JP On Gaming

Monday, August 15, 2011

Organized Player People: Dave Kay (LFR, 4e and ranting)

I quit Living Forgotten Realms back in January of 2010. After deciding that campaign was not for me, a number of great volunteers stepped up. One such volunteer is my good friend Dave Kay.

I first met Dave when he was “that high-level guy from Boston” that came to our events in Montreal during the days of LG. Many encounters and high-level thrashing (usually of my monsters), Dave and I became good friends. He came up to the cold white north and I went to his house for an unforgettable weekend (featuring the ugliest cat you ever seen). That’s story for another day… A funny one too…

It was a conversation with him a few weeks back during which he told me that he was now an admin for LFR. I began thinking about this series… so in effect, thank (or blame) Dave! Obviously, he was the first person I contact for this series and he was the first person to get back to me! Enough of me yapping, let's start with OPP.

JP: Hi Dave. Thank you for accepting my offer.

I know many of my readers are expecting me to go on a 4e-rant, and I’m not saying they’re wrong… Just let me know if I get too excited.

Can you give us your RPG-Pedigree?

DK I started playing D&D when 3e first came out back in 2000 - I know, I'm not all that old school by comparison to some of you grognards. However, I've always been a gamer to some extent - I played MERP and Rolemaster throughout grade school.

I got my first taste of a Living Campaign in 2002 when I tried Living Greyhawk for the first time, and from there I was hooked. I traveled to conventions, organized game days, and formed lasting relationships with like-minded gamers. Towards the end of the campaign, I tried my hand at writing and realized I was pretty good at it - I knew how to really challenge players, even power-gamers like myself. After a few celebrated local adventures, I co-wrote the adventures in the finale plot arc of the campaign.

When Living Forgotten Realms started up, I quickly became a prolific author, producing 4-5 adventures per year, many of which were highly regarded. After two years, I was asked by the global administrators to plan, launch, and oversee the Living Forgotten Realms Epic campaign - the first Wizards organized play adventures to feature Epic-level game content. I've been running the show on the Epic campaign for the past year and we've had some tremendous success.

JP: What is your official title in the campaign?

DK I'm the global administrator and Writing Director in charge of the Living Forgotten Realms Epic campaign.

JP: What draws you to 4e? What particularly attracts you to that game?

DK I'm very strategy-oriented. Whether at work or at play, I love to think strategically to solve problems and overcome obstacles. My love for strategy games is an extension of that. Combine that for my love of fantasy and epic stories, and you've got the perfect game!

JP: What is your favorite RPG game of all times? Your favorite supplement/ adventure?

DK I've always been a fan of D&D - probably because of the setting. I've tried many of the White Wolf games, and the mechanics just didn't do it for me. I recently tried Witch Hunter and I have to say, the storyline and emphasis on storytelling really makes it stand out as a high potential game. I also love the genre.

JP: What draws you to organized play campaign the most?

DK I'm probably one of the few guys you'll speak with that doesn't have a grand recollection of a particular supplement or adventure - every home game I've played in just hasn't felt "real" or "official" enough for me. I always found myself wondering "well, other than these five or six guys, who cares what we do here?" I think that's what has always drawn me to Living Campaigns.

JP: What are the high points of a home game you run? What elements do you particularly enjoy in a campaign?

DK Back when I had the time, I ran a home game that was focused very much on storytelling as well as creating a strategically challenging game. D&D is all about teamwork, and I've always worked to encourage teamwork and strategic thinking as key ingredients for fun. As a player, I never have fun playing easy encounters, or encounters that don't force me to think, so why should I write them?

JP: What would you say are elements that define your writing style? What elements would I expect to find in one of your adventures?

DK You probably won't find much disagreement that the defining characteristic of my writing is strategic and tactical challenge. I try to find innovative and exciting ways to challenge the players in every adventure I write - I always try something new.

Sometimes I fail, but oftentimes, I'm able to provide a unique experience the players love and other authors can build on to keep this game exciting. Story is also a defining characteristic. I'm passionate about the stories I tell. Gaming is escapism and players want to have a chance to do something truly heroic (or epic), and have a chance to kick some ass. I'll never write an adventure that features caravan guard duty.

