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Steve Jackson is a Piratosaurus!

Andrew Goenner
United States
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So for my second RPG Professional interview, I went to none other than Steve Jackson himself. Known for creating such games as Car Wars, Munchkin and Ogre as well as all but pioneering generic RPG systems with his creation of GURPS, everyone can agree that Steve Jackson Games is one of the longest-lived publishers in the RPG and board gaming world.

While I never played much Munchkin, I have played and enjoyed both Car Wars and GURPS. Needless to say when, after placing my e-foot firmly into my e-mouth during initial contact with him, Steve Jackson still agreed to the interview...well, I was thrilled. Below are the answers that Steve was kind enough to grant me.

What brought you to the gaming hobby in the first place? What about gaming entranced a young Steve Jackson?

I played games in high school, especially chess, and our group sometimes changed the rules or the board. But I didn't get into hobby gaming until college. We played Risk, Diplomacy, and various SPI games, especially Borodino and Strategy I.

Besides your baby GURPS, what RPGs do you enjoy? Which was the first?

I go back far enough that my first was D&D, though it was only one game with a novice GM. The first time I played more than one game with the same group, it was Traveller. The first really long-term campaign I played was Robert Taylor's Metagaming staff campaign, which was D&D.

What's the most underrated system you've played or run?

Hmm, hard one, since you say SYSTEM. If you had said BACKGROUND, I would have said Paranoia, which is an all-time favorite of mine and deserves more play.

What was the first game you designed (whether it was published or not), and what did you feel upon completion?

That would be Ogre, and my main feeling was delight and relief that other people liked the game too. It had been playtested a LOT, but there is nothing like finding out that a game actually sells in stores and people play it even when I'm not bugging them to playtest.

What is your favorite roleplaying memory?

That would be back in Robert Taylor's campaign, when Ragnar the Impetuous got his first chainmail shirt, and I knew that I might actually survive getting hit more than once.

Least favorite?

Nothing specific comes to mind; it would be one of many experiments with newly released rule sets where the group keeps stumbling around, trying to figure out what we are supposed to do, and eventually just drops it and pulls out a boardgame since we're all here already.

Though it might be the time when I was rolling up a Traveller character and he died during character creation. Yes, that could happen. Makes a good story, but at the time it was annoying.

GURPS didn't come out at the dawn of roleplaying, necessarily; but it was one of (if not THE) first successful "non-themed" RPGs. What made you sit down one day and say "We need a RPG that can apply to any setting?"

Aggravation as trying to learn one too many new sets of rules, doing the same thing in different ways with different explanations.

One thing that GURPS is well known for is the amount of in-depth research that goes into supplemental material. Given that RPGs are a fantasists hobby, why do you feel the minute details are important?

I'm a geek. I'm writing for geeks. How can the details NOT be important? Sometimes you feel like a cinematic game, but even if you are not playing them, reading about details is fun. And sometimes you want to use a lot of details. especially with character and vehicle creation.

I know you're a huge LEGO fan. What is your crowning achievement structure-wise? And why pirates?

I'm not that amazing a builder. With LEGO, I'm a fanboy. My best personal build so far might be the huge LEGO parrot that sits in my office, based exactly on the tiny parrot that comes with LEGO sets, scaled up , I don't know, 30X or so. Or it might be my PennLUG-compatible ballasted double mainline 90-degree curve. (To anyone not a LEGO train fan, that is just so much babble, I know. The PennLUG standard is a way of building LEGO track for display. Normally it's done in straight sections. As far as I know, I was the first one to build a ballasted curve to fit that system. It wasn't terribly ingenious; it just required time, persistence, and about a gallon of pieces. But it looks very pretty. If you're a train geek.)

Picture of the curve here:[url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/65153023@N03/6367612493/in/photostream/[/url]

For some sites with REALLY awesome builds, look at brothers-brick.com, railbricks.com, and fbtb.net.

Why pirates? Because pirates are awesome. Arrrrr. And black-powder-era sailing ships are awesome even without pirates. Right now LEGO is doing both pirates and ninja, which shows a terrible failure to make up their minds. But my own stance is firm. Go pirates.

If you were a dinosaur, what kind would you be and why?

A pirate dinosaur. Because it would be cooler than the ninja dinosaurs.

To stray (somewhat) from RPGs specifically, you're obviously known for the likes of Munchkin and Car Wars as well. When it comes to designing a card game, board game or RPG, which do you personally find more difficult? What are the different throught process that go into each?

The obvious answer is that a full-scale RPG system takes longest because there's the most ground to cover. Although the interactions of a card game system can be challenging too, if it's thekind where you keep adding new cards.

A less obvious answer is that the quality of the playtest group, and their enthusiasm for the game, makes more difference to me than anything having to do with genre or system.

Are there any other gamers in your family?

My niece really likes Munchkin!

Do you have any favorite supplement books that you like play with?

For richness of detail: the original Empire of the Petal Throne. For depth of possibilities: David Pulver's Reign of Steel. For an utter tapestry of weirdness and bad attitude: GOBLINS,

Who is your favorite RPG designer and why?

Hard question, and I have to say that I don't think in terms of "favorite" designers any more than "favorite" games, because I like a LOT of things. But rather than try to slip the question, I'm going to say Greg Stafford, because he does BOTH the rules crunch and the detailed background, and does it so well.

What brought about the decision to leave Metagaming Concepts all those years ago and form your own company?

Oh, that's simple. I wanted to do my own projects in my own way.

Of all the projects you've worked on (be it system or supplement), which are you most proud of?

Have you got kids? Which one do you like best?

What advice would you give to budding RPG designers?

Three letters: PDF.

And lastly, are there any big projects in the works that you can give us information on? A teaser of sorts?

Non-RPG - my big project right now is to get the Ogre 6th Edition ready for print. RPG - I really want to get GURPS TIMELINE updated and into PDF, and that will get some of my attention over the holiday. The original GURPS solo adventure, "All In A Night's Work," has been updated for GURPS Fourth Edition and should be making its way into the e23 store before long, too.

And that's it, all! Words of wisdom and insight into the workings of a master game desginer. And never forget, dear reader, perhaps you can munch, but you should never munch kin! (And yes, my parting words of wisdom WILL keep getting worse)
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