#AprilTTRPGmaker Current inspiration?

nootWell, the problem at the moment is that I’m not very inspired. When my ‘oomph’ comes back it could take off in any direction. There’s a few things I’ve been thinking on over the last couple of years though…

Team Action
I’ve really gotten into the idea of team mechanics, rules that promote the players working together to solve problems, to give each other buffs, to think tactically and to ensure that all players can contribute to the action. I’ve experimented with this in the game Kagai! and I intend for it to be integral to a couple of other ideas I’ve been working on, a tribal/savage/barbarian game setting, and a survival/technohorror series. This isn’t something that’s really that well explored in game mechanics, other than fulfilling ‘roles’ in a team (Fighter, healer, rogue, magic user).

I’m interested in the aesthetic of all-out horror, not just splatter but hopelessness, death, decay, surreality and so on. I like the idea of horror, but horror films never really do it for me unless there’s something more cerebral or genre-bending going on. Not many modern horror films really do that for me, though short films focussed on ideas are interesting and there are gems amongst the dross when it comes to things like creepypastas. I’ve enjoyed The Void, the music of Primitive Knot and the aesthetic of games like Kingdom Death, Darkest Dungeon and Bloodborne while considering this.

Green Apocalypse
The aesthetic and idea of a ‘green apocalypse’, life after a collapse, is appealing and integral to my post-apocalyptic game idea. I was first struck by the beauty of this aesthetic while playing Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, but a similar style has shown up in games like The Last of Us and, to an extent, in movies and TV like The Road, The Walking Dead, The Girl with all the Gifts and Revolution.

#AprilTTRPGmaker Any design partners?

color3My first writing partner was Steve, with whom I produced the Munchkin’s Guide to Powergaming. He doesn’t work in gaming anymore, even a little bit, though he did assist with another early effort, Iron Empire (steampunk before steampunk really became a ‘thing’). He still games though, and we meet up with the rest of our group about every month and a half for a weekend-long session.

Otherwise I’ve worked alongside and with a lot of people in different games and books and to different levels of cooperation. Mostly though, I prefer to work independently, by myself, accountable only to myself. Once you’ve had that kind of freedom it is very hard to tolerate cooperation as it tends to read as interference.

For the longest time though, I have had a partnership with the artist Brad McDevitt, an industry veteran who sells stock art through me and has artwork in more of my books and materials than anyone else.

#AprilTTRPGmaker Do you design in private or public?

3520862057_e39980a37a_o-3636I live in a fairly isolated village, at least by British standards. There aren’t really coffee shops or places to hang out and work on a laptop as there might be in a city. You could sit in the pub, I suppose, but then you can’t listen to music or Youtube videos while you work and nursing booze rather than an exorbitantly priced novelty coffee is expensive and debilitating to the ability to work.

So I work in private, at home, in various rooms, surrounded by research material and references. Twitter is my ‘water cooler’, Youtube my office gossip.

That said, I often am puzzling over ideas and systems while I’m doing something else, and inspiration can strike at any time.

#AprilTTRPGmaker Biggest influences?

10651_0.pngThat’s a huge question to ask, and it’s not that clear on what kind of influences it means. Does it just mean gaming influences? Hard to know.

Then there’s the matter of how you’re influenced and whether you even know you’re being influenced, and in what way.

Not to mention things that influenced you in the past may not be the same things that influence you today. Things change, people change, hairstyles change, interest rates fluctuate…

So here’s just a bunch of stuff off the top of my head, divided into different areas:

Film & TV
David Cronenberg
Gullermo Del Toro
Strange Days
Flash Gordon
Big Trouble in Little China
George Romero
Sapphire & Steel
Dr Who (pre NuWho)
Robin Hood (84-86)

Dragon Warriors
ICE’s Middle Earth Roleplaying
Mind’s Eye Theatre
Storyteller (Old World of Darkness)
Cyberpunk 2020
Call of Cthulhu
Over the Edge
SLA Industries

Computer Games
Grand Theft Auto (Series)
Far Cry (Series)
Magic Knight (Series)
Guilty Gear
Silent Hill (Series)
Sun Tsu’s Art of War
Alpha Centauri
Skies of Arcadia

Life After Man
Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction
E E ‘Doc’ Smith
Bas-Lag (Series)
How to be a Superhero
Phillip K Dick
Willam Burroughs
Gorean Cycle

Michael Manning
Michael Whelan
Tim White
Chris Achilleos
Dave Allsop
Boo Cook
Massimo Belardinelli
Steve Dillon
Rene Magritte

Monster Magnet
Rob Zombie
Nine Inch Nails
School of Seven Bells
The (English) Beat
Primitive Knot
Carpenter Brut
The Cure


#AprilTTRPGmaker What’s your brand?

130175-thumb140I don’t know what my brand is really. It’s probably very different depending who you ask – since the gaming world is as polarised as everything else in the world these days.

To some I guess my brand is sophomoric humour, sleaze and what they see as reactionary ‘conservatism’ – which is an odd accusation to level at a left-anarchist. They think I’m part of some sort of exclusionary or bigoted ‘old school’.

To others I’m one face of a ‘resistance’ movement against the kind of people who have the first opinion. Someone who fights and argues back.