JP: What would you tell those out there about your campaign? Why is your campaign the best there is?

DK Living Forgotten Realms is a wonderful campaign because of the tremendous community behind it. We have dedicated administrators that have dedicated their time and energy (not to mention blood, sweat, and tears) into supporting the campaign and making it grow. We also have an equally passionate community of thousands of gamers that are incredibly passionate about the campaign. What makes the campaign stand out is that it's a shared experience - being a member of the Living Forgotten Realms community means being a part of something larger than your individual table of gamers. Your experiences are helping to shape the experiences of thousands of players around the world.

JP: When the campaign first started, there were regionally appointed admins, but the concept or real-world admin and game-world admins was quickly moved to the side. How is the campaign organized today?

DK There's no question that the campaign is more centrally-focused than it started out. The regionally-appointed admin model was an artifact carried over from Living Greyhawk. It worked in LG because of the regional system, but it just doesn't make sense here. Now, there are simply "story areas" with a writing director assigned to each story area, responsible for the content produced within that story area, and the writing directors report up to the global administrators who manage the campaign holistically.

JP: Why do you think a complete newcomer to organize play should join your OP?

DK It's a chance to be a part of something bigger - to expand your gaming community and meet new friends. If you like the idea of playing the same character(s) that you've invested time and effort into with different groups of players Furthermore, it's a chance to learn more about the game you're playing. There's no question that the average organized play participant knows far more about the game - whether it be best practices on how to run adventures, how to play well strategically, or how to play well with others and ensure a fun experience for all.

JP: Why should an old grumpy player – yes… think of me as that grumpy old troll – what is the biggest strength of the OP?

DK Not to sound brash, but I don't think organized play is ideal for grumpy old players. Organized play campaigns are living, breathing things. They strive on positive energy and suffer from negative energy. From my experience, grumpy old players typically have little to contribute to the campaign. My advice is for all those old grumpy guys to just stop being so grumpy. There's nothing wrong with being old.

JP: *Stumped* But… But…

At this point JP talks a walk outside to grumble about the fate of the universe and why all his complaints aren’t being addressed immediately.

JP: How did you become a campaign administrator? Why?

DK Simply put, I did a lot for the campaign before I ever became an administrator. I wrote adventures, I championed the campaign on the forums, and I showed an interested in bettering the campaign. When it came down to it, I didn't need to ask for the position - I was asked.

Why I became an administrator is another question entirely. I avoided the position for a while, simply because I didn't think I'd have the time to contribute. However, when the prospect of running the epic campaign presented itself, I couldn't say no, because I knew that if I left the task to someone else, I'd be on the other side of the fence, complaining about one thing or another along with everyone else. I decided that if I wanted the epic campaign to be great, I'd have to take it into my own hands.

JP: A-HA! So you too were ready to grumble and complain… I knew you had flaws!!!

JP then dances around doing a little victory dance.

JP: What are you main duties as part of the campaign?

DK I'm in charge of storyline and adventure production for the LFR epic campaign. I also have a voice in the decision-making process for the general administration of the campaign.

JP: In an average week, roughly how much time do you devote to campaign-related duties?

DK It all depends on the week and my due dates! Some weeks I spend as little as 2-3 hours, some weeks, I spend as many as 20.

JP: A difficult one: I give you a magic wand and you can only use it to make your campaign better… What do you do?

DK Give the players more chances to have an impact on the campaign and encourage travel to conventions. Living Greyhawk was great at this, but it had its own problems - one of them was the "old boys' club" feel that discouraged new players from joining. I'd love to see players more committed to the campaign and the storylines created by the adventures. Unfortunately, the only way to do that is by requiring more oversight and more volunteer work.

JP: Play, GM or write? Which do you enjoy best?

DK I love writing - creating something new and exciting and hearing about the enjoyment that other players derive from my work - but I'm a player first and foremost. I GM my fair share, but I usually have more fun on the other side of the screen (the winning side).

JP: Now LFR had a major change during the course of 2010, Wizard dropped the campaign as cannon, all the regions became one region. Everything changed. Can you sort this out for us?

