As I mentioned at the end of my last update, I’ve got another interview for you today.
Morgan Boehringer is a freelance RPG designer based somewhere in the Blue Mountains here in Australia. Not exactly sure where, but having been up at Jenolan Caves for a wedding back in March, I can honestly say that if his home looks anything like the areas I was riding through, then it’s a beautiful place. Jammy bastard… Where was I. Ah yes. He can be found lurking around the Paizo Messageboards under the name Oceanshieldwolf, and is the mind behind Forest Guardian Press, a third-party publisher that focuses on content for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, with his first product, the Direlock class, already being available from Paizo.com. He’s also been involved in various projects run by other publishers, and is currently developing content for the Strange Brew: The Ultimate Witch & Warlock Kickstarter.
I interviewed Morgan earlier this week about his work as a designer, and the Strange Brew project. Thankfully, he lives in the same time zone as me, so we could actually do a real-time interview. Time differences are of course one of the biggest inconveniences of living in Australia… well, that and the drop bears… and the ridiculously inflated prices we’re expected to pay for goods and services compared to the USA… you know what? I’m going to stop there and just get down to the reason we’re here.
The point is that we were able to chat online instead having him answer a set of questions I’d emailed to him, getting answers back, and emailing further questions that arose from his responses. It led to a very different feel to the interview. I deliberately didn’t plan it out too much, so that we could just see where the conversation went. I think it turned out well. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a better way to interview, but it’s good for something different, and I have a preference for it.
So, let’s get down to it.
Interview with Morgan Boehringer, Independent RPG Designer & Publisher
[Editor’s Note: The interview started 15 minutes or so of aimless chatting about Life, the Universe and EverythingTM… Figured I’d spare you that at least.]
The Grassy Gnoll: Anyway… So, the Strange Brew project.
TGG: I didn’t really have anything in particular planned, thought we’d just chat and see what comes up about it.
Morgan: Aha. Was wondering how planned out this was.
TGG: Yeah, I like to keep it pretty conversational. One of the reasons I prefer IM to email. Let’s go with the standard starting spot.How did you first get involved in role-playing?
Morgan: Erk. Um.
TGG: Taxing the memory a bit?
Morgan: My brother started playing in year seven/1st year high school. I was 8. Played B2 as a halfling because my brother told me “at 10th level you can crawl under [insert further gibberish here]” I didn’t understand any of it – I was 8. His friend’s mum DM’ed using a mix of the Basic Rules and the DMG. Best bit was when we found the minotaur’s treasure and couldn’t work out if the comma meant three prices for three gems, or gems worth millions….. Bree Yark!
This was 1982…
[Editor’s Note: For anyone who doesn’t know, Bree Yark is a reference to the classic D&D module B2: Keep on the Borderlands. The players are told that it means “We surrender” in Goblin, when it actually means “Hey! Rube!”, and serves as a rallying cry for all nearby goblins to come join in on the fight.]
TGG: Fair enough. For a frame of reference, I started with D&D 3.0, just after my 12th birthday. 2001
TGG: Heh, I get that a lot.
Morgan: Yeah, so do I, from octogenarians…
TGG: So have you always played D&D, or have you tried other systems over the years?
Morgan: Eh, I went through a stage where my friends and I would play something new every week or so, and I was always finding the more obscure ones – Talislanta, Almahbrea, Dragon Warriors; Skyrealms of Jorune, Mekton, really early Warhammer; and the more common GURPS, Palladium (Heroes Unlimited, TMNT, Ninjas and Superspies, RIFTS), Gamma World (1e), MERP/Rolemaster, Runequest. Golden Heroes, Villains and Vigilantes. The odd homebrewed system. Spiced up with lashings of boardgames – Talisman, and the occasionals foray into Ogre, Car Wars, Battle Cars, The Awful Green things from Outer space and Blood Bowl. But mostly DnD and mostly 1e. My brother and I did an epic 1e homebrew campaign I DM’ed when I was about 11. Very derivative stuff, but hey, I was 11… I left the hobby for a bunch of years in my early twenties, so I missed a lot of 2e, which is great because I didn’t like the approach – the writing style, artstyle, or mechanics changes. I wasn’t really there for 3e, but I bought a bunch of books, and loved the concepts. 3.5 was good, by the time I was ready to come back 4e hit and I wasn’t sure I liked it either. Of course the first character I made was a Tiefling Warlock with scale armour proficiency because in 4e you could quite easily….
