JP On Gaming

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How I got to rant at PCI: Talking with Peter Barrenechea

If you have been reading my blog these past few weeks you are no doubt aware of the "feud" between PCI and me. A feud that never was! What came out of this debate and exchange of ideas surprised me, I have to admit it. Peter and I had a very frank exchange about Arcanis and the Chronicles of the Shattered Empire. Here are some of the highlights of this conversation, presented in Q&A form for the benefit of my readers.

JP: Who are you? What is your “RPG-pedigree”?

PB: Pedro Barrenechea aka Pete, Stat Monkey, and my favorite title Dad.

Peter looks very proud of this last statement, we both chuckle. I share the feeling.

RPG-pedigree, well then… I have been playing RPGs since the late 1970s, started with basic D&D, played 1st and 2nd edition, twilight 2000, Gamaworld, Mekton, the original west end Star Wars, MERP…. Ok let’s just say I have been gaming for most of my life and played and ran more campaigns then I care remember.

JP: What is your official (or unofficial) position as part of PCI’s design team?

PB: I wear, like most of the crew, many hats in PCI… I am or have been a systems designer, writer, campaign coordinator, graphic artist, graphic designer, and all around idea guy. We all pull our own weight and play to our strengths. Whereas Henry [Lopez] is a story guy, I’m a numbers guy, that’s not to say that we have not all tossed around new story and rules ideas…

We at PCI are very much a team…. which is why I love working with them so much!

JP: What systems do you enjoy (other than ARPG)?

PB: Okay, that’s going to take some thought, I like different games for different reasons… but here are my top 5 in no particular order (which is not to say I don’t have house rules for these systems): TSR’s Classic Marvel Super Heroes Game, D&D 3.5, Star Wars Saga Edition, Old World of Darkness, and Green Ronin’s new AGE system (used for Song of Fire and Ice).

There are more (Rifts) but that might take all day…

Peter chuckles as I keep quiet my personal liking of Palladium’s Rifts. If only there were a Rifts OGL, the edition war would end…*sigh*

JP: When you run a home campaign, what elements would you say are typical of a “Peter” campaign or adventure?

PB: I’m all about the story, and about the players in that story… I love big epic cinematographic battles… as well as deep role-playing sessions… There are days that one dice hits the table and others where it feels like an Arcanis Battle Interactive…

For those who never got to play a battle interactive, it’s the most awesome and unique of experience! Many tables all taking part at the same time in some big event, usually a battle, hence the name. I used to write many during my LG days. Unfortunately most current campaigns have gone away from this campaign, kudos to PCI for keeping them in their plans!

And I’m a huge fan of subplots….

JP: Can you tell people about the new Arcanis game?

PB: Well let’s start with the new name Arcanis: The Role Playing Game (ARPG).

System: ARPG is a game designed to not only play tactically but encourage out of the box thinking while providing a stable rules structure for both the players and the GM. From the “concept first” character creation system to the way your actions matter in combat, to the dynamic skill system. Each part of the game reflects our mantra “Actions have Consequences”… it’s something we always stressed in the campaign and we wanted to reflect in the system. Classless advancement allows players to develop their hero organically giving them to freedom to either plan out there character advancement or allow the story to guide them without fear of making “sub-optimal choices”.

JP: Can you expand on PCI’s mantra “Actions have consequences”? I’m really a big devoted of this and always like hearing what others mean by this. What does this mean in the game/ meta-game/ rules-writing aspect?

PB: Our adventures place the heroes in situations where they are forced to make hard moral choices… Those choices do not exist in a vacuum. Although your choices may not affect you now, a year from now we will sideswipe you with its repercussions…

Someone once said "You can’t play a good Arcanis game without feeling slimy. So, so true.

We also like to say “Stupidity Leads to Character Creation” the wrong choices can, and will, get you killed…

JP: Why is Arcanis different from Tolkien-esque fantasy?

PB: A world where the most difficult thing to do is be a Hero. It’s a world which is not black and white, but painted on every shade of gray… it’s not a world where the most dangerous monsters hide someplace within the darkest forest beyond the walls, but where the real monster might be the man drinking at the other end of the bar. A world where faith is not a given, a world where even the most powerful of men are always looking over their shoulders.

