RPG Industry Professional Interview: Ryan Macklin
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Ryan is the author of Hit A Dude and some stuff you've probably never heard of

He had this to say about himself:

Ryan Macklin -- also known as Ryan F. Macklin From The Internet because of a long, formerly inside joke -- is the Production Manager at Evil Hat Productions. He has also worked on the Leverage RPG line, several indie RPGs alongside their authors, and occasionally puts out a small game on a business card that gets way more attention that he expected.

His current hair color is a light seafoam green, and changes frequently. He mouths off a lot on his blog, RyanMacklin.com.
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1. RPG Designer: Ryan Macklin
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Any other gamers in your family? How did you get into the hobby?

I'm the only gamer in my family, though I did give my niece a copy of Happy Birthday, Robot! and played a game of it with her. So we'll see if that answer stays. My family did, very rarely, play board games. That they were uninterested was a constant bummer.

My grandfather, when I was like eight, was annoyed with me constantly bugging him about stuff due to being bored. So he did what many software engineers with little ones around did back then: he handed me a TRS-80 manual for programming BASIC (back when you capitalized that, being an acronym and all). Within a little bit, I started writing computer adventure games, ASCII video games, etc. That's how my journey started.

There's also a Monopoly story, because everyone has one. But, well, it's not really all that interesting.
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2. RPG Item: The Reed Richards Guide to Everything [Average Rating:7.70 Overall Rank:1866]
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Did any of your previous jobs or education help you become a game designer?

The boring & truthful & helpful answer? Yes and no.

I'm a software developer by trade. I've had fiction published. I was a barrista my first semester of college. I was a door-to-door survey taker when I was 16. I once pleated cloth in a London suburb for some train money. What do those have to do with game design? Pretty much nothing.

And yet, everything. Software development shares a core ethos: game design is what you do when people meet with a construct to achieve specific behavior. I played the Gears of War board game last night, which I enjoyed because me and three friends (Chris Hanrahan & Chris Ruggiero, two of the owners of Endgame Oakland; and Eric Lytle, designer of Race to Adventure) were all jazzed about playing this because we were engaging the rules to chainsaw a dude's face. People + construct -> expected behavior. Make software is the same thing. You can't change the people, so you adjust the construct to make the behavior you want to have happen happen.

But really, everything makes you a sharper game designer, if you pay attention. It's like being a writer. The entire world is full of ideas and inspiration every single moment, if you pay attention and look for it.

However, I don't have specific training as a writer, editor, or project manager. I learned how to not suck on that on the job. Like nearly everyone else you know.
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3. RPG: Choose Your Own Adventure [Average Rating:6.73 Overall Rank:452]
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What was the first project you worked on? What was that like?

So, let's say "published product you could have bought," because like so many people my first project was something I doodled on paper when I was a tween or whatever.

I made this fiction anthology called "Finis: A Book of Endings" which was a series of two-page flash fiction often paired with art. The high concept: you remember Choose Your Own Adventure books? I always loved the endings. And after Hurrican Katrina, I had the idea to make a book that was all just endings to fictitious CYOW books. Every two page spread would be a self-contained story, about how you died or whatever, starting with "You choose..." I had a lot of fun with the concept, but managing to put a book together with 17 writers, 5 photographers, an art director, a layout guy, and 3 editors was as special kind of hell. And in that hell, I turned from a shy, "I don't want to mess with your vision" editor into someone who could forge a book from many different pieces.

I was also dating one of the writers at the time. Toward the end of the book, we split up. The stress from publishing was certainly a part of that. So when I say that it was a special hell, it's only a little bit of a joke. But damn if I'm not proud of what I accomplished.

Unfortunately, it's no longer available. I still occasionally get emails about it, asking if folks can buy it.
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4. RPG Item: World Players Guide #1 [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked]
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What’s the most recent project you’ve worked on and what’s great about it?

Should I count that before this email, I was doodling down thoughts on my RPG continually in development, Mythender? (Which you can find out more about on my blog, http://ryanmacklin.com/mythender) Or the Paranet Papers, the upcoming Dresden Files supplement? Or the other projects I'm pushing forward for other people? I suspect you mean "published," in which case I have to somewhat embarrassingly say: Hit a Dude, World Players Guide #1.

What's great about it? Well, it riffs of the phenomenon of Hit a Dude, which carried so much further than I expected. It a silly thing that fans of mine can buy if they enjoy some tongue-in-cheek gamer humor, with a bit of history humor thrown in. And ideally it'll pay for artists on future short-form projects I do. I'm really enjoying the space I'm seeing of 8-16 page RPGs.

As far as Hit a Dude itself, I can't say that I intended on it tapping into a certain zeitgeist, but that would be the great thing about it. I learned something significant about gamers when I started handing out the cards at the Diana Jones Awards party, when I watched people pass the card when they passed play. Watching other people get it, and run with it, has been nothing short of amazing. Really, it's not my game anymore. It's y'alls. And that's badass.

I suspect I didn't quite answer your question. What's great about it? You people are.

If you're looking for an answer that isn't a joke product, I can always direct you to the recently released Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple.
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5. RPG: Unknown Armies (1st Edition) [Average Rating:7.09 Overall Rank:157]
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What games influenced you?

Like with the second question, the totally boring answer: every game.

The games that wow me give me lessons in what to do or think about in the future. The games that piss me off give me lessons in what to avoid. That's the curse of game design, like the curse of writing or editing -- you can't really "just play" a game anymore. You're continually analyzing it, mining it for ideas, critiquing it.

