RPG Industry Professional Interview: Derek Hiemforth
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Derek was born in Bakersfield, CA, which is not the gateway to hell, but the guy a few places ahead in line says he can see it from there. Derek got into RPGs via the usual D&D route, but changed tracks a few years later when friends introduced him to Champions and the HERO System. Gaming led him down the sordid path to writing game stuff, and of course no good can come of that. Outside of gaming, Derek lives with his wife Lara and their not-at-all-spoiled dog Gypsy, and works as a technical writer. His non-gaming hobbies include baseball, a cappella singing, and reading. He used to do a lot of theater, having appeared in over twenty plays. He hasn't done that in a long time, but might like to get back into it if he can find the time.

Derek is also an RPG Geek user:

Derek Hiemforth
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Any other gamers in your family? How did you get into the hobby?

In 1981, I was interested in D&D, as were my friends Randy and Jim, but none of us knew how to play. A guy named Erik -- an acquaintance of Randy's -- offered to run a game for us and show us the ropes. We all loved it, and I've been a tabletop RPGer ever since. I suppose I should thank Erik for his initial efforts, but since he later stole my AD&D books, I think I'll call it even and let my lack of prosecution be his thanks. ;-)

Also in 1981, an entirely different gaming circle introduced my oldest cousin, Guy, to D&D. In 1982, I came to live with my aunt and uncle's family, and Guy and I went through most of our primordial gaming experiences together. Some of my other cousins gamed sporadically, but only my youngest cousin James also became a lifelong RPG enthusiast.
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2. RPG Item: Teen Champions [Average Rating:8.20 Overall Rank:4555]
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Did any of your previous jobs or education help you become a game designer?

Not so much previous jobs, but definitely education. Lots of imaginative people just overflow with amazingly creative ideas. But getting ideas down in coherent and readable writing gets you published. A few people seem to manifest that skill naturally, but most learn it through education and practice.

Donna Baggett, my teacher for Advanced Composition in my junior year in high school, taught me how to write; I learned much more in her class than in any college-level English or writing course. Without her influence, I absolutely wouldn't be where I am today (a published RPG industry author whose day job is technical writing).
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What was the first project you worked on? What was that like?

Well, it really depends on what we consider my first project. My *very* first RPG project -- something RPG-related that wasn't for a game I was running or playing in at the time -- was a homebrew Star Trek-based RPG. I'm sure it was horrible; thankfully, no written evidence survives.

The first project I officially pitched in the industry was "Fantasy Enemies," a proposed adversary book for Fantasy HERO. I pitched that to Hero Games back in 1994, and I still have the kind rejection letter I received from Bruce Harlick. He said he liked the material, but that a stand-alone book didn't fit into their product line plans for supporting Fantasy HERO. Instead, he later offered me the chance to work on a licensed Fantasy HERO project they had in the works. But that fell through, the company went through some ownership changes, and nothing came of it at the time.

My first paid RPG writing appeared in Digital Hero #1 in 2002. That was a super-heroic NPC for Champions: an emergency response worker named Legion of Heroes, who could split into several forms at once.

My first published-in-a-real-paper-book RPG project was Champions Battlegrounds in 2003, an ENnie-winning adventure and location anthology for Champions. I wrote the "Fatal Attractions" adventure, wherein the heroes face the murderous Black Harlequin in a superhero-themed amusement park.
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4. RPG Item: Champions Complete [Average Rating:8.20 Overall Rank:2102]
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What's the most recent project you've worked on and what's great about it?

Champions Complete was published by Hero Games in 2012, and I'm thrilled with how it turned out and how well it's been received. It was honored with four nominations at the 2013 ENnie awards, including Product of the Year.

I'm proud of how it takes all the power and flexibility of the HERO System game engine, really doesn't leave out any rules, and yet manages to present the full system in a fraction of its former size. It does this by boiling each game element down to its essential core, and trusting game masters to extrapolate from there into uncommon corner cases when necessary (rather than overwhelming them with detail they won't often need).

