Thursday, September 2, 2010

Random Generation: Interview With Chaotic Shiny's Hannah Lipsky

Readers of this site know I'm absolutely crazy about random generation, tables, and charts in role playing games--I love 'em, and think they're tremendous fun. Today, I have an interview with Hannah Lipsky of Chaotic Shiny Productions, someone who knows as much about random generation programs for RPGs as anyone out there. Hannah is here to talk about her awesome new Kingdom Builder II program pack, her other available generators, Chaotic Shiny's other projects, and a bit about being a small-press gaming company.

Best of all, as a thank-you to RPG Blog 2 readers, the first twenty people to use the code "RPGB2ROCKS" at the Chaotic Shiny store this month receive 25% off any purchase! Act fast, because those twenty uses will go quick! How awesome is that? Now, on to the interview!

Chaotic Shiny has one of the largest collections of RPG generator tools I've seen. How did you get involved in writing these sorts of programs?

I started freeform play-by-post roleplaying way back on AvidGamers. I noticed that a lot of sites there had similar names, so I made a couple site name generators as a joke. Not long after, I realized I was playing a lot of similar characters, so I made a character generator as a way to help stretch my creativity.

A while later, I was running a tri-stat dX game and having a lot of trouble coming up with taverns on the fly. The tavern generator was the first really detailed generator I made, and the first one specifically for use in tabletop RPGs.

After that I made a generator whenever I thought I'd need something original on the fly during a game, and then I started making generators off other people's suggestions, or just because I had a cool idea.

What can you tell us about your upcoming generator, Kingdom Builder II?

It combines some of the existing generators on Chaotic Shiny, like the Law and Fashion gens, with some totally new generators. The Events gen comes up with things like "A new species of minotaur has been sighted near a southern forest, and there have been severe thunderstorms. A popular scion may be involved." The Conspirator gen gives you interesting people to build hooks from. And of course there's the visual Flag gen, which makes pictures of flags - you can even use your own image as the charge.

It's based on suggestions about the original Kingdom Builder pack, which is my most popular product to date. You can use the two together to create a fully fleshed-out kingdom brimming with plot hooks, or use any of the generators on their own whenever you need them.

How often do random charts, generators, and tables factor into your own games?

I used to use my generators during my games all the time. Recently I've been trying to run with just a notebook and pencil, no laptop in sight. It's a bit of a relief to run with just what's on the table in front of me, but it does mean that if I want to use my generators, I have to plan ahead.

You've also been working on some things with Chaotic Shiny Productions, both some generators and books like Martial Flavor, a 4e sourcebook regarding martial cultures. What are you currently working on?

The next book we have coming out is Arcane Flavor, the sequel to Martial Flavor. It has five unique cultures that each put their own twist on magic - from the half-fey city of Cailleath to the shadows where the Ternion stalk their prey, and the ringing peaks of Valok where evil bards reign supreme.

I'm very happy with the cool stuff I've come up with for the book, and the art by Rachel is absolutely gorgeous. She takes my artistic direction of, "I dunno, tall buildings and fire and stuff - and try to have fewer women this time; people complained" and comes up with digital paintings that are exactly what I envisioned, only better.

As a small press company, how do you compete with larger concerns that can perhaps afford more helping hands, art direction, or have more resources?

I don't. I do this because I love it. If I can break even or even make a profit, that's awesome. I certainly can't pay myself a living wage doing this, but that's why it's not my day job. Not to say I'm not serious about the business side of things - I am. But I know I'm not going to be the next Paizo, and I'm okay with that.

What's been the biggest lesson you've learned on the publishing side of things so far?

Never announce deadlines. Real life comes up, both for me and other people, and there's nothing worse than having to nag a friend who's already stressed out just so you can make a deadline you ignorantly set six months ago. Now I have general times when I shoot for releases, but I never make a specific date public. That way, when my internet goes down for a week or I'm invited on a spur of the moment camping trip, I don't need to apologize to my fans.

What sort of continuing impact do you see the digital revolution having on smaller gaming publishers, and, indeed, RPG publishers as a whole?

I wouldn't be able to publish at all if it weren't for the online market. It's made it possible for small press to exist, by drastically cutting down costs and making it easier to get the word out. As for larger publishers, that really depends on how they react to it. I think there's a lot of cool things that can happen if big publishers go with the new technology instead of trying to resist it.

What can we look for for the rest of this year and going into 2011?

I'm going to keep coming out with free generators on Chaotic Shiny, of course. I aim for two a month, though real life has been getting in the way a lot more frequently now that I have a full time job.

There will be more generator packs from Chaotic Shiny Productions, though I'm not sure yet what the next one will be. I'll be coming out with Arcane Cultures, taking the cultures from Arcane Flavor and releasing them in a (most likely) systemless form.

I'll keep coming out with cool free stuff like Tavern Tables, the Damager and 10 Fantasy Coins. Free products let me play around with new ideas without the pressure of making something that will sell, so they're a lot of fun to work on.

I'm working on some cool collaborative projects with some other people, though I can't say too much about them yet. Suffice to say that they are very shiny indeed.

Again, thanks to Hannah Lipsky for a great Q&A and a great special for the readers. Remember, the code for 25% off at the Chaotic Shiny store is "RPGB2ROCKS"! Hannah rocks, too--make sure to let her know!


Matt said...

I love her site. I couldn't have done Pars Fortuna without it!

Swordgleam said...

Thanks for the awesome interview, Zach!

Anonymous said...

Man, this is really good stuff. Thanks for doing the interview and providing the link.

Tim Shorts said...

Hannah has never disappointed with her products. I recently received a copy of Kingdom Builder II and I'll be doing a review of it as soon as I get my own computer back. Keep up the great work Hannah.