I have a bit of history with Kasimir Urbanski or the RPGpundit... a colorful history of similarities, differences, agreement, and being at completely opposite ends of the spectrum. I wanted to pick his brain because if nothing else, he's an interesting and outspoken fellow in the RPG community/industry.
1. What's your current gaming group like?
I have three gaming groups right now, one for each of my regular campaigns. I also GM at gaming community events here. My smallest group is my Aces & Eights wild west campaign, it has 5 players.
2. Can you talk about your experiences with 5th edition D&D? What was it like to consult on a project like that? Do you feel satisfied by the experience? Did you learn anything?
For me, the opportunity to help guide a new edition of D&D was a dream come true, of course. And specifically, to produce a way back to sanity after the disaster that was 4th edition.
I was very satisfied by the experience: I worked mainly with Mike Mearls directly, exchanging hundreds and hundreds of emails as we went through the very early rules with a fine-toothed comb. I also advised him on some of the ways to handle outreach to the OSR, a big part of which was what NOT to do or say, or how to say things the right way to make 5e sound appealing to the OSR rather than things that would push OSR gamers away. I made quite good money, got some good swag, and got my name in the product. It was fantastic.
As far as learning, I was more there to teach, in a sense, than to learn. I guess the biggest thing I learned was just that I got a peek at to what the environment in a big RPG company is like, corporate atmosphere and all. It reinforced to me that no matter how much fun I had in the very particular job I had on the project (one where I was there to be a shit-disturber, and not to fall in line with the collective vision necessarily), I definitely couldn't ever work a regular job for some big RPG company.
3. James Desborough's Hentacle card game just got banned from One Book Shelf. What's your take on the whole gaming censorship thing?
I've expressed my view on this frequently.
This is nothing but censorship, and it is motivated by the aggression and threats of a tiny group of very active ideologically-motivated people out to take control of the hobby and kick out those who do not fall in line with their control. And the solution is for all of us who do not want to accept this idea of a special 'elite' getting to decide what we can or cannot play to mobilize, to disrupt, and to make companies like OBS more afraid of censoring games than afraid of what will happen if they don't.
4. In your view, what is the current state of the OSR?
I think that on the whole, the OSR is better than it has ever been. This past year has seen some spectacular products, and amazing work and influence. That said, I do notice an increase