Then by chance I was reading a Wizards interview with Wolfgang Baur, and he mentioned this “Pathfinder” thing. I knew vaguely of Paizo from seeing the name in Dragon magazines and some Rise of the Runelords adventures at my not-very-local-and-only-my-favorite-because-it-was-my-only game store – being the shallow aesthete that I am I was immediately enamoured of the covers and artwork. I followed the link in the interview to Kobold Quarterly, and then from there to Pathfinder. In about 2011 I think.
TGG: Sounds like around the time I got wind of Pathfinder, though it took another year or so for me to actually get some games going. So what prompted the jump into game design?
Morgan: As a kid I think I tinkered with homebrewing from the start. Wrote my own adventures for my brother (rooms with 500 orcs and 18 froghemoths – killed with one cloudkill – very Monty Haul) then campaign worlds etc Fluff as well as crunch. I loved designing classes too – the Battlelord, the Templar, the Hospitaller, the Sword-Arm, the Hunter-Slayer, the Scout, the Witch, the *redacted*. By 2011 I had an itch that definitely needed to be scratched – I wanted to write RPG stuff. I cold canvassed Wolfgang Baur via email and asked him to be my mentor. He was very kind and didn’t treat me like the stalky weirdo I really wasn’t and told me about the patronage projects and Open Design. I checked them out, I think Dark Roads and Golden Hells was running – wasn’t really my thing, even though I did like Planescape’s concepts. When Journeys to the West came along I jumped aboard. Oops. Pun.
TGG: I’m actually not familiar with the patronage projects, what were they exactly?
Morgan: Ok, so I think Journeys to the West was the first Kickstarter one, but before that they were simply payed for by those that wanted to be a part of getting something created, and then utilised the Kobold Quarterly forums to hash out ideas, brainstorm, develop, vote, create etc…. That’s how JttW played out – a forum created concept guided by Christina Stiles. We got to vote on islands and adventures, and if you backed the project at a high enough pledge tier you got to be the person submitting content to be voted on. I submitted some creatures and magic items at the start and got great feedback on all my ultimately unsuccessful submissions. I was lucky enough to get my island concept Aroa, the Far Flung Atolls selected in the second round after falling in a heap before deadline for the first round. Pressure is too much fun and I was hooked.
TGG: So essentially a crowdsourced campaign setting, with those who pledge at higher levels being able to contribute content, while those at lower buy-ins vote and discuss it. Interesting. I’ve come across similar things before, but hadn’t seen entire campaigns done that way.
Morgan: Yup, nice encapsulation. The Midgard Campaign Setting was created the same way.
TGG: So after Journeys to the West, you decided to start your own Third Party Publishing company, Forest Guardian Press? Or was that later on?
Morgan: Let me think… I got the Bonewitch accepted for Wayfinder #7 just as the Gauntlet Witch was rejected for Kobold Quarterly #22. Then I hopped on to Midgard Tales at a creator level and managed to persevere with an adventure over like 6 rounds of voting, tweaking it each time. Was finally accepted as Curse of the Witchkeep. I think maybe the patrons just wanted me to go away by then. Or they felt sorry for me. I also managed to win the votes for a couple of iconic characters in Midgard Legends. Anyhoo, I showed a little perseverance and the Gauntlet Witch was accepted for publication in Kobold Quarterly #23.
So by that stage I felt I had got what I needed from freelancing in order to do my own thing – – and I wanted to have total creative freedom to create what I wanted, how I wanted. Archaic and florid writing and all. Esoteric naming conventions. poorly drawn art, layout, graphic design – all by me. I was in the second year of a graphic arts course and I had an assessment where I needed to create a product from go to woe – I wanted to make an RPG product, but navigating the creating a PDF, the esoteries of the Open Gaming License (OGL), complying with Paizo’s Pathfinder Compatibility License, setting up a company on the Compatibility Register at Paizo, getting products hosted etc always daunted me. This was a chance to have a reason to overcome all that. And I did. I wrote the content, got help from Elghinn Lightbringer from the Multiclass Archetypes Crew (I’d been part of the Multiclass Archetypes thing almost from the inception in 2011) to develop it further, as well as some feedback from RPG Super Star Top 16 Tyler Beck (also from the MCA crew); got some playtesters in Texas to run the concept, got more feedback, tweaked it, edited it, illustrated it and did the layout and graphic design, and just before my 39th birthday the Direlock was aliiiiive!!!!!
TGG: Fair enough. So there was a lot of prep work there before you set yourself up as an independent publisher. Have you got anything further in the works for Forest Guardian Press at the moment? The Direlock, from what I’ve seen (sadly I haven’t been able to playtest it myself yet), is a pretty fascinating class. Would you like to expand on that idea further, or move onto other products?
