Recently, I volunteered to review an advanced copy of the new Frog God Games module, Rogues in Remballo, that is being released for free through their new Kickstarter campaign. After reading and reviewing another great Matt Finch product, I really wanted to ask Matt some specific questions so, this interview is a natural progression of this desire. Matt is a creative pillar within the Old School Renaissance (OSR) community and as such he has a unique perspective of this community. So, without further delay, I present to you, Matt Finch.
RB: Let’s start off by telling our readers a little about yourself. What makes Matt Finch the game designer tick?
MF: I wouldn’t really call myself a game designer. I think I’m a good adventure-designer, and I’ve written clones of 1e (OSRIC) and of original 1974 D&D (Swords & Wizardry) but those were restatements of existing designs, not actual design by me.
In terms of adventure design, my overall objective is to provide the players with the largest possible number of meaningful choices that can affect their success in the adventure. Tactical choices, puzzles that offer useful clues, information-gathering and reconnaissance that provide real advantages if the characters are smart about what they do, traps that have ways of being detected and avoided, and so forth. Meaningless detail can be important for flavor, pacing, and ambiance, but it mustn’t be confused as being part of the adventure’s strategic structure.
I could go into a lot more detail about how all that can be done, but it would be getting off track from the question. If anyone wants some more concrete detail, I wrote a whole book about designing adventures, called Tome of Adventure Design, which is published by Frog God Games. Mostly, that book is tables for generating ideas, but there’s a fair amount of game-theory laced in there as well.
RB: Please tell our readers about Frog God Games, your product line and other “must know” facts about the company.
MF: I guess the first thing to know is that we publish a line of OSR books, which are described as being for the Swords & Wizardry game. Swords & Wizardry is essentially the 0E version of the game as it stood in 1978 or so, just before TSR’s publication of the Monster Manual (the first AD&D book). So, all the Swords & Wizardry adventures can be used with 1e as well, although the encounters and such don’t contain the expanded lists of spells and magic items that were added to 1e from 0e. We’re often not seen as an OSR publisher because we also publish versions of those same books for Pathfinder (and some for 5e), but we’ve actually got what’s probably the largest catalog of any OSR publisher.
RB: What is your favorite RPG and why?
MF: Swords & Wizardry Complete (0e), but with the Holmes Blue Book –> initiative system.
RB: The name Matt Finch is well-known in the OSR community. I for one own a good number of your products and find them all to be classy and well written. How many titles to your credit these days?
I have no idea. There’s OSRIC, Swords & Wizardry, Lost Lands: Borderland Provinces (we’re in the middle of the Kickstarter at the moment), Rogues in Remballo, Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom, Tome of Adventure Design, Monstrosities (for 0e/S&W), co-authorship on Rappan Athuk, Spire of Iron and Crystal, Grimmsgate, Tomb of the Iron God, Demonspore, and probably other stuff. I also ran the magazine “Knockspell” during the very early OSR, and wrote lots of the articles and adventures in there.
RB: If you had to highlight one and only one of the titles you wrote, which would you choose and why?
MF: Probably OSRIC, because it started the DIY-publishing side of the OSR. There were several other people who had published material either for the original rules or with a simulacrum game, but it was the idea of a retro-clone (and the initial platforms provided by OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, and Swords & Wizardry) that seem to have been the real launch of the OSR as a publishing movement. A much-expanded version of OSRIC than the initial one I wrote, organized by the awesome and inimitable Stuart Marshall (who also completed my initial version) is available through Black Blade Publishing.
RB: How did you get your start in the RPG industry?
MF: Again, that was OSRIC. I was out there as a guerrilla writer up until Bill Webb contacted me about founding Frog God Games with him and Greg Vaughan, which was about 2010, I think.
RB: Readers who follow the ebb and flow of the Old School Renaissance (OSR) community will know that you and Frog God Games just launched a new Kickstarter. What is this project and why should readers be excited about it?