You simply can’t come into Arcanis expecting it to fall within your “classical fantasy” expectations...

JP: When is ARPG due to hit the book shelves?

PB: June, though you can pre-buy the book now… if you do, free pdf…

JP: I freely admit that I am not a fan of what I saw of ARPG. But it’s not like 4e I don’t hate it! The one piece of system I am truly averse to is the D12 initiative system. I tried it, dislike it, think it slows things down and want to kill it. How did that system come about? Any chance it will go away and go to a simpler system?

PB: That’s one part of the system that takes a game to really get the hang of, then really speeds up once you know your character and know the basics (which have been cleaned up in the new version of the rules).The reason why we don’t expect to get rid of it is because it’s too intricate to the overall combat system, the strain mechanic is just one example. Every time I have ran a table, by the 2nd combat the players have a better feel for the system and combat starts to move along at a good clip.

Our website has a example combat to let you know how combat feels and flows.

You can see the example by following this link. The system has something of a D&D 3+ feel to it while being unique. Have a look and make up your own mind about it.

I did not put the long back and forth we had about this on this post. However, it seems that since I played last, this system has been simplified. I’ll freely admit that I’m still not sold on it, but I’m definitely willing to give it another try.

JP: Why has PCI gone from an OGL publisher to your own in-house system?

PB: Not owning you own system puts you to the mercy of the system, and the company, you have tied yourself too. I have two words for you… Spell Decks. I can’t go into details, but let’s just say we had a warehouse full of Spell Decks which became unsellable over night with the announcement of 3.5… we went from having one the biggest selling d20 products on the market to having a warehouse full of worthless product in one day.

Besides we always felt the class system was somewhat limited… you have no idea how many times I had to rebuild NPCs to make them fit a story stat wise… I had to go so far as to create a class, the Patrician, just to fill a hole in the system.

We also felt it was time for us to chart our own course…

JP: To me, the strong point of Arcanis has been its very involved storyline. Note to players: don't play Arcanis if your goal in life is to remain unaligned and watch events that do not concern your character! You will/have to get involved. Can you tell us of some of the "tricks" you guys use to come up with such a storyline?

PB: We are not afraid to push the players… we don’t treat them like children… And we simply embrace story concepts other campaigns shy away from. You need to draw the players into the story slowly at first then push hard... And make sure they don’t have a chance to keep their footing.

We both chuckled in agreement here.

JP: Will you publish Arcanis material for 3.5/ Pathfinder? Why?

PB: Mostly the limitations of the Pathfinder license. You cannot produce material in the Pathfinder system and your own at the same time. But, again we simply felt it was time for us to chart our own course…

JP: One of the impressions I’ve gotten from people close to PCI is that there is strong disdain for 3e/Pathfinder RPG. It sounds like when WotC announced the roaring, massive perfect success that became 4e, I don't want to predict doom, but... What are your thoughts on that?

PB: I would not say we have a disdain for pathfinder, we just always felt like it was a round peg in a square hole (alignment anyone?). The only thing I don’t like about the 3.5 system is that it always forced me to work my character concepts into their template… something that drove me nuts… you should not have to wait 5 class levels until your character finally fits your original character concept.

JP: Regarding the old Living Arcanis material, are there any plans to make available the old adventures that disappeared when expired? Either making them available through a single collection of PDFs or through a book like you have done with Year of Ill Harvest and Year of the Fall?

PB: Not right now, we have our hands full… but it’s on the radar.

At this point I started mentally counting my pennies to add those products to my collection.

JP: Speaking of Living Arcanis, that campaign has ended its six-year story arc, and Chronicles of the Shattered Empire (CSE) had a few soft launches. When is CSE going to go into full-release?

PB: Origins 2011… we have a team of writers now who are starting to spit out adventures... Hell, TPF (Tiny Poisonous Fish) is back!

