Airship Pirates Interview

Captain RobertToday we have a chat with “Captain” Robert Brown of Abney Park and Peter Cakebread and Ken Walton of Cakebread & Walton. They agreed to answer a few questions about the recently released Abney Park’s Airship Pirates (among other things) with us.

Stargazer: Let’s start with the inevitable introductions. Could you please tell our readers who you are and what your part in the development of Airship Pirates was?

Peter: Hi, I’m Peter Cakebread, one half of Cakebread & Walton, a UK company whose RPG books are published by Cubicle 7. I co-wrote the Airship Pirates RPG with Ken Walton.

Cakebread & WaltonKen: And I’m Ken Walton.

Captain Robert: I’m “Captain” Robert. The world of Airship Pirates is based on my work. I’ve been writing and releasing albums for 20 years, and the lyrics of those often seem set in a very unique retro sci-fi world. When Peter and Ken first approached me with the idea of making this world the setting of an RPG I was already working on a novel. I sent them the novel, and the lyrics, and then I helped gather and organise illustrators (I did some of the illustrations myself, including the cover art) and I did the graphic design of the game book.

Stargazer: We’ve seen a lot of RPGs based on licensed settings in the past, but I think this was the first time a game has been based on songs. May I ask who came up with the idea to create a game based on the songs of Abney Park in the first place?

Peter: Ken approached Captain Robert with the idea, and Captain Robert replied that he had already thought the Abney Park world would make a cool RPG. After a flurry of emails we realized that we would have the privilege of developing a game jam-packed with awesome with a dazzling set of collaborators.

Ken: Yes, it was all my fault. “Let’s email a band on the other side of the Atlantic and see if they want us to write an RPG based on their songs,” I said. “It’s crazy, but it might just work!” I little realised quite how well it would work. The fact that Angus Abramson at Cubicle 7 just happened to be a big Abney Park fan didn’t do any harm either.

Captain Robert: Cakebread and Walton’s brilliance was the fact that they could do it, and do such an amazing job at it! People had regularly approached me with the idea of making an RPG out of the world, but I would soon found they had never made an RPG before, let alone brought it to market. Peter and Ken have a fantastic reputation, and have made some remarkable games, so it was actually a relief for me to final say yes!

Stargazer: I always have a bit of a problem when I try to explain “steampunk” to someone. How would you explain what steampunk is all about? How is this reflected in the game?

Captain Robert: A Steampunk setting is either a sci-fi era with Victorian flavours, or Victorian era with sci-fi flavours. The core book for Airship Pirates is post-apocalypse sci-fi with a Victorian flavour. We have started working on a follow up book that will deal with traveling in the past, and that’s were you will find the Victorian world with sci-fi flavours.

Peter: Big question. As I see it, at first it started with the dreamers of the Victorian age imagining their own future, now its a retro look at the Victorian age with a dystopian twist.

Its a genre, a scene and a whole opportunity to ask, what if? What if Victorian fashion and sensibilities persisted into the modern age? What if instead of diesel and computers there were airships and difference engines? What if Victorian hierarchy and stiff upper lips had to cope with a whole different set of challenges?

We were lucky – Captain Robert and Abney Park have a tremendous following in the steampunk community. Captain Robert had a very clear idea about the world he wanted us to write about – he already had a novel in the works, telling the story of how Abney Park screwed up the timelines and the consequences for humanity. He was also keen to keep the punk in Steampunk – meaning that its a dark and gritty post-apocalyptic future. So, with a setting inspired by the Abney Park songs, it’s a world full of the weird, the cool and the adventuresome. Airships, check. Pirates, check. Time travel, check. Rum-fueled epic adventure, check.

Stargazer: Airship Pirates is an awesome game and I enjoyed reading it very much, but one thing surprised me: there are no stats for the HMS Ophelia and her crew. Was this deliberate or an oversight? And is there a chance we’ll get game stats for Abney Park in the future?

Peter: It was deliberate. Although the book is a result of Robert’s vision he felt that the band themselves shouldn’t overshadow the game world. You get to play in the Abney Park world, but you are the heroes. Due to demand I think he’s relented – some fans are just going to want to meet, or play as, the band. So he’s made their “stats” available.

