Interview with Chad Underkoffler

With the release of “Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies” (get it at RPGNow or IPR) a few days ago, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to ask Chad Underkoffler, if he would answer some questions for my blog. He agreed and so I present to you my interview with Chad:

Stargazer: At first I want to thank you for taking your time to answer some of my questions. Can you tell us a bit about yourself? What was the first RPG you played and what made you enter the “industry” so to speak?

Chad: The first RPG I ever played was BASIC D&D, back in 1981. I continued to roleplay throughout junior high, high school, college, and afterward.

I entered the industry in 1998. I had been participating on a GURPS-based mailing list, and was writing/statting various things for posting there. Someone mentioned to me that my writing was pretty good, and I should submit some of my stuff to PYRAMID ONLINE, the Steve Jackson Games magazine.

I did. They accepted it. I got paid. I wrote something else. They accepted it. I got paid.

I kept repeating that, and eventually gained a regular column on PYRAMID. After that, I started branching out and writing stuff for other games and companies.

Stargazer: The Atomic Sock Monkey Press site only lists you as staff. Is the Monkey King doing all the work alone with his two cats or do you have some uncredited Monkey Minions hidden in your basement?

Chad: Well, for the most part (except for artwork and editing), up until the release of THE ZORCERER OF ZO, I pretty much *did* do all the work myself. Writing, layout, the business end… It was a lot of work.

Stargazer: Recently your latest work “Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies” has been released as hardcopy and PDF. Can you tell us what S7S is about? What makes the world unique?

Chad: S7S is all about style — swashbuckling style! While Justice may be blind, Luck definitely keeps a lookout for flashy and fun folks!

It’s a world shaped like a snowglobe, with floating islands hovering within, and skyships travelling between them.

Stargazer: Now that S7S is done, have you already started working on your next project?

Chad: No, actually. I am taking a long break from “writing or game design with an eye towards publication” — instead I want to play more, design for fun, and write for fun.  In essence, a short sabbatical.

Stargazer: For S7S you worked with Evil Hat Productions who are publishing the game for you. When I am not mistaken you self-published all your other games, so what lead to the decision to cooperate with Evil Hat this time?

Chad: I discovered a few years ago that the business and production details weren’t as fun for me as they used to me. I’d gleaned all of the fun and interest I could out of them over that time, which was a useful education.

Also, I realized I just wasn’t as *good at it* as other people… So I went looking for people who are good at it. Thus, my new association with Evil Hat.

Stargazer: When I first read the PDQ rules some time ago, PDQ’s qualities reminded me of a lot of FATE’s aspects. Another system with similar mechanics is S. John Ross’ RISUS. Is this coincidence or was PDQ inspired by FATE and/or RISUS?

Chad: RISUS was definitely an influence on PDQ, if not exactly an inspiration — I’d already banged together a few ideas (inspired by OVER THE EDGE and possibly on misremembered elements of FUDGE, FATE’s precursor) for PDQ on my own before I came across it. But yes: RISUS helped.

FATE — along with ADVENTURE! — has had a couple effects on PDQ, mostly after I read SPIRIT OF THE CENTURY. You can see the influence on the basic game engine of PDQ when you look at PDQ#, the freebie version of S&S’s rules.

Stargazer: PDQ has a quite interesting damage mechanic. Can you tell us a bit about that and how did you come up with the idea?

Chad: Hit Points are boring. I wanted something that was not boring. I also wanted some player choice in assigning damage. I wanted a player to be able to sacrifice elements to keep going. I didn’t want an immediate death spiral.

When you take damage, you reduce one or more of your choice of Qualities. This permits a player to attempt to keep his or her character’s effectiveness optimized for whatever conflict the character is in as long as possible. (As Rob Donoghue has thumbnailed it: “You can punch Spider-Man in the girlfriend!”)

Stargazer: S7S is not the only game that uses the PDQ rules. Could you give us a small overview over the other PDQ-driven games?

Chad: From ASMP:
Dead Inside – You’ve lost your soul. What will you do to regain it?
Truth & Justice – Simple. Speedy. Super.
Monkey, Ninja, Pirate, Robot – A simple, silly fighty game.
The Zorcerer of Zo – Fairy tale adventures in the zantabulous land of Zo.

From other companies:
Ninja Burger – The world’s only fast-food chain run by ninja is looking for new recruits!
Questers of the Middle Realms – The lighter side of fantasy gaming. In less than 80 pages.
Jaws of the Six Serpents – Sword and sorcery, and the darker side of fantasy.

Stargazer: With S7S you took an Open Design approach and blogged about the development process. How did this approach change the way you work on a new game? Are you going to post about your next project, too?

Chad: The biggest change, I think, was a certain reduction of the pressure I put on myself. You know, keeping my next secret project secret, and stressed because I couldn’t really talk to anyone about it. All that, and I sometimes got really useful comments!

When I get back to it, yeah, I probably will.

Stargazer: During the last years a couple of companies have jumped the OGL bandwagon and released their rules system under Wizard of the Coast’s Open Game License. PDQ is still pretty much closed although you give away the core rules for free on your site. Do you have plans to release the PDQ core rules under an open license in the future?

Chad: Actually, it’s better to say that PDQ is a FREE BUT CLOSED license at this point. That means that basically I need to see what the heck people want to put out commercially under it, before I give permission to do so. Add in system credit and a free ad page for ASMP, and that’s all I ask for.

However, for my part, I give licensees several things: access to a private email list of other licensees or potential licensees, my personal insights into gaming and game design, an established game brand, and whatever attention I can bring to their work.

Stargazer: And what is your stance on fan-created works based on PDQ?

Chad: Love them. Buy if you want to sell something, drop by and ask for a license.

Stargazer: Recently WotC stopped all PDF sales because of piracy. Have you had any problems with piracy of your products so far and are you thinking about going print-only, too?

Chad: I have no idea if ASMP’s PDFs have been pirated. Most of them are pretty cheap as it is. But it’s possible.

Listen: you’re not going to be able to stop pirates from pirating. So why blow a gasket about it. Stop it when it comes to your attention; defend your IP; but no measures will stop someone from scanning a hardcover book if they really want to.

Going print-only would be economic suicide for a micro-publisher — make that a NANO-PUBLISHER — like me. PDFs are the most cost effective products I make.

Stargazer: Thanks for answering those questions and enjoy your sabbatical!