DK Simply put, it had become obvious that Wizards was a bottleneck for the campaign. Because the Wizards' story team had to approve each and every adventure, as well as any campaign-wide decisions, the campaign's throughput was constrained by whatever resources were available at Wizards. It just wasn't worth it for them to dedicate more resources to a campaign that was for all intents and purposes not directly generating revenue, so they handed over the reins to the global administrators, who had worked with their liaisons at Wizards for long enough to know what was acceptable and what wasn't.

The elimination of regions was a decision made by the campaign administration and with good reason - there were too many stories going on at the same time - we were spread too thin and as a result, none of the storylines were compelling enough. We narrowed down the regions to a handful of "story areas" so that we could give storylines the attention they deserved and the new writing directors have been working hard to develop them. We also introduced the Epic campaign, for which I am responsible.

JP: How is the campaign organized today? Any known names?

DK The campaign is managed by some incredibly talented, dedicated, and creative people that help keep it all together and bring varied skills and experience to the table - Sean Molley, Pieter Sleijpen, Greg Marks, and Joe Fitzgerald. I couldn't think of anyone more capable, and could only think of a handful of guys who are as capable - and those guys are all involved with the campaign in one way or another.

JP: I went on the record saying that 5e is coming at Gencon 2012 (announcement). What are your thoughts about that? When do you expect 5e to come out? Any secret info???

DK I have no insight into that, but I can share my opinion that I don't think Wizards' is making the right decisions with where they're taking D&D. I was always a supporter of their decisions - 3.5 and 4e came out at the right time, and each change was a change in the right direction. A common prediction is that 5e will look a lot like the essentials rules, and that could come in 2012 (I wouldn't be surprised). I personally think that the next edition of D&D won't be 5th edition. I think they'll branch out into an essentials line of D&D, less focused on role-playing and more focused on modular board games. I guess we'll have to wait and see!

JP: The board game shift is one that we have all seen in recent times, with the reasonable success of Castle Ravenloft, do you think that perhaps Wizards is gaining the board game community, while losing the table-top RPGers?

DK It's difficult to say. Hasbro has some pretty huge market share in the mainstream board game space, but traditionally hasn't performed so well with specialty board games. I'm a huge board game fan, but those D&D board games aren't for me.

JP: I always said that most gamers are REALLY into one or two things: table-top RPG, Card games, board games or miniature gaming (regardless of company/ theme). I’m personally a RPG/Minis guy (I have a blog dedicated to my painting). Some of the recent “4e” products I’ve seen include cards, board games, essentials line. Are they diluting their honey pot?

DK I don't know about dilution, but it's clear that they're trying different things, which I'm in full support of. I wouldn't be surprised if some of those products just don't pan out.

JP: In a previous blog posts (here and here) I went on record predicting 5e at or announced at GenCon 2012… What do you think of my idea that it won’t be 5e: it will be named and branded as “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons”?

DK As I mentioned earlier, I wouldn't be surprised if the Essentials line was branded as the latest and greatest, so you're probably not too far off.

JP: How do you think 4e – and LFR as a result – is doing? I know that in many places the game is dying while others it is thriving. Any insight or input you would like to add?

DK I think D&D as a whole is in a state of transition. There's a lot of product confusion between the essentials line, these new board games, and the more traditional D&D products. The next year will be critical for Wizards' to really show their cards, so to speak, and solidify the future of the game. LFR has certainly suffered from some of the recent decisions, but there's certainly a chance for the campaign to bounce back. We have a vibrant and dedicated community, and talented contributors that continue to produce some fantastic content and compelling storylines. However, I won't be around forever - we need new people with fresh ideas every day!

JP: Thank you Dave, it has been very informative. I love frank exchanges of ideas and opinions and for the smack I talk about 4e. I know you are a definite good guy among many… I am not surprised the campaign leaders went and got you for that position. Good choice… The floor is yours for some final words.

DK It's been my pleasure! I'm honored to be asked to share my thoughts!


  1. Excellent Interview! Will you be doing more? perhaps with Paizo for PFS and Catalyst for Shadowrun Missions? Those were the only other living campaigns I could think of.

  2. Is the Catalyst campaign still going? I thought they folded a while ago...

    And YES, I will have interviews with OPP from a number of active OP campaigns. Tune in next week! :)
    PFS is one of those.