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Starts With An Old Interview:

INTERVIEW WITH KEVIN DAVIES:

ABOUT KEVIN DAVIES
Kevin Davies is the creator and publisher of the humorous roleplay games Murphy's World and Bob, Lord of Evil, plus GRIT Multigenre Miniatures Rules, and Adventure Areas Miniatures Gameplay Surface.
    Kevin has over 25 years experience as a creative services provider. His work includes game design, writing, art direction, illustration (traditional and digital media), photography, plus web and print design. Kevin has worked in advertising, film and TV animation, the book and comic industries, and the game industry. He has published magazines and games, managed conventions, and performed his original songs at live venues.



Roleplay Games: Murphy's World, Bob Lord of Evil.
Miniatures Rules: GRIT Basic, GRIT Advanced
Accessories: Adventure Areas
Peregrine:  http://www.peregrine-net.com/
Kevin Davies Creative Services Site:  http://www.kevindavies.com/
Kevin Davies Music Site (ReverbNation):  http://www.reverbnation.com/kevindavies

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Interview downloadable as a PDF below.


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Murphy’s World Interview: Triple Oak Leaf to Kevin Davies
Interview answers copyright © 2009 by Kevin Davies.


Could you provide a brief description of Murphy’s World?
Murphy’s World™ is a humorous techno-fantasy Roleplay Game (RPG). Above all, it is an RPG setting designed to encourage creative expression and participation on the part of both Players and Gamemasters.
    Murphy’s World acquired that name courtesy of Sean Murphy, an intergalactic property speculator who ‘discovered’ and registered what he thought was an unpopulated planet — just before his spaceship succumbed to the planet’s chaotic forces and crash-landed, marooning him on ‘his’, in fact very populated world. The observations made about the weird natural workings of the planet are known as ‘Murphy’s Laws’.
    The indigenous population, however, call their homeworld Faerie; it is the actual source of much of the galaxy’s  myth and legends, folk tales, and the depository of numerous pop-culture relics and artifacts — and whatever else can be imagined. What cognizant beings ‘think’ can actually affect the environment and circumstances they face.  
    The planet’s geography is an amalgamation of numerous mythological lands from many cultures, along with ‘themed’ areas such as the ‘Dark Lands’, which manifest all pop-culture characteristics of the horror genre. All elements of Murphy’s World are comically twisted to produce a lighthearted setting for adventuring.
    Thus Murphy’s World includes elements of both fantasy and technology. Players can play a native, or a Character from any other RPG setting, arriving on Murphy’s World via a faulty dimension gate, a crashed spacecraft, magic, a dream or hallucination (in which case, when the Characters regain consciousness in their other game setting, they can laugh at the shared ‘vision’ they experienced).


How did Murphy’s World come about?
One of the greatest obstacles confronting a participant in most RPGs is the fear that their Player Character (PC) is going to be ‘killed’ by a random event or action result of little dramatic consequence to the plot, typically the product of an unfavorable dice roll. For this reason many players tend to have their PCs act conservatively, only attempting actions that they’re reasonably certain can be accomplished successfully. Sometimes, the RPG rules used will discourage creative play, limiting PCs in what actions they can attempt in the game or even what items they can attempt to use.  This ultimately makes for a less exciting, less ‘heroic’ story.
    For Murphy’s World, I chose to employ simplified rules and exploit a humorous setting to encourage players to allow their PCs to attempt actions that they wouldn’t try in a #8216;serious’ game. This also made the game more inviting to ‘occasional players’ and people unfamiliar with RPGs.
    During 1985 and 1986 I illustrated  and co-wrote (with Steve Stirling) a humorous fantasy comic series, A Hero Named Harold™, published by Warp Graphics/Apple Comics. Conceived as a fixed-length mini-series and published in installments, it ran for ten issues and more than 100 pages. The world that the British jewel-thief ‘hero’ of the comic is transported to is Faerie.
    Prior to and during that period I was also developing and playtesting my multi-genre RPG system Weapons & Wonder™ along with several ‘serious’ settings. I had a regular gaming group comprised of some very talented roleplayers; they were smart, imaginative, and had a great sense of humor.  
    One day, as an experiment, I decided to transport the Characters to the realm of Faerie from my comic — without specifically telling them. As the adventures progressed I started writing a simpler version of Weapons & Wonder to accompany the world of Faerie, where lighthearted adventures could be played. Murphy’s World was the result.