MF: The project is called The Lost Lands: Borderland Provinces. It’s a campaign region in the world-setting starter by Necromancer Games and carried forward by Necromancer’s successor Frog God Games. What’s relatively unique about it as a stand-alone resource is that it’s designed for a D&D game in which the characters travel to distant places often, rather than hex-crawling or following a series of linked adventures. It’s akin to the feel of Traveller and Firefly rather than to most fantasy settings. I don’t know what I do differently when I’m DMing, but most of my campaigns have been this kind of free-form traveling and I wanted to produce something that really matched the way I run campaigns. I’m sure someone has done this before, but I’m not familiar with any.
The other reasons to be excited about it aren’t exactly unique to the gaming world, but they are still major attractions. For one, it’s a very old campaign world, parts of it dating back to the late 1970s with Bill Webb and Clark Peterson’s campaigns. Second, it’s a really huge body of resources, built up from many sources by Necromancer Games. Third, it’s “Dark Medieval,” based on the Averoigne-type story, or Jack Vance’s Lyonesse, where a thin veneer of civilization conceals a fairly dark and horrific view of the supernatural and of human nature. The Borderland Provinces, as a campaign resource, focuses a bit more on the veneer than an adventure would, but it contains a lot of lairs and other peeks at the more horrific threats that underlie the veneer.
RB: This most recent Kickstarter campaign seems to be presented differently than previous campaigns, what is different? Why the new approach to the Kickstarter market?
MF: The “price point” for the individual books is lower, because the books are smaller, than what’s often seen as the Frog God mega-book. Using pdfs and the player gazetteer instead of the campaign book would actually let you get started for $12. The campaign book is only $35, which is about as inexpensive as you see in the mainstream market. You can add all sorts of other resources to whatever “kit” meets your needs for campaign gaming, and there are a lot of resources offered, but the core “purchase” is basically that $35 book and no more.
RB: What does the future look like for The Lost Lands setting?
MF: As with any campaign, we have an enormous map that we could never fill in with a million years to work on it. A city called Castorhage and nicknamed “The Blight” is next, and it’s something like 3000 miles from the Borderlands. Then Bard’s Gate, which is connected to the Borderlands.
RB: Switching gears slightly lets chat about playtesting games. Do you run games strictly face-to-face when playtesting a new product or do you look for a broader playtester pool by running games online [VOIP]? If interested readers wanted to be part of your playtesting pool, what would they need to do be part of the process?
MF: I only do face-to-face playtesting, but we often have outside playtesters who use online gaming for their tests. I don’t really think we’re trying to increase our playtester base right at the moment; we’ve got that covered.
RB: Will you be on the spring/summer convention circuit in 2016? If so, where can our readers potentially find you and maybe get a seat at one of your tables?
MF: I don’t do a circuit because I don’t like traveling. But I will be going to Gamehole con this year (in a couple of weeks), and I’m always a Special Guest at North Texas RPGCon. At North Texas, you just register for games with me. They’re usually filled up on the first day, since I only offer 10 slots per game. Since I run games with up to 20 players, that gives me room for other special guests who don’t register for games, like Erol Otus and Dennis Sustare, who always game at my table, and it also gives me room for walk-ins. Finding me and introducing yourself early in the con is a good way to grab one of those extra slots.
RB: Please tell our readers what three industry or hobby personalities you would love to see interviewed by Rolling Boxcars and why.
MF: Jason Sholtis, Erik Tenkar, Stan Shinn, Mike Badolato, Tim Kask (always fun), Frank Mentzer, Stefan Poag. For less well-known people, if you want to get a sense of the older OSR that’s based on gaming rather than publishing, you might want to look for TFoster, Philotomy Jurament, and EOTB at Knights & Knaves. They are some of the most incisive and articulate thinkers on old school gaming that I’ve run across.
This has been a fun interview! I hope Matt’s responses have given you an insight into who he is and what type of work he and his company do. I know I am coming away with a much better understanding. Now to pull out some of my Frog God Games and Matt Finch products to re-read them and find new ways to get them to the table.
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