Straight Out of Boston! Interview With Marshall Miller

A few months ago I had the opportunity to back a new Kickstarter by Marshall Miller and published by Bully Pulpit Games. This game, The Warren, appealed to me in ways I would not have expected. The theme was influenced by Watership Down and other such classics, none of which I have ever read. Not sure why the game appealed to me, but it did. Nonetheless, this game sparked an interest, much like Mouse Guard did. Recently, the opportunity to interview Marshall presented itself and what follows is that interview. Marshall is an interesting designer so, enjoy the interview!

RB: Everyone finds their way into the gaming hobby through any number of ways and each person’s entry is unique. How did you get into the hobby?

MM: My family and a couple of others were really into hiking when I was growing up. During one of those hikes, sometime around the 3rd grade, one of the older kids started running this freeform game for us younger kids as a way to pass the time. In retrospect, he was obviously familiar with Dungeons & Dragons and Shadowrun because his “Past” and “Future” games bore a strong resemblance. That was my first real roleplaying experience – no rules, no dice, just a GM and some characters. Later that year, my two best friends and I all kind of discovered gaming together – I think it started with the Lone Wolf gamebooks, expanded into the Hero’s Quest board game, and ended up with D&D/AD&D. It was a good year.

RB: What was the catalyst that got you into the designer/authoring side of the hobby?

MM: For me, it was having kids. I had taken a rather long hiatus from RPGs after college but I suddenly found myself with a lot of time for lonely fun when my wife got pregnant. I hit the books hard, reading a ton of new-to-me games, listening to podcasts, and talking with game designers online. That led to playtesting, play-by-forum, and, ultimately, design work.  My first project was the Dungeon Starters I made for Dungeon World. I had some ideas about how settings/adventure modules might work in a way that didn’t violate the game’s first session principles and procedures and I figured the best way to explain it was to just make the thing as a proof of concept.

RB: Let’s talk about The Warren, what was your inspiration for the game?

MM: Like I said, I came back to roleplaying after a bit of a hiatus and just in time for the release of D. Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World. The game just clicked with me and I gorged on post-apocalyptic books and films. Growing up I was vaguely aware of this book Watership Down but it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I actually got around to reading it, and so I came to it in the context of all these other post-apocalyptic stories.  Right away I was reading the mechanics of Apocalypse World into the story. As a playtester, I had seen how well Dungeon World married new mechanics to classic dungeon crawling themes while paying homage to old school D&D. I grew up seeing adds for the classic Bunnies and Burrows RPG in back issues of Dragon Magazine – the idea of a game about rabbits that was Powered by the Apocalypse just wouldn’t let go.

RB: I was a backer of The Warren when the Kickstarter campaign was live, Powered by the Apocalypse games are difficult to expand, what, if anything is on the horizon for the game?

MM: One of my favorite parts of the Kickstarter campaign for The Warren was collaborating with designers from other places to make setting playsets or “worlds” based on places that they were intimate with or passionate about. As more people get to play the game, I’m hoping that others will make playsets around places that they love. If I’m lucky, I’ll get to help!

RB: What new and exciting projects do you have the in pipeline?

MM: I’m actually kind of a one-project-at-a-time kind of guy. That means I’ll be starting my design cycle anew by digging into the stack of new games that I haven’t had a chance to read or play since I’ve been busy with The Warren. I’m also excited to get back to reading/playtesting other folk’s works-in-progress, which is one of my favorite things.

RB: It’s no secret that you are very active on Google+, have you found social media to be a source of inspiration and collaboration? How have you arrived at this answer?

MM: Absolutely! The gaming hobby/industry is a pretty small world and, for the most part, folk are friendly and surprisingly accessible online.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who doesn’t get out to game as much as they’d like but social media makes it possible to participate in the community none the less. There are always people looking for readers or playtesters and getting involved in others’ projects and participating in their process is a lot like doing a game design internship. It’s also helped me find some excellent mentorship!

RB: We all know the RPG industry is composed of ardent supporters of physical books and those in favor of digital products. Supporters on both sides are very vocal about their position, where do you stand and why?

MM: I won’t lie, I love books. I love their heft, I love their smell, I love every page I touch.  If I love a game, I’m going to want a physical book. That said, I enjoy play-by-forum gaming because, despite a busy schedule, you’re never not gaming. Having a digital copy that you can pull up while crafting your post on the bus or during your lunch hour is really, really handy. I guess, in a perfect world, I’d have both!

RB: What is your opinion about VoIP gaming? Do you enjoy this type of gaming interface and why?

MM: I haven’t really done any VoIP gaming, but I’d like to try once my schedule eases up (ha ha, I told a joke there). I was really impressed by Rafael Chandler’s Viewscream so that’s something I definitely want to try.  

RB: Are you involved in other aspects of the gaming community? For example, are you a boardgamer, wargamer or trading card player?

MM: Over the years, I’ve been involved in all kinds of gaming. I learned chess from my grandfather and still play cards with my family. I was into Magic: The Gathering when it first came out (even if I was a little sad that no one wanted to roleplay anymore). Eventually, CCGs gave way to miniatures games like Warhammer and Silent Death but then someone brought a copy of this game called Settlers of Catan back from Gen Con and I was headed deep into board game county. I spent a year working as a video game tester after college and, recently, I’ve been excited about wargames and 18XX. Oh oh, and reading through the old Choose Your Own Adventure books with my son has been a blast! While life’s constraints have pushed me into different styles of gaming, it’s always been there in one form or another.

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?

MM: With luck I’ll be at PAX East and, by golly, I’ll eat my hat if I move on from New England without making it to a JiffyCon!

RB: Please tell our readers what three industry or hobby personalities you would love to see interviewed by Rolling Boxcars and why.

MM: Oh man, there are so many amazing people in the gaming world – where do I even begin?

Stras Acimovic – He’s brilliantly astute, fantastic at design, and infectiously enthusiastic about gaming!

Rich Rogers – He’s a veteran GM, play-by-forum guru, and he’s absolutely been around the podcasting block!

Jessica Hammer – She’s an exceptional communicator, a positive role-model, and an honest-to-goodness expert in the field of gaming.

After arranging this interview, I had the good fortune to try The Warren and what a great game it is! Marshall, in my humble opinion, nailed it. The game which is Powered by the Apocalypse was fun and exciting and you can see and feel Marshall’s passion in the design. For me, this interview also helped to shed light on who Marshall is as a person and as a designer. I look forward to seeing what else he designs in the near future.

~ Modoc

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