What can you tell us about the humorous elements of Murphy’s World?
Murphy’s World is a silly place. Or at least it can be. Adventures experienced on Murphy’s World may be just as dramatic and ‘realistic’ for a Character as in any other setting. Elements of high fantasy (Faerie races, magic, etc.) happily coexist with technological artifacts (devices, vehicles, etc.), brought to the planet by its alien immigrants.
    The Characters populating Murphy’s World, and especially those visiting from offworld, need not possess any humorous characteristics; there is no pressure on the player to ‘act funny’ to play the game. Any humor experienced by the player is primarily based on the people, places, things, situations, and action results they experience, produced as a result of the supernatural energies that bombard the planet from its amber sun Ludo.
    With the Gamemaster’s deft encouragement, truly cinematic and epic lighthearted adventures are possible.  Which, like any good story, may contain some humorous elements — the specific amount reflecting the preference of the players and the Gamemaster.
    Think of a favorite lighthearted film with a fantasy setting: The Court Jester, The Princess Bride, The Three Musketeers, Monty Python an the Holy Grail, Jabberwocky, Erik the Viking, Time Bandits, Army of Darkness, Young Frankenstein, Shrek, etc.; all of these stories and more are perfectly suited to Murphy’s World.


The game has it’s own rules system, but a huge feature is allowing Characters from other systems to play in Murphy’s World.  Can you describe how it works?
The ability to use Characters from other game systems has been really useful for running demos at conventions and retail stores. I usually invite players to use whatever favorite Character they happen to have with them, rather than spend time creating a new Character for a demo. What makes one Character different from another is typically the Attributes they possess to engage the action resolution system of their game. Murphy’s World overcomes this in the following optional ways:

a) No Rules: All action is resolved through verbal interaction. For this to work the players must trust that their Gamemaster will be a fair and impartial judge of their PC’s actions. This will, however, allow everyone to focus on creating an engaging story without any distractions from game mechanics. The GM can also choose to employ ‘Scissors-Paper-Stone’ action resolution when a ‘random factor’ is desired.  
    Speaking from experience, this system works great for situations like running a game while driving a van load of gamers to a convention.

b) Simple Rules: Ignore all Attributes and just roll 1d10 to resolve any action: a roll of 1 to 5 is a success (the lower the number rolled the better the result); a roll of 6 to 10 is a failure (the higher the number rolled the worse the result). The results are interpreted by the GM’s description of events.

c) Detailed Rules: If the players really want to use Character Attributes and roll dice to determine action resolution, the game provides a convenient RPG Attribute Conversion Table and offers suggestions to convert the name of an Attribute in another system to a Murphy’s World Attribute of a similar function.  
    Murphy’s World uses a percentile system that makes it easy to apply positive and negative Action Modifiers toward a Base Action Value prior to making an Action Roll (1d100). It’s very quick to pick up, even if you’ve never played an RPG before.

If a Character brought to Murphy’s World has a unique Skill or Ability, I simply allow them to use it with whatever rules system I’m employing. Any action attempted by a PC will always have a chance of success, based on the PC’s past experience with it. New Skills can be acquired based on game circumstances (e.g., a PC falls into water, they can try to swim [rolling against an appropriate Attribute if using Detailed Rules]; if they succeed they dogpaddle and live. Simple.).  
    I firmly believe a GM (or rules system) should never tell a player that their PC can’t attempt something — what is necessary is that they deliver appropriate results for a PC’s action attempt.
 