Morgan: Like most designers (I imagine) I have lots of concepts and ideas whirling in the background of my mind, and I hope some of them will release in the next few months. There will be some additional content for the Direlock in the same way TPK released More Malcontent for the Malefactor; I’m just finishing up the Ossuarite, an undead druid that is pretty much a ripoff and expansion of the Bonewitch I did for Wayfinder applied to the Druid; a new base class, the Symbiote; a line of Hybrid Monsters PDFs; and a simple little Barbarian Alternate Class concept I’m pumped for right now. Plus, a base class based on the *redacted* class I wrote many years ago for 1e. But mostly I’m concentrating on the Strange Brew PDF. It contains the Gauntlet Witch, so In that way I’m still exploring and expanding that idea of the eldritch armored caster/gish, a kind of similar themed concept to the Direlock.
TGG: Well, I think that gives plenty of detail on your background with gaming and design. You’ve also given me the perfect segue into the topic of Strange Brew: The Ultimate Witch & Warlock. So the project is being funded through Kickstarter, and managed by Christina Stiles. Feel free to correct me if I get anything wrong here, but as I understand it, the bulk of Strange Brew is made up of content from Timothy Brannan’s 3rd Edition D&D sourcebook, the Liber Mysterium, updated for Pathfinder, with additional content being added by yourself and other designers. As the title suggests, it’s meant to be a definitive sourcebook for Witches and Warlocks in the Pathfinder RPG. How did you get involved in the project?
Morgan: I was a were-apprentice on Christina Stiles’ ‘Bite Me, the Gaming Guide to Lycanthropes’ Kickstarter, which afforded me further mentoring and networking opportunities. I mentioned to her I was working on a Witch book tentatively titled Strange Brew. She told me it would work well as part of the upcoming Ultimate Witch and Warlocks. So really, Tim and Christina stole…er …borrowed my name for the project, and I was introduced to Tim and the UW&W gang. As my Witch book would have (among a bunch of witch archetypes and witch related incunabula from myself and Christos Gurd) the Gauntlet Witch in it (revised, updated, and collated from the 13 or so racial variants I had posted on the Kobold Quarterly blog, and two or three on a Paizo homebrew thread); AND as well my previously having published the Direlock I guess I was really “on theme” and a shoe in for helping out. I’m really looking forward to working on the Warlock too, making some more armoured and twisted versions of the base class.
TGG: Could you give us a few spoilers about some of the contributions you’re making to the book? A few details about the Gauntlet Witch maybe? I’m also very curious about the Warlock, since the only Warlock I know in relation to D&D/Pathfinder is the D&D 3.5 Warlock, which was very much a straight forward blaster class with a limited number of at-will invocations to give it a bit of versatility. Are you able to talk a bit about how the Strange Brew Warlock differs from this earlier concept?
Morgan: Well my contributions are more in the Warlock archetype section, which is still under wraps. In the stretch goal book War Witches and Hexmavens I’m presenting the Hollow Eyed witch, a kind of emotional dissociate; the Consort, who is more deeply “married” to her patron, very loosely inspired by the devadasi temple dancers of India; the Fellbonded, that boosts the familiar to be more effective as well as offering more familiar options; an edited/revised Bonewitch as well as a general clean up and revision of the Gauntlet Witch to make it more effective in melee. Christos presents the Haruspex, a seer of sorts; the Virulent Witch that spreads the pain; and the Element Bonded. There will be a few more.
[Editor’s Note: Since I interviewed Morgan, Tim has released some more info on the concept for the base Warlock class, which can be found here: Strange Brew Update #3: Tim Brannan Talks About The Warlock.]
TGG: Is there anything in particularly you really wanted to talk about with the project? Or about using Kickstarter for projects like this in general?
Morgan: Good questions. I think for me the great opportunity is to gather the whole canon of witch products/content and present it updated for Pathfinder. There haven’t been a lot of official options for witches, though the 3PP community has definitely stepped up to the plate. A juicy hardcover full of Witchy goodness? Sounds great. A new Warlock base Class as well? Even better. And from authors who are known for this content for over a decade. Tim Brannan. Jean Rabe. Christina Stiles. So a great collection with pedigree. As well as Owen KC Stephens…And with at least one awesome stretch goal!
TGG: I guess the obvious question is how confident are you that you’ll hit the stretch goal for War Witches and Hex Mavens?
