Tim Brown and Troy Denning both have a unique place in my heart. In spite of never having met either of them in person. It was the fall of 1991. I had just started CEGEP. I won't go into specifics about Cegep but it’s like a pre-college structure that exists only in Quebec, during that time you do very little except meet friends, girlfriends and play a crap-load of RPGs. At least I did.
So back to the story, I went to a local game store (don't remember which - I visited so many in the days). After talking to the guy, I picked up this new D&D campaign setting called Dark Sun. Wow! I really liked the twists and the potential! So new!
I quickly started a mini-campaign.
When the 4e version was announced I was torn. I do not like 4e but I still looked through their Dark Sun material. In the end, I chose not to get involved with it but I still hoped to play it in the future (some of the Athas.org stuff). Then I came across his interview on Athas.org.
I was hooked so I sent Tim an email about offering my services as a writer. We got to talking and this interview came to life.
I must admit throughout this interview I was having something of a fan-boy moment.
JP: Hi Tim! Thanks for doing this for the readers of "JP on Gaming". I really appreciate the opportunity for this interview. How would you introduce yourself to a ground of avid (and rabid) gamers?
Tim Brown Hello, JP. Thanks for blogging about me and my new project. For starters, I should say that I’m an old-school role-player who’s lead a double life as a game designer and a musician for most of my life. I’ve been fortunate to play with some really great musicians and work for some top-notch game companies, including Game Designers’ Workshop (GDW) and TSR.
JP: 2300AD is a game that has reached cult status. I must admit that I never got to play (a lot of reasons, but simply: it didn't happen). Can you tell us a little about the game?
TB GDW was a phenomenal learning experience for me. Honestly, I got to learn from some genius-level game pros there, like Frank Chadwick, Marc W. Miller, Rich Banner, John Harshman, Loren Wiseman, and John Astell. I had done some design work for the Traveller game, and got to be a principle designer (along with my friend Lester Smith) on their more hard-science RPG that eventually became 2300AD.
We aimed for a gritty, near future game universe, with believable scientific advances and realistic depictions of a burgeoning human presence in near space. There was a fair amount of xeno-war against the strange Kafers, as well as exotic, thought provoking sci-fi adventures on the colonial frontiers.
JP: What are, according to you its high points and perhaps some elements you learned and have sought to bring to later publications?
TB I designed the core of the Star Cruiser space combat game for 2300AD, and it won an Origins Award. Also, I wrote two different sci-fi adventures for the game that definitely leaned more toward the cerebral rather than the ‘gun-toting’ side, Energy Curve and Nyotekundu Sourcebook. Fortunately, the fans embraced them, and from that point on I’ve never feared going over the audience’s head. People are smart; they figure things out.
Let's talk about Dark Sun
JP: Can you tell us how you came involved with Dark Sun?
TB I volunteered. It was that simple. In 1990, TSR decided they wanted to launch a new AD&D campaign universe, and I raised my hand.
JP: What attracted you the most about the final product?
TB The fact that we had broken the Tolkien-esque fantasy mold for AD&D. No other setting had done that so far, and we got a great response from the fans.
JP: Dark Sun throws a number of typical Tolkien-esque tropes on their heads. They are elves that aren't tree-huggers, dwarves that don't spend their time mining, etc. Did you start out with that as a goal to "make it different" or is that something that grew as you developed the setting?
TB We definitely wanted to make it different from the start. In fact, our original concepts were way out there, without any connections to elves, dwarves, or halflings. We decided to reign that back a bit and I’m glad we did. The result was more relatable than where we were initially heading.
JP: Dark Sun was (IIRC - and I am likely very wrong) the first AD&D setting that came out simultaneously with a novel/fiction line. How did you and Troy Denning juggle that?
TB Dark Sun was a study in simultaneous development. We made the game world and its fictional characters and story lines along with all the art all at the same time. After a long period of general development, we split off into specialties. Troy mapped out the novels and began writing, and I created more of the game elements.
JP: How much did the novels influence the design of campaign setting or vice versa?
TB Again, it was largely simultaneous. The idea for the mul warrior race came up during early development, as well as the slave rebellion as part of a meta campaign. Those turned into Rikus and Neeva. We had a general plan for the Dragon Kings and Troy let that play out in the novels.
And on to Dragon Kings
JP: Can you give us a quick low-down about the Dragon Kings?
TB Dragon Kings is a new sandbox where I can play with all my fantasy setting ideas and my musical ambitions, as well. I’m calling it my ‘spiritual successor’ to Dark Sun, in that it share several key themes, like a world in decline and desperate struggles just to survive.