What are your favorite attributes of the game?
The thing I like most about Murphy’s World is that Characters have the freedom to attempt just about anything, and that just about anything can be made to occur within the context of the setting.  I’ve run demo sessions for players familiar with other game systems. About ten minutes into a Murphy’s World adventure they start to realize that more things are possible than what they are used to.  
    Gamemasters can adjust the complexity of the rules to the situation; from no rules to die rolling and detailed table-lookup results — the book describes all options. The effect of Murphy’s Laws on the planet are inconsistent and unpredictable. This allows the Gamemaster creative license to introduce magical and technological effects and artifacts to whatever extent that they desire.
    Everyone, once they discover it exists, can attempt, I stress attempt, magic — for good or ill (whenever someone tried to cast a spell in my original playtest group most of the other PCs would duck and cover!) It is the GM’s duty to misinterpret any loopholes in the spellcaster’s spell description.
    I also am rather proud of the text. In addition to providing detailed descriptions of people, places, and things, the book is entertaining to read, with a light-hearted narrative and humorous personal quotes from Sean Murphy that describe his misadventures as he encounters each culture. The books, Murphy’s World and Bob, Lord of Evil are also lavishly illustrated.


Do you have a favorite Sean Murphy quote?
It’s hard to pin it down to just one. Here are a few of my personal favorites from Murphy’s World:

“It didn’t take me long to realize that making a sizable contribution to the Palace Bureaucrat and Maintenance Staff Retirement Fund was an acceptable alternative to a full body search. I got the distinct impression that some of the guards were deeply disappointed.”  <div align=right>— Sean Murphy, Entering the gates of the Elvish city of Whitethorn in Avalon. </div>

“Dwarvish ‘cuisine’ is an acquired taste. Although I’ve yet to meet anyone other than a Dwarf who has acquired it. I had no idea that there were quite so many ways to destroy a good meal with boiling water.”  <div align=right>— Sean Murphy, Commenting on the culinary treat that is Dwarvish grub.</div>

“The corridors were cramped and the odor of Dwarf was overwhelming. The brochure had lied again.”  <div align=right>— Sean Murphy, Touring the Palace of Minerva, seat of Dwarvish culture.</div>

“I was amazed at the display of intricate maneuvers, violence, and frenzied masses of palpitating flesh — and that was just the cheerleaders!”  <div align=right>— Sean Murphy, Attending the Aesirheim Super-Stein kegger-bowl championship.</div>

“Having an Ogre as a friend is like holding a ticking bomb in your hands — it impresses the hell out of people, but it can blow up in your face at any time.”  <div align=right>— Sean Murphy, Reflecting upon his ‘friendship’ with Blorg the Ogre.</div>


The art in Murphy’s World is incredible — have you produced art for any other projects?
I’ve been an illustrator for many years. Most of my work has been commercial art produced for ad agencies and publishing companies, covering a wide range of styles from traditional to digital media. I’m also a graphic designer and art director. In addition to Peregrine’s products, I’ve art directed Nexus the Infinite City RPG, Scrye  CCG magazine, and Miriad SF magazine.
    With respect to genre art, I’ve produced paperback book covers for Baen Books and Dark Harvest. I painted images for cards used in On The Edge, a collectable card game by Atlas Games. Back in the 1980’s I produced art for TSR’s Dragon and Dungeon magazines. One of my illustrations was used for the cover of the 10th anniversary issue of Dragon and republished in The Art of Dragon and the binder-format AD&D Monster Manual. I’ve also produced covers for other genre magazines including The Familiar, Cryptych, Adventures Unlimited, Borderland, and Scream Factory. I painted covers for the comic series Sensei from First Comics.
    Recently I created the logo, board, and cover art for Sodbusters, a historical farming boardgame.


How is David Brown involved?
I’ve sought out partners for many of the ventures I’ve produced over the years. I like having another person to bounce around ideas and to share the financial costs of development and production. Originally I had another partner that I was going to develop board games with, but that didn’t work out, so I started looking for a new candidate. The Murphy’s World manuscript was for the most part complete, but no one among my close circle of friends at that time had the desire to be an entrepreneur.  
    In an effort to broaden my circle of potential partners and friends I decided to start a game design club, called The Design Group. Unfortunately for me, most of those who joined had projects of their own that they wanted to develop — these eventually included Feng Shui [RPG], Shadowfist [CCG], Cryptych Magazine, and Scrye Magazine.
    Then I ran into David Brown. David and I knew each other through the science fiction community — we had both run and attended many conventions. We were also avid gamers. He expressed an interest in Peregrine and a desire to come on board. David has a great sense of humor. He helped edit the final draft of Murphy’s World, contributing some original passages in the process, and contributed funds to help with the manufacture and marketing of the book. He was also great at running demos at conventions.
    During the development of Bob, Lord of Evil, the humorous techno-horror RPG follow-up to Murphy’s World, David got engaged and decide to bow out of Peregrine; we remain friends. By mutual agreement, I retained full ownership of Peregrine™.