Morgan: Well, there are still three weeks to go, and we should see some more announcements increase interest. Hopefully we’ll see some more authors and stretch goals added over the coming days – I’d like this to gather a lot of steam and really push on. Obviously to my stretch goal contribution, but also to moar eldrytche powarz!!!
TGG: So I guess a key part of running a successful Kickstarter project is to keep the communication regular and open, both before and after the project is funded. There’s been some really good examples in the RPG space of projects that have done this really well, like Thunderscape: The World of Aden for Pathfinder and Part-Time Gods, as well as some shockingly bad cases, like Avarice Industries, which hasn’t had any communication for some time. As you mentioned, the team working on this project have plenty of experience with this kind of work, and I understand that a lot of the content is already written, so that’s a lot of the risk covered. Are there any particular areas that you could see as potential pitfalls in the aspects you’re working on, and if so, what kind of steps are you taking to minimise the risks?
Morgan: Well, as Tim has already mentioned, 90% of the content is already gathered and compiled. The art for the cover is commissioned, and a bunch of iconic witches are also already illustrated by Jacob Blackmon… I have most of my book already finished too – the Gauntlet Witch needs some more fine tuning, and almost all of the new content is in.
So you can see from the Paizo threads, Tim’s blog posts, the Kickstarter updates, even interviews like this that we are committed to bringing that interest to the project. Those sweet sweet spirals for the headers – those are by me, and there are some pledge tier graphics that haven’t made it to the page yet – I need to poke Christina about that….. In the end, the Kickstarter concept rises or falls by interest – great concepts can flounder without the right strategy, and even simple concepts can succeed if they are kept tightly focused, and commit to providing a simple service or product. That’s what Strange Brew: Ultimate Witch and Warlock is all about. Bringing that mystery and fantastic occult and fey and wretched and horrific and sublime eldritch power to the light of day to be held by those that find remarkable Pacts and Patrons are theirs for the taking… if they dare.
TGG: Well, I think that about sums up most of what I had questions for. Anything in particular you wanted to talk about otherwise?
Morgan: Eh, not really – as you can likely tell I’m not backward coming forward, and could likely go on about RPGs (or anything for that matter) ad nauseam. Twice. I do want to thank you for the opportunity to spread the message about Strange Brew, but also for taking the time to interview me and find out more about Oz designers…
TGG: My pleasure. Thanks for taking the time to chat to me about the project and your design work. One last question that I hit everyone with, if you don’t mind. Who would you say is your favourite artist? Is there anything you’d really recommend that I or anyone reading this have a listen to?
Morgan: Ooh ooh ooh, music! I found a link on Paizo to this awesome, haunting and moving Bulgarian folk song.
I’m currently liking a lot of Heyoka, Italtek, Tipper, Glitch Mob, anything grime/grimelock/oldskool UK dubstep. Barbarix. Also Frank Riggio, Lazer Sword, Vibe Squad.. That’s my electronic/techno/dub heart.
Then I like me some cross over ethnotechno – Afro-Celt Sound System. Transglobal Undergound. Natascha Atlas. Sidi Mansour… And those Bulgarians again.
As you can see from the links I’m also fond of strong female vocalists in languages I don’t hope to ever understand – Mari Boine Persen, Yungchen Lhamo (Tibetan but lives in Oz); Sheila Chandra (solo); and then the old Celtique standbys I do vaguely understand – Maire Brennan, Loreena McKennitt, Sinead O’connor (if she sings “She moved through the fair”).
Finally a shout out to my old favourite Celtic harper from Brittany Alan Stivell. Absolutely sublime – fantastic. Especially the album “Reanissance of the Celtic Harp”. Love to listen to that and then some juicy Heyoka or Vibe Squad. Just to mix it up a bit…
TGG: Awesome. Well, thanks again for agreeing to the interview, and good luck with your continued work. I look forward to seeing what’s to come from Strange Brew, and from Forest Guardian Press.
So, two interviews down, and another one to be posted this weekend. I’m not going to say who that interview is with just yet, as I’m pretty excited about it, and I’d like it to be bit of a surprise. It’s the first actual interview I did for the blog, it just had to be delayed due to my interviews with Morgan and Tim being time sensitive thanks to the Kickstarter project.
And now, for those who aren’t faint of heart, I present what was promised in the caption of the profile picture above… the real… the undoctored… the unadulterated… the un-shirted… the tattooed… Morgan Boehringer!
Transcribed and formatted while listening to pretty much most of the stuff Morgan recommended, as well as some other Celtic folk songs he was emailing me earlier today. Turns out we have pretty similar tastes in that sort of music.