But going with, say, a Top Three. Sure, that'll work:

Unknown Armies (1st Edition). This is my favorite RPG, and has taught me (among many other things) the value of naming your own skills. It creates ownership and allows someone to put a stamp on their sense of expression. I call the Fighting skill "Fighting" because my character doesn't care, doesn't mentally live in a world where that's fetishized. You call it "Killing You Up" because that's how you see the world. And frankly, I want to avoid you. (Now, this gets really cool if you match that with skill ratings. The dude with Fighting 15% vs Killing You Up 55% is scary. But what about Fighting 60% versus Killing You Up 20%? Suddenly we see a very different picture. My mind was blown when I first saw that.)

Mage: The Ascension. This is one of my favorites, and folks following my blog know I'm playing in a campaign of it, powered by Mage: The Ascension/Leverage, called Aethertide. But, yeah, the magic system there is...well, it's hard to explain (which is part of the point, I suppose). But it inspired me, and is something I think about whenever there's a magic system that needs being designed. As we said in our acceptance speech for the ENnies, the Dresden Files RPG couldn't have the magic system it does without Mage: the Ascension.

Polaris: Chivalric Tragedy at Utmost North. This is an indie game that centers around ritual phrases. I've played this a few times, and watching people go from "this ritual phrase is silly" to beginning to feel their weight was intense. It's taught me to look at ritual in every game, both explicit and the implicit ones like picking up dice to announce with body language that you're about to use your Killing You Up skill.
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6. RPG: Mage: The Ascension [Average Rating:7.13 Overall Rank:85]
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What are you playing right now or most recently?

As I said, I'm playing a Mage: the Ascension hack with Cortex Plus. That's going on over Skype with three of my closest friends. Otherwise, I'm more of less a one-shot player & GM these days. I played a game of Ashen Stars last week. I'll be playing Dungeon World & Sorcerer next weekend at the Nerdly Beach Party. And often running Fate Core or Leverage: The Roleplaying Game for people.

I also love board games! Again, Gears of War: The Board Game, but I also introduced people to Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space yesterday (which I love), played a couple upcoming games by Eric Vogel/Closet Nerd Games, Ghost Stories.

Also, roughly every other Wednesday a bunch of us get together with rum and hack Eleminis. We play that game damned cutthroat with some of our variants. I've been told I need to blog about them.
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7. Board Game Designer: Josh Roby
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Who is one of your favorite RPG Designers?

Oh, jeez. One, eh? This question certainly will cause no drama in my circle of friends.

I've written about Will Hindmarch in the past, so I'll pick someone else this time: Josh Roby, who among other things was the lead designer on Smallville Roleplaying Game. He's my design partner on occasion, and what he brings to the table is a balance between "nothing is ever novel just for novel's sake" and "nothing is so rote to be uninteresting." What he did with Smallville continues to blow me away. He got me to ask questions about the small actions in game -- things like picking up dice to do something -- about if in those small moments I'm still making an interesting decision.

Naturally, he's ruined me for games where the player's aren't. So, thanks for that, Josh. ;P
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8. RPG Item: GURPS Cabal [Average Rating:7.80 Overall Rank:972]
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What RPG do you wish you had designed?

I used to have actual answers to this question, but today: none. If I had designed any of them, they wouldn't be the games I've learned from. I wouldn't want to have designed Unknown Armies, though I keep occasionally working on games that end up in the "wait, I'm just trying to redesign UA, aren't I?" bin.

That said, there are a lot of games whose second/third/whatever edition I'd love to do. Like, I'd love to take the setting in GURPS Cabal and make a custom system fit better for it. But that's because I don't think when I see a neat idea "man, I wish I thought of that", but "ohh, neat, I'm so going to do something with that."

I was a DJ in college, occasionally mixing. Same approach to game design.
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9. Board Game: BattleTech Introductory Box Set [Average Rating:7.65 Overall Rank:1365]
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What non-RPG (either card, board, or video) games do you play?

I kinda already answered this above, but I'll get broader.

Computer & console games: I don't play often, because of the time investment, but I loved Portal/Portal 2, Dragon Age (though I found myself putting down DA2 partway through and not bothering to pick it back up), or little games from the console stores.

Board/card games: any and every, at least once. Euro, Ameritrash, whatever. It's hard for me to not love love love a co-op board/card game, with or without a traitor mechanic. That said, the pure-humor games don't hold as much traction for me.

I also love Battletech, though I rarely get to play it these days. So I keep buying Battletech sets and just wistfully admiring them.
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10. RPG: Chronica Feudalis [Average Rating:7.00 Overall Rank:310]
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If you had to point someone to an overlooked RPG product, what would that be?

Do enough people know about Chronica Feudalis? They should -- it's got some of the most inspired writing, and it's . Oh, and Smallville. Maybe that one isn't too overlooked, but I know people have been turned off by the IP to not bother checking out the richness in the game. One day, I'll get to play my Sarah Connor Chronicles game with Smallville.

And everything by Gameplaywright, even though they aren't games. They make books that make you think about your games.
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11. Board Game: Think: Cocktail [Average Rating:6.17 Unranked]
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*Bonus Question*

What are you drinking right *now*?

It's the afternoon, so a gin & tonic. North Shore gin, from Chicago. I pretty much only drink American gins these days -- not a jingoism thing, I've just found some resplendent gins: North Shore (Chicago), Bluecoat (Philly) & 209 (SF).
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