Where the heck did the idea of Bob, Lord of Evil come from?
David Brown and I were running demos at a retail store in Buffalo, NY, and the idea for the character came out of our banter back and forth during a break. Once I got back to Toronto I started writing up a description of the character and an outline for a book based on Bob’s domain — how it might be an extension of the Murphy's World setting, yet also function as a stand-alone game. Bob, Lord of Evil™ was born.
    David was involved in the early stages of Bob, Lord of Evil. We would send text back and forth via email for each other to read and edit as the manuscript took shape. David left Peregrine before the Bob, Lord of Evil manuscript was complete.


How hard has it been to get distribution?
When Murphy's World was first released in 1995 it was not difficult to get distribution — we had advance orders and drop-shipped many books directly from the printer. Things were great for about the first year. Then things got much harder.
    Magic the Gathering and other Collector Card Games (CCG) appeared and the industry changed dramatically.  Many distributors would no longer order a roleplay game unless your company also published a CCG. I was asked on numerous occasions when the Murphy’s World card game was coming out, though I had never announced one. I simply did not have the financial resources to produce a Collector Card Game; especially while continuing to develop an RPG line. I knew people who made a fortune — and some who also lost it — selling CCGs during that period.
    Initially the CCG boom took on the characteristics of a gold rush. Distributors and retailers got used to ‘moving’ products they knew or cared little about. Plus, with so many new entrants into the industry, they could be choosy about what they purchased — what mattered was your promotional budget and your demo organization, not necessarily the quality of your game.
    An advantage CCGs had over RPGs what that they were faster and easier to demo — so they were preferred by retail stores. Ever more pressure was put on manufacturers to take on the task of ‘selling’ the game to the customer (but without actually selling the game to the customer so the distributor and retailer could maintain their percentage of the sale).
    When the CCG bubble burst it ushered in a wave of buy-outs, resulting in the industry becoming even more corporatized. There was now very little place for the small publisher. The distributors expected new products every quarter to support the line and a marketing operation; if you couldn't deliver you were not significant enough to bother with. The corporate method of product development takes its model from Hollywood; you produce a number of products, throw them into the market, and see what takes off. Small companies don’t have the resources to compete using that strategy. For a small company, every product must be a success.
    The CCG boom and bust resulted in many small ‘ma and pa’ distributors that were sympathetic to small game companies going under or being bought out. This was really bad news for a company like Peregrine. Smaller distributors would take the time to get to know new products from small manufacturers and recommend them to appropriate retail stores; they would also provide useful feedback from the retailers. With the CCG boom that all changed.
    Sub-distributors picked up the slack, distributing smaller companies as a ‘package’ to larger distributors. For a while this worked, but then another wave of bankruptcies hit the industry and as sub-distributors went down, they took the stock of the smaller publishers with them (Peregrine was just one of hundreds of small companies to experience this).  It was after this series of events that, even though I had several projects in various stages of development, I decided to step back from Peregrine for a while and start a family.
    As the internet began to be used for commercial purposes things changed even more. Many publishers, including Peregrine, began selling their products directly to the public as downloadable PDFs or on CD (some had no choice as they could no longer get adequate distribution). For most companies today, the internet is a necessity for both marketing and sales.
     

Will there be a new printing of Murphy’s World?
If the demand is there and I can assemble the resources, yes. But for now, the ‘new’ edition of Murphy’s World is available as a PDF on CD purchased through http://www.peregrine-net.com —  included are several bonus items such as Character Sheets, an Asgard Gazetteer, and some new Adventures. It can be ordered by mail and paid for with PayPal or Money Order.