The earlier two-volume hardback set of HERO System 6th Edition by Steve Long offers much more explanation, many more examples, and so on. This makes it an excellent reference work, but some also find its size or price tag a bit daunting. The goal with Champions Complete was to lower those barriers to entry, providing a sleek, comparatively inexpensive option for newcomers to Champions and the HERO System, but one that still serves as a functional core rulebook for roleplaying in any genre.
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5. Family: HERO
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What games influenced you?

The largest influence has obviously been Champions/the HERO System from Hero Games. I began playing Champions in 1987, and it's been more-or-less my primary system of choice ever since. But like anyone who started with xD&D, that clearly influenced me as well. Other games I'd cite as influences include Mayfair's DC Heroes, SJG's GURPS, BTRC's CORPS & EABA, and Grey Ghost Games' Fudge.
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6. RPG Item: GURPS Warehouse 23: Things THEY Don't Want You To Have [Average Rating:7.53 Overall Rank:1748]
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What are you playing right now or most recently?

I've just started running a campaign based on the TV series Warehouse 13. It uses Champions Complete as the rules engine, and pulls inspiration from sources like GURPS Warehouse 23 by S. John Ross, and the Suppressed Transmission books by Ken Hite, in addition to the TV show. Plus, of course, the greatest current tool for modern-day RPG inspiration: Wikipedia. ;-)
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7. Board Game Designer: Aaron Allston
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Who is one of your favorite RPG Designers?

One? Man, I don't think I can do just one. I'll give you five. ;-) There are many designers I admire, for many different reasons. I'll go alphabetically so I don't feel like I'm slighting anyone:

Aaron Allston for how he can cram so much game potential into such a small amount of book space, and make it seem so natural. I've gotten more gaming mileage from some of his 128-page books than I have from others' 450-pagers.

Scott Bennie for ... I'm not sure, to be honest. I can't put my finger on exactly what I love so much about Scott's stuff. I just know that his are consistently among my favorite RPG books, regardless of which game they're for. He just does it right.

Steve Long for his uncanny ability to consistently produce copious quantities of high-quality material, and for the truly impressive research that goes into every book he does.

Ken Hite for how he can make you laugh, shudder, think, and reach for a dictionary with one hand to look up the obscure word he just used, while reaching for a pen with the other to scribble down Yet Another Adventure Idea he just inspired, and do all of these things simultaneously.

Robin Laws for the way he just seems to have a different take on everything than anyone else has. Many gamers are creative, and often in unusual directions. But he just seems to take that skewed vision of things to a whole 'nother level.
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8. RPG: Fate Core [Average Rating:7.59 Overall Rank:16]
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What RPG do you wish you had designed?

Fate. No question. I love games like Champions/HERO that create vivid "playing pieces" for the game by detailing what they can do, but there's a lot to be said for a more "literary," concept-based approach too, and Fate seems to have really tapped into that. I think that if there's a long-term future to tabletop RPGs, it will probably be through games like Fate.
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9. Board Game: Pandemic [Average Rating:7.65 Overall Rank:75]
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What non-RPG (either card, board, or video) games do you play?

Mostly tabletop games and non-CCG card games. Current favorites include Pandemic, Formula D, and Star Fluxx. All-time faves include Illuminati, Catan, and Diplomacy. I'm not much of a video gamer, unless you count computer games like Civilization(or computer versions of board games).
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10. RPG Item: Villainy Amok [Average Rating:8.14 Overall Rank:3017]
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If you had to point someone to an overlooked RPG product, what would that be?

Oooh, that's a tough one. Hard to know what other folks consider "overlooked." I guess I'd give a shout-out to Scott Bennie's Villainy Amok, a campaign-and-adventure-building sourcebook for Champions. It's just a very different sort of aid for the inspiration-starved GM than I've seen elsewhere. I can't recommend it highly enough to GMs for any superhero game, regardless of system.
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11. RPG Item: Running Wild [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:1340]
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*Bonus Question* What are you drinking right *now*?

Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi. I know, I know. I'm a wild man! ;-)
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