I don’t really fit into either group. I see myself as someone who supports free expression and the right of everyone to make whatever kind of game they damn well please. This can set me against people on extremes in either direction, as – apparently – does my lack of commitment to either wishy-washy, indie/narrative games or heavy, simulationist games.

I’m an independent who does their own thing and chafes under constriction of any kind. That’s my brand. Regardless of what anyone else thinks. I’m interested in interesting ideas – which often means controversial ones – and my ‘jams’ are horror, science fiction, sex and transgression.

So if you like an independent, free-thinker behind your games (though I think games should be judged on their own merits) that’s me.

#AprilTTRPGmaker Favourite game to relax with

PbHaUVDhS4-Chan is my waifu.

Tabletop games aren’t really ‘relaxing’ for me. Usually I’m running them – which is how I like it – but even when I’m a player it’s not really ‘relaxing’. It’s fun, engaging and all that, but your brain is far too engaged with figuring out plots, schemes and tactics that you don’t relax.

To relax I tend to play computer games, PC too, but mostly I’m a console peasant, because it’s simple just ‘plug and play’ and you don’t have to worry about specs.

If I really want to relax I’ll play something zen or repetitive. Minecraft is good because you can just zone out while you dig and – bit by bit – build ‘something’. Otherwise I tend to enjoy RPGs, open world games and FPS with good plot or extended play (something like Far Cry is far more fun for me than – say Call of Duty).

#AprilTTRPGmaker Describe your process

f16f1ae798f69278e0a4c4736b93218c11665f12The first and most important hook for me when writing a game is to have a good idea. That can take different forms, depending what exactly it is I’m doing. It can be a property I want to take on, a game I want to remake, a style or genre, even a system. Whatever the reason it needs to be a good one.

Then I brainstorm, scribbling down and pondering as many different aspects as I can. Relationships between system, theme, mood and goals. This usually ends up with a rather chaotic .txt document or pieces of scratch-paper with virtually indecipherable writing and doodles all over it.

Then I try to make order out of chaos. I ‘layout’ the book as intend to write it by chapter, section and subsection. EG:

Apres Vie – The Afterlife Game
Chapter 1: Introduction
     Intro Fic
     Postmortem Studios
          Contact/Social Media
Chapter 2: Character Creation

And so on…

If I have a solid idea of what I want, I may also commission art at this stage, to save time later on.

Then I start to write, in order, section by section, though occasionally pausing to rewrite previous sections, or jumping ahead to add notes or write sections that interrelate to the one I’m currently on.

Most of the actual writing is done on the laptop, switching to the desktop for editing (using various ‘cheats’ if I can’t afford an editor) and – eventually – layout.

I do the layout myself, exporting to PDF and tweaking for the various types of output I need, whether for print or download.


#AprilTTRPGmaker Describe your routine

--1I don’t have a regular routine at the moment, but when I do it goes something like this…

Each morning, after driving my wife to the station, I go through my email and deal with any accounts or similar work-related administration that needs to be done and then make a Youtube video – unless there’s anything wildly more pressing.

I usually, then, have half an hour to an hour before lunch during which I organise my work and – again – deal with email etc.

After lunch I work on games/writing or any freelancing I might have. I break up the afternoon into 45 minute chunks, working for those 45 minutes, then taking a 10-15 minute break to do something else (or work on something else) before tackling the next 45 minute chunk.

I wrap up work sometime after 5pm and then have to drive again. Make dinner and over the evening write blogs or articles, track social media, consider what I might make a video about and otherwise engage in housekeeping or extra work – depending what’s going on.

#AprilTTRPGmaker Who are you?

29415856_177908456264412_4608036318428004352_nThere’s a ‘thirty-day challenge’ (these are popular in the TTRPG community) aimed towards tabletop game designers. I need content and am trying to recover from a long and nasty bout of depression, so this seems like a good way to try and get back on track.

The first question is ‘who are you’? Which is either a really deep or a really shallow question, depending which way you take it.

I’m James ‘Grim’ Desborough. The ‘Grim’ was originally an insult, directed at me at college where I was a mopey goth kid with a dark and sick sense of humour. The slang of the time was ‘that’s Grim’ for anything disgusting or awful, so with typical contrarianism, I adopted it as my nickname. Hence ‘Grim Jim’.

I’m a rapidly-ageing, semi-notorious game designer, known better for a rather thin gruel of supposed transgression than my work in game design and independent publishing – which is unfortunate.

I’ve had my toe in the game design waters since the early 90s, but my career really took off in 1999-2000, with the publication of The Munchkin’s Guide to Powergaming (which kicked off the whole Munchkin phenomenon and lead to a lot of freelance work).

Since around 2005 I’ve primarily been working on my own material, but I’ve been suffering from bouts of depression since 2007-2008 which have made work and freelancing rather difficult. Still, I struggle on and while my work is informed by my interest in history, old-school left-wing politics and my struggles with mental illness, it rarely dominates my work – with the exception of one or two projects such as ImagiNation and The Little Grey Book.

tumblr_ozzupxaSXr1qgh5aeo1_540.pngI occupy a design/writing space somewhere between the OSR and Indie scene, and most other sociopolitical armed camps, which means I end up pleasing nobody and being a filthy centrist! My work is also informed by my commitments to free expression, controversial (meaning, interesting) subjects, sexual freedom and the implications of science (and fantasy) on society.

Hopefully, that sounds interesting 🙂