What is GRIT and Adventure Areas?
After playing numerous miniatures games over the years I wanted to design a miniatures rules system that would be simple to learn, easy to play, and flexible enough to permit detailed and realistic situations and action resolution. GRIT Multigenre Miniatures Rules™ was the result.
    GRIT focuses on tactical scenarios where each figure represents an individual (though there are optional ‘group combat’ rules, for conducting larger scale battles). I also wanted rules that would encourage the player to identify with the miniatures used as they do Characters in a RPG. In fact the rules allow a player’s existing RPG Character to be brought into a GRIT scenario (in much the same way as Characters are imported from other systems into Murphy’s World).
    I have run GRIT demo scenarios at conventions in a variety of genres including high fantasy, historical, high-tech, horror, pirates, and the Vietnam War. Currently in playtesting is a really fun stand-alone ‘football’ game based on the GRIT system called End Zone™. I hope to release it shortly.
    Adventure Areas™ consists of a package of 10 cardstock sheets printed with various floor surfaces and interior features such as doors, traps, bridges, etc. The player simply cuts them into various rooms and corridors as desired to use for miniatures or RPG scenarios. Adventure Areas also comes with a Basic version of the GRIT rules so each package is actually a stand-alone game.


How did you learn about publishing?
I’ve been involved in ‘publishing’ since I was in public school where I produced a school newspaper ‘The Daily Grind’ on a mimeograph. In junior high I produced the school yearbook. In high school I started an SF club and partnered with another member to publish an SF magazine ‘Intrepid’. After taking graphic design at Ryerson University and while working in an ad agency I began publishing a new SF magazine ‘Miriad’, joined by first one partner, then another.
    I then became a freelance creative services provider for publishers and ad agencies, serving as a graphic designer, art director, writer, illustrator, and photographer/retoucher. Each step along the way I’ve taught myself more and more about the business. I’ve seen the means of production transform from typesetting and paste-up to and digital files and direct-to-press.


Why did you choose the name Peregrine for your company?
There were an number of considerations. I wanted a name that would work internationally, with a strong iconic image. I also wanted it to have a broader meaning and serve to channel several of my interests and influences including history, mythology, and nature, as a metaphor for the company. Peregrine succeeds at all of these.
    As an positive symbol for my company, the Peregrine is a relatively small bird that incorporates a perfect combination of grace, agility, speed, and power. It has few natural enemies and is found almost everywhere in both rural and urban settings.
    Throughout history Peregrines have been a favorite bird of falconers — beginning around 2000 BC with nomads in ancient Asia and the Middle East, then across Europe and the Orient in the Middle Ages, and still today in the Middle East.
    In Egyptian mythology, Horus the sky god was pictured in the form of a Peregrine; it was believed that the falcon brought the Sun at dawn and carried it away at dusk. The falcon hieroglyph signified kingship and preceded the name of a Pharaoh. The ‘wedjet’ or right Eye of Horus, was a sacred Sun symbol that conveyed perfection, protection, and purification; it was also thought to give a mummy the ability ‘to see again’.
    In North American Native mythology the Peregrine was respected as a messenger that brought guidance from the spirit world. Its animal totem was a metaphor for speed, grace and agility, along with a thoughtful optimism. The eyes of a falcon represented self-assurance, pride and wisdom. Represented by the ‘fire’ element, a Peregrine stood for honesty, courage, spirit, and warmth.
    Finally, the word ‘peregrination’ describes experiencing a journey, which is what the creative process of developing of Murphy’s World has certainly been for me.