We just had two adventures premiere at MegaCon and I just finished editing 2 more…. And there are 6 in the pipe… so, the way things look, we expect to hit our expected 24 mods a year next year….

JP: In the game of CSE I played, the setting seemed to have changed and be more focused than Living Arcanis. Whereas LA was a “general” campaign, this one seems very limited in scope. What’s the deal with this Crusade? Any juicy bits you can share with us?

>PB: Not quite, we had a LONG story arc with the 1st campaign. The 5 year story arc felt general at first, But if you connect the dots you will see that we dropped some hints in year one about what would happen in year 5.

Now the main plotlines are going to be shorter (2 years) and a little more focused, BUT we will have quite a few general adventures, but they will all ‘hover’ around the core story line…

JP: Will we see interactive adventure like in LA? Most other organized play campaign seems to go away from.

PB: Always!!! Both Role playing and Battle focused… we will never shy away from those.

JP: Will we see Community Content? Either through a local/regional system (like the Invisible Kings (IK) used to be) or through a “MyRealms” type of open material? Any goodies you would be willing to can share with us about this?

PB: We are definitely looking at restarting IKs. We also have a new program in the works for game masters to help organize events and get some cool stuff for it.

JP: Any hope for a partnership with another company to produce a Pathfinder adaptation of the Chronicles of the Shattered Empire? Any chance you might be interested in a 3.5/Pathfinder author/editor/adapter for Arcanis products?

PB: Nope, not in the foreseeable future.

JP: It was worth a try.

I spent some time sulking and whining here as Peter patiently listens but says nothing.

JP: What would you say about ARPG to haters to change their mind?

PB: Well, all I can say is that it was a bumpy start. But thanks to play testers and players we were able to put quite a bit of polish on the new rules set… We cleaned up a lot of the rules and with the assistance of some amazing players clarified quite a few sections.

Give the game a try after its full release with an open mind it’s all I can ask.

JP: Thank you Peter. That was very informative!

As we exchanged friendly parting words, I promised Peter that I would give ARPG a serious try. If only I could find a table locally that plays outside the big cons!

I have to say that I came out of this exchange with a greater understanding of the reasons why PCI went to ARPG. While I still think they would have had a bigger distribution had they gone to Pathfinder (and preferred it myself), Peter’s answers convinced me that they did not do it on a whim or “because they hate 3.5/PFRPG” which was what I thought was the case.

I encourage my readers to check out Paradigm Concept’s web site (PCI's Arcanis Page). They have a lot of goodies coming including a participation in Free RPG Day 2011, big launch at Origins and their forums have a lot of information about CSE and the game itself.

After all this, I find myself annoyed. I had wished to find ammunition to sling away and go on a full-on rant about how ARPG sucked and how everyone related to it was doomed to roast in hell like a previous post (see my rantish post), but instead found myself growing more curious about the product, the campaign and what would be coming next from PCI.

To annoy me further, I initially was certain I would be able to spend my hard-earned money on other things, I just might have to save up the cash to buy me an ARPG book.

Wow… now I can rant! Sweet!


*Shakes fist angrily*

*Contented sigh*



  1. Good calm exchange of questions, views and answers, very well done.

  2. Great interview. I've got a bit of investment in the setting (I played a val'Sosi in the original LA campaign) and my wife worked on the new system's rulebook quite a bit.

    That said, I had a few of the same questions and concerns, and have not myself actually played a session with the new rules yet. Got some key information here.

  3. Well you know those guys at PCI, things can always change...

  4. Thanks for posting this interview, JP! While I still have yet to embrace the new system, this interview leaves me with a glimmer of hope that I may still wish to try it out again. While I'm not crazy about the system, I still absolutely love what PCI has done with the world. It's one of the best settings I've played in role-playing wise.

    Keep up the good work and creativity! I look forward to a second chance with the new system. I hope it's a success.

  5. Excellent interview. I was initially skeptical about the product, but like you, will reallocate some Starbucks money for a week or two and pick up the first couple books to try out. Sounds like a deep enough system with that, "For Gamers By Gamers" kind of tag line missing!
    Honor and Glory!