – maybe because Jared likes people with accent? They had a great time. But Jared said just two words to me at the con: ”Hey”, and ”Whatever.” But we live in the same region so we started seeing each other at events and cons. Jared’s games are great and I respected his designs and eventually we became friends. I am sure he told you other insane stories!

And he is a real good design partner for me. Normally be ONE designer! Not two. It does not work. But with Jared it does because we are VERY different and we use our differences in a good way. And a fun part can be seen in Freemarket: All the stuff I designed, people think Jared did, and all the stuff Jared designed, they think I did! Which is interesting.


Efter små to timer med de meget innovative, og snakkesalige amerikanske spildesignere, var vi fyldt med indtryk. Og snart blev vi fyldt med øl. Men det er en helt anden historie. Vi ses næste år Fastaval! Planet Pulp over and out.

Af: Jacob Krogsøe | 13/07/2011