JP: From the Athas.Org interview, psionics seem to be a big part of both Khitus and Athas. Is that a personal preference? Are you a big fan of psionics?
TB I always liked psionics as a unique means to manipulate the world. It makes a nice counterpoint to arcane and divined magic. I’ve always like that it implies the mind tapping into enormous reserves of energy.
JP: Right now you are presenting this as "system agnostic". That's a pretty interesting take and something which I really like about systems likes the OGL and Savage Worlds offer. Am I to understand that the campaign book will be "setting only" (fluff only, no crunch)?
TB Yes, the hardbound campaign book will be setting only, with rules intensive PDF supplements for different game systems. The supplements follow the campaign book chapter for chapter, presenting all the rules and stats for the each system, be it Savage Worlds, Pathfinder, or what have you.
JP: Are you planning on having new races or new twists on old favorites, like Dark Sun's dwarves, elves and halflings? Or will we meet completely new races things we've never encounter before?
TB More the latter. If Dark Sun took one step away from Tolkien-esque fantasy, I want Dragon Kings to take two steps.
JP: Some gamers, particularly Dark Sun big-time aficionados, are accusing you of "re-doing Dark Sun without paying IP rights." I first heard of the project through one such tweet and it got me intrigued. So I went to find more about it. How would you answer these nay-sayers?
TB I would enjoy making new Dark Sun products if that were possible. I seriously petitioned to get the IP rights to Dark Sun on two different occasions, but they are ‘unavailable.’ By making Dragon Kings thematically similar, I can explore themes that I always enjoyed in a game setting and also introduce elements that are completely new, such as the musical creation and presentation, as well as open the world up to players who enjoy some other already established rules systems.
JP: Are you planning on writing adventures for Dragon Kings? Can we expect something along to line of a number of one-shots or something more like an adventure path or like the old Dark Sun Series of adventures?
TB I’m primarily a fan of adventures that can be resolved in just a session or two, so we’ll probably go in that direction.
JP: Are you planning to have an evolving storyline for Dragon Kings? Something like the death of Kalak and the rise of Tyrian Freedom in Dark Sun?
TB Yes, we have a couple of meta plots in mind, but I hope to resolve them within a year or so of publication so the game world becomes fairly ‘set in stone.’
JP: You have announced that you would self-publish. Are you planning to use crowd-sourcing (Kickstarter or Indigogo) to fund the endeavor?
TB Yes, we plan to run a KickStarter campaign once the bulk of the writing and key art and music are finished or at least well underway. Look for that around the beginning of September.
About the Musical Album
JP: Perhaps one of the most unique and intriguing aspect of the Dragon Kings project is the simultaneous release of a music album. How did that come about?
TB I’ve always thought there was a connection between themed rock albums and game universes. This is an opportunity for me to bring two aspects of my own life into play in a single project.
JP: For the GM at home, what would the album add to their game? I mean, will it be songs to inspire them while they prep or something to put in the background to set the mood?
TB The album will be primarily world immersive. The story it tells follows a single hero from obscurity across the world to a climactic confrontation with evil. Anyone who hears it front to back will get a vivid, emotional image of the Dragon Kings world at large.
JP: Okay I am a big fan of 70s prog-rock. I'm a huge fan of Rush's 2112 and Hemisphere, Genesis' The Lamb lies down on Broadway (though anything with Peter Gabriel and/or Steve Hackett), Pink Floyd's The Wall and more recent stuff like Dream Theater's Scenes from a memory or Stratovarius' Elements (Parts 1 and 2). Am I in known or friendly territory? Do you have a sample link to some music to get us in the mood?
TB I’m with you, right down the line, there. We’re working on the music now, with former Queensryche guitarist Mike Stone writing much of the material. We’ll have some music to share soon that should wet your appetite.
JP: If people are interested in participating or helping out, how can they?
TB The best thing to do to help is to get the word out across social media. Follow us. Like our pages. Encourage others to do so, too. Then add your thoughts to our forums and other forums as well; we’re putting links to existing Dragon Kings forum discussions on our site, so please chime in and keep the conversation going.
JP: Are you looking for freelance writers/ artists/ musician?
TB For the present, no, but if the game is well received and as we make follow-up products to support it, then yes.
JP: Thanks Tim for spending this time. I'm still all giddy about it. *JAPANESE SCHOOL GIRL GIGGLE!*
TB It’s my pleasure. Take care!
Did I tell you how much I enjoyed this conversation? And how much I want to see this project succeed? Pass the word everyone!