Captain Robert: I didn’t want us in the core book, because I wanted to make sure people were exploring the world of Abney Park, not the rock stars. A game about the world behind the lyrics is cool, an RPG about a bunch of musicians and singers would be stupid. That said, by the time your reading this you will be able to download the Ophelia, and the band Character sheets from our online store.

Stargazer: Airship Pirates uses a modified Heresy Engine which was designed for Victoriana 2nd Edition. What are the major differences between the streamlined engine and the original one?

Peter: The Heresy Engine is great – its simple “good dice, bad dice” mechanic is easy for beginners, while still offering plenty of “crunch”. Airship Pirates is not that different from the excellent Victoriana 2nd edition, but there are a few less modifiers to keep track of and the style is more stripped down as we are trying to evoke a slightly different mood. That said, anyone wanting to run Airship Pirates and throw a little Victoriana or Dark Harvest into the game, or vice versa, won’t have a problem.

Stargazer: From what I’ve seen so far everyone who read a copy of Airship Pirates was quite delighted and longing for more material. What do you have in store for us when it comes to supplements, adventures etc.?

Ken: There will be a lot of support for the game. The Ruined Empires scenario is already available, and we have plenty more ideas for longer campaign style adventures. We also have various sourcebooks in the pipeline. There is going to be culture sourcebooks for the Skyfolk, Neovictorians and Neobedouins. Before then we will be releasing Blasting the Past,  a time travel supplement which will give players and GMs a chance to learn more about the setting’s past, and the means to screw up the timelines even more. That said, steampunk, clockpunk, dieselpunk and pulppunk is going to remain the backdrop throughout Blasting the Past. It’s going to be awesome getting to use time as a sandbox for airborne piratical mischief.

Stargazer: Even though I love the music of Abney Park I don’t think it’s suited as background music while running the game itself. In my opinion the lyrics tend to distract from the game. Robert, have you ever thought about creating music especially composed for use as background music for the game? Or is there certain music you would recommend for that purpose?

Peter: Heresy! I’d play Abney Park. That said, Abney Park creating a dedicated game soundtrack would be a dream come true. Aside from that, I’m not the chap to ask as most of the rest of my music collection is punkpunk and not suitable for general or even individual listening.

Ken: Even if you don’t play the music throughout, you can always start a game session with the track Airship Pirate as the “opening theme music” for the evening. In fact, thinking about it, you could run a scene, leave it on a cliffhanger, then play Airship Pirate. It works for Firefly!

Captain Robert: An album full of versions of the music with the singing removed could work, and wouldn’t be a ridiculous about of work. Writing a score from scratch would take as much time as writing a whole album. I think I have more then a few fans that would be pissed at me writing music without having more of the lyrics that created this world in the first place. Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, your really asking for an album of Abney Park Easy Listening music. I’m not likely to make that. =8;)

Stargazer: One of the themes of Airship Pirates is time travel. Imagine you had a time machine, where would you travel to? Is there a certain era in history you would love to experience first hand and why?

Peter: I’m a history fanatic. That said, it’s a dangerous place. Ken and I have written a novel set in the Victorian era, and I’d like to visit there just out of vanity, to see if we nailed the visuals. I don’t know that I’d want to visit the seventeenth century, even though I’ve loved learning about it for Clockwork & Chivalry. I guess the real temptation would be Ancient Rome. It would be shocking, gruesome, and I wouldn’t want to have to learn the lingo, but I’m fascinated by the similarities and differences with our own age. And I reckon they knew how to throw a good party.

Ken: Hmm, not sure I’d want to actually visit the past – most of it’s smelly and dangerous and full of diseases! If I liked that sort of thing I’d be an explorer, not a role-playing writer. But I guess being on the Graf Zeppelin for its round-the-world flight would be an experience, and I’d love to see what pre-Roman Britain was like – as long as you could guarantee I wouldn’t get eaten by wolves or slaughtered by Celts.

Captain Robert: Any time in which man wasn’t so dominant a species. Time travel seems a better way to get some space than to dream of everybody turning into zombies, and then sawing them up with a chain saw.

Actually, that’s pretty fun, too.