What’s it like running a game company in Canada?
It’s a challenge. Canada has a relatively small population strung out in a few major cities along the US border. There are few large conventions to demo at. Shipping is much more expensive. The border is a real hassle (one time I was turned back at the border because I had 20 T-Shirts to give away and no formal paperwork; another company told me they spent a day stamping ‘Made in Canada’ in their books because they forgot to include it in the printed text).
    The USA, however, remains the necessary market. For this reason Peregrine printed its books in the USA, stored them in a warehouse about a mile from the printer, and had the warehouse ship out all orders. Most of the game demos we ran were in the USA, at large conventions like Gen Con and retail stores within driving distance of Toronto. We had a foreign distribution representative in the USA that would sell Peregrine products overseas (Europe, Australia, Asia, etc.).
    From a business point of view, American businesses have a huge advantage over Canadian businesses. They have access to a huge domestic market that is evenly spread out across the country (cutting down on distribution costs), with no borders to pass through (another time and cost savings), and a more valuable currency (so relative manufacturing and marketing costs are lower).


If you had to do it over again, what would you do differently?
I would have launched Peregrine about ten years earlier. Back in the mid-1980’s, I was trying to sell my RPG system Weapons & Wonder™ (plus some board games, etc.) to other companies. Everyone I pitched, however, was either only interested in producing a system with in-house staff, or could not purchase my game due to some existing contractual obligation or relationship with another company. It was very frustrating. It was that experience that eventually caused me to launch Peregrine. With hindsight, I would try harder to ignore my inner desire to achieve a ‘perfect’ product and bring what I had to market sooner myself. I would also have tried to secure more investment financing in advance.


What insight can you provide to people who would like to publish their own game?
It has never been cheaper or easier to produce a game, magazine, comic, novel, or other media; this is the positive side of things. Blogs have replaced printed ‘Fanzines’, PDF documents and web pages save on the printing of content and promotional documents. Customers can even be encouraged to print out content themselves from a digital file or purchase a product online from a print-on-demand service, thus reducing the need for huge inventories (though often requiring the acceptance of a lower quality of printing).
    On the negative side, I believe that it has gotten progressively more difficult to earn a living publishing games (and other media) as a small company. As the barriers to content production have fallen, the amount of available content for a prospective customer to choose from has expanded beyond all expectations — much of it available for free or at a fraction of the cost necessary to hire the writers, artists, and production people to produce a quality product.
    Due to the ever-expanding quantity of product available in stores and especially online, it has become more and more difficult for a small producer to have a customer encounter and then pay for their product.
    For a product to gain enough orders from a traditional distributor to make a profit, it is essential to have enough money on tap for the production and extensive marketing of at least three to four products. Without a traditional distributor, it may take a while for a product to see profitability.
    Companies with the funds to establish well known brands and product lines will be carried and promoted, by national distributors. Those that do not have sufficient funds may not gain distribution and thus not have the quantity of timely sales necessary for profitability.
    However, with the right combination of time, money, and effort, success is possible. I was recently involved in the production and playtesting of Sodbusters, a new historical farming board game, produced by a small company, Mansion House Games. It is now available in retail stores (see: http://www.sodbusters-game.com).


Do you have any favorite games by other publishers?
I enjoy all types of games. If a game is entertaining and the rules encourage, rather than impede, creative gameplay, I’m there.
    As far as roleplay games go, I prefer to separate settings from published rules when I judge them. Far too many great settings have been held back by restrictive rules that produce Gamemasters who feel that they must adhere to those rules. This was the main reason why I chose to develop a system with rules that are flexible depending upon the GM’s desire to trade-off playability vs realism. Regardless of the game I play, I typically use some variation of Weapons & Wonder’s percentile system and/or adjust the published rules as I deem necessary.  
    The RPG settings I like include: Call of Cthulhu, CyberPunk, Shadowrun, Earth Dawn, Castle Falkenstein, Vampire the Masquerade, The Morrow Project, and Traveller; there are many others.
    My favorite board game is Settlers of Catan — played with all the expansions.


What is in store for Peregrine’s future?
Without going into specifics, I have a number of projects that are in various stages of development, including more games — expansions to Murphy’s World, other RPG settings, board games, card games, online games, novels, and more. I will bring these to market as time and financial resources permit. I’m always seeking out new partners to work with on various ventures. You need other people to accomplish most things; it is not possible to do everything yourself.
    I’ve also been working with other publishers, lending my experience as a game designer, graphic designer, writer, art director, and illustrator. This will continue.


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