Monday, August 23, 2010

TSR1-INSIDIOUS: Interview With Creator Devon Hibbs

It's been an interesting stretch for Die Cast Games. Not long after their TSR1-INSIDIOUS module was released, there was a firestorm regarding their use of the term "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" on the front of their book. It definitely made the rounds through the old-school RPG community, but lost in all this perhaps was the view from the publisher himself.

Today, we're going to try to rectify that a bit, with our interview with Devon Hibbs of Die Cast Games, creator of the aforementioned module TSR1-INSIDIOUS. We asked him not only about the contreversy, but about the content of the module itself, his working with (classic TSR alum) artist Jeff Easley on the product, and their future publishing plans. Devon, thanks for taking the time to do this in what I'm sure is a very busy time:

Briefly, describe INSIDIOUS for the readers. What sort of module is this? What sort of challenges will players face?

DH: TSR1-INSIDIOUS is a low level adventure written using rules for the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game system. It has some town and wilderness adventuring as well as some good old fashioned dungeon crawling through the ruins of a manor. The PC's will need o accomplish two things: 1)Find and defeat the evil forces 2)Do whatever it takes to prevent this from happening again. Some have compared the feel of the module to TSR's U2-The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh.

From the back cover:

"The once peaceful town of Sheridan Springs is in dire trouble. Several townsfolk are missing. Strange creatures have been seen moving in the woods around town. At night, sounds that chill the soul can be heard coming from the town cemetery and the ruins north of town. Some even say the dead are restless and walk again.

The town sheriff has sent an urgent request for aid. Will your young and inexperienced group of adventurers heed the call? Fame and reward await those that can identify and defeat the evil menacing the town of Sheridan Springs."

We tried to give it a familiar look and feel by having a removable cover with the maps printed in blue on the inside. The adventure works well with beginner DM's as well as experiences ones. When play-tested as-is it ran about 3-1/2 to 4 hours. This is perfect for completing an adventure in one gaming session or maybe two short sessions. There is plenty of room to expand the town or add a couple of road/wilderness encounters if needed.

We also wanted it to be fast and easy for the Dungeon Master to set up. To that end we included extra information and stats that normally require constantly consulting screens and core rule books. Every creature has its THACO and Experience Points right there. If it has any special attacks or defenses they will also be briefly explained. Spells and magic items are similarly explained. There are also 8 pregenerated characters that can also be used as NPC's if needed. We are calling these "READY-TO-ROLL" adventures. So far we have heard nothing but good things about this concept.

You were able to get (TSR alum) Jeff Easley to do the artwork for this product. How did that come about, and what was it like working with him?

DH: My brother and I have known Mr. Easley for several years now. He has always been one of our favorite D&D/fantasy artists. We collect original published D&D artwork and have purchased several pieces from Jeff over the years. After explaining our goal of producing old-school D&D adventures he agreed to do all the artwork for the module. My first intention was just to let Jeff read the first draft of the module and draw whatever he wanted. He did the cover artwork this way (and we love it) but he was busy with several other projects at the time so I was kind of thrust into the role of "Art Director". I went through the module and came up with a list of illos and approximate sizes then emailed it to Jeff. A few weeks later I got a package in the mail with all the artwork. Working with Jeff was great and a learning experience as well. We hope to have him do more for us in the future.

What do you think makes for a good adventure design?

DH: I have always liked adventures that combine a little intrigue with some good old-fashioned dungeon crawling. An adventure shouldn't feel so linear that the players feel like they are just characters in a story. If thought out well an adventure will keep the characters moving along without hints or direction from the DM. I also prefer modules that can be played in one or two gaming sessions, especially when the PC's are still at a low level.

There's been a bit of a flap regarding your use of "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" on the product. Did that response catch you off guard, and do you plan do anything about it in future editions/products?

DH: Actually the module had been for sale about a month before I heard anything negative about the use of "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" on the cover. It really was only a few people complaining on one forum but it stirred up a lot of interest in the module. Before the "controversy" I had sold almost 200 copies of the 250 I had printed. This was by posting on several D&D collector/player sites and by having a booth at the GenCon gaming convention. After the complaints hit I sold the last 50 modules in just a couple of days. Any publicity is good publicity it seems. I think we are so small that WotC wouldn't even bother with a "Cease and Desist" letter even if we hadn't planned on changing the cover a bit.

How do you see the pool of gamers for old-school products growing? Is there anything the community or hobby could be doing that it isn't doing now, or anything that could be done better?

DH: We have seen a trend in the last decade or so, especially since we collect D&D and watch ebay all the time. People who used to play D&D back in the 70's, 80's, and even the early 90's, are getting to the age where they have settled down and have a bit of spare income. They remember the fun they had playing the old 1st/2nd Edition D&D and AD&D games. They hit ebay looking to buy the D&D titles they had in their youth and discover there is so much more out there. Some just buy to collect but many more are starting to play as well. I don't think we will be converting many 3rd or 4th Edition players to 1st Edition, but you never know.

What's next for Die Cast Games?

DH: Right now I am working on a few changes to make the second printing of TSR1 less of a legal target ("Advanced Dwarves Nymphs and Dinosaurs" anyone?). The PDF version is already available but the final printed version will be different from that. I am also working on writing the most "realistic" cavern adventure possible. No stroll through a wimpy corridor-like cave here : ) I used to do a bit of "caving" in my youth, and every time I see a cavern in an adventure I laugh to myself at how unreal they are.

Our plans are to release 3 or 4 products in a year. We are more of a quality over quantity bunch.

--Thanks, Devon! Best of luck going forward, and thank you for taking the time to answer the questions! -ZH


Rob Conley said...

Nice interview, thanks for sharing that.

"Most realistic cavern adventure." That should be interesting. Although I will point out that Harn adventures with caves them depict them realistically. See Fields of Daisies for an example.

David Macauley said...

Yes, thanks for the interview Zack and for presenting Devon's side of the story over the licence controversy. I would've liked to have heard more about why Devon thought at first it was ok to use the AD&D trademark in conjunction with the OGL and then what convinced him he needed to move away from that strategy, as I think it would be instructive for others considering doing something similar. But it's always good to hear about sales figures, as that too is instructive. Much appreciated.

GrayPumpkin said...

While it depends on the cave system of course, but on a whole there would be a lot more crawling around and squeezing up and down through tight spaces in realistic caves. Some I've been here in central Texas the best you could do was sit up and then only sometimes.
Which could get tedious if overdone; of course with the whole party crawling around and hands and knees with no room to swing those big weapons or properly cast makes a good time bring out waves of kobolds. ;)

Geoffrey said...

'I am also working on writing the most "realistic" cavern adventure possible. No stroll through a wimpy corridor-like cave here : ) I used to do a bit of "caving" in my youth, and every time I see a cavern in an adventure I laugh to myself at how unreal they are.'

Good! When I listen to the tales of a caver-buddy of mine, I regularly note the immense differences between a real cave and a D&D cave. The real ones sound more interesting.