Stargazer: Apropos history, can you divulge some details on your personal roleplaying history? What was the first roleplaying game you have played?

Peter: AD&D in the schoolyard. It had been out a couple of years, but I think it only hit the toy shop in our town in about 1981. As kids we probably mangled the game as much as we massacred the monsters, but I loved it. Over the next few months I played anything and everything I could get my hands on – Tunnels and Trolls (Oh, how I loved the “Rat on a Stick” adventure for T&T by Judges Guild), Call of the Cthulhu, Runequest, Gangbusters, Boot Hill, and later, MERP, Warhammer FRPG, Paranoia, etc. I had to do a lot of paper rounds and summer jobs to raise the cash and still find the funds for cider, comics, minis, music and movies. It was worth it.

Ken: I didn’t get to role-play until I was 22, when I was invited to join an ongoing MERP (Middle Earth Role Playing) game. I soon discovered I loved GMing and ran a six-and-a-half year long HarnWorld campaign using GURPS. I also ran Warhammer FRP’s Enemy Within Campaign (twice!), and lots of other things; Call of Cthulhu, Space 1889, Forgotten Futures, Talislanta, as well as playing in a long Everway campaign and running an epic GURPS Celtic Myth/HarnWorld crossover game. I wrote a number of RPG supplements and magazine articles with my  ex-wife Jo Walton (now an award-winning fantasy author) including GURPS Celtic Myth and Realms of Sorcery for WFRP. I think probably most GMs who do a lot of creating campaigns for their players end up wanting to do it professionally – it’s a logical progression. Currently, as a complete change of scenery from the games we write by day, I’m running a Dragon Age campaign in which Peter is a player.

Captain Robert: The first game I played was D&D, followed shortly by Star Frontiers. I sort of abandoned games after that. Since I like to DM, I preferred to make up my own world on the spot, then to follow some one else’s world.

Stargazer: There’s one question not related to Airship Pirates that I would like to ask to Peter and Ken: can you please tell us a bit about the second edition of Clockwork & Chivalry and the Renaissance system? Why has it become necessary to drop the Runequest System?

Ken: Clockwork & Chivalry is a fantasy game set in an alternate version of the English Civil War. The royalist side have powerful alchemical magick, while Cromwell’s troops have massive clockwork war machines. There are lots of factions with different political and religious agendas, mixed in with witches, dragons, zombies and a whole host of weird and wonderful characters, some real, some imaginary. It’s a mashup of very real history and gritty fantasy – if you come at it from a historian’s point of view you’ll find a lot you’ll recognise, but if you know nothing about history you can dive into it as a sort of dark swashbuckling clockpunk fantasy world.

When Mongoose Publishing announced that they were giving up the RuneQuest license, we had a decision to make about where we were going next with C&C. We quickly decided that having our independence from game licenses would be good, but we didn’t want to have to redesign the game from scratch. So we set about designing the Renaissance system – based on the D100 OpenQuest and Mongoose RuneQuest Open Gaming License systems, but redesigned for the age of black powder weapons. We’ve tweaked a lot of the rules and shifted the focus very much for the early modern period – roughly the tech and social levels of 1500 to 1900. The Renaissance core mechanics will be released as a free download under the OGL, and Clockwork & Chivalry will be a big 400+ page book, including all the rules and background you need to play. We’ll be re-releasing the first four parts of the Kingdom & Commonwealth campaign for the new system, and then the last two books in the series. The two systems will be similar enough that people will be able to convert to C&C2 or carry on using RuneQuest II if they prefer. We’ve also got lots of ideas for other games we can develop using the Renaissance rules. The Renaissance system is fast, heroic, and more than a little gruesome.

Stargazer: Thanks again for taking your time to answer a few questions. Is there anything else you wanted to share with our readers that I forgot to ask?

Peter: It’s been a pleasure. (I can’t think of anything else)

Ken: Thanks! (I can’t think of anything else either…)

Captain Robert: If you ever use me as a Character in your games, make sure you don’t embarrass me too badly.

Stargazer: Thanks for answering those questions, Ken, Peter and Robert! And good luck with all of your future projects! And Robert, don’t worry, I won’t embarrass you. Promised!