Our series of interviews with team members continues with our writer/designer, Robin D. Laws.
What’s your background?
I am a tabletop roleplaying game designer and author. I created such roleplaying games as Hillfolk, Feng Shui, The Esoterrorists, and the upcoming Yellow King Roleplaying Game. My fiction credits include nine novels and the short story collection New Tales of the Yellow Sign. I’m the winner of five Gold and five Silver ENnie Awards as well as the coveted Diana Jones Award. You can hear me every week on the podcast Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff.
How did you get into the industry?
Through the fanzine Alarums and Excursions (which will feature later in our story) I struck up a correspondence with Jonathan Tweet, eventually leading to my contributing additional material to his groundbreaking game Over the Edge. He says I inspired this by imagining what a William S. Burroughs roleplaying game might look like. At about the same time I got a query out of the blue from Steve Jackson Games, asking if I wanted to turn the weird hunter-gatherer dark fantasy game into a supplement; it became GURPS Fantasy II. That led to additional opportunities and I’ve been working full time as a writer and game designer since 1992.
In other words, I got in when the cutting edge communications technologies were APAs and physical mail.
How were you introduced to KoDP
Six Ages: Ride Like the Wind is about a people escaping from encroaching glaciers, but I owe my participation in it to the actions of ice demons. In 1997 I went to a Glorantha convention in Chicago, planning to meet with the world’s creator, to pitch him on my approach to a new roleplaying game for his setting. A massive snow storm canceled his trip, and here I was at a convention with the meeting they’d flown me in for also out the window.
Another attendee I also knew through Alarums and Excursions: David Dunham. We sat down to dinner together and he told me he had a Glorantha computer game on the drawing board. If only he could find an experienced writer who also knew this very specific world…
We both looked at each other and thought “oh wait a minute” and before I knew I was signed on as head writer for KoDP. Not far into the process it became apparent that writing was also game design work, hence the double credit.
Other than Six Ages or King of Dragon Pass, what’s your favorite computer game?
The simulation of the classic analog Addams Family pinball game, on the Pinball Arcade iOS app.
How did your writing style develop?
Any writer’s voice is a combination of all the various influences you absorb through reading, plus the effort of writing a whole bunch of terrible stuff until the cruft falls away. The secret to developing a unique style is to assimilate so many disparate influences that they, plus your life experience and personality, come together into something no one else would arrive at.
What was the most challenging part of the project?
I’m not saying the game has a big culminating storyline. But if it did, getting the scene branching right for its myriad possible outcomes took a lot of doing and redoing. Hypothetically.
Day to day, the biggest scene writing challenge lay in the tri-cultural nature of the setting this time out. In KoDP, you’re Orlanthi clan folk, interacting with other Orlanthi. In this opening chapter of Six Ages, any neighboring tribe you deal with might belong to your own culture, a closely related rival culture, or a third, quite distinct people. So any scene where you talk to a neighbor required a distinct set of responses for every approach you take.
What was the best part of the project?
Several testers reported finding certain moments genuinely affecting, even moving. That’s the response you hope for as a writer in any medium. Maybe surprising in a resource management game, which you might not think of as a forum for powerful emotion. That’s a testament to David’s original genre-fusing vision for KoDP. It also reflects our shared attitude that, even though the game is set in an imaginary place, that it should have room to reflect the full contradictions of the human experience. With so many scenes to work with I could build in a wide emotional palette, from funny to scary to—depending on the choices the player makes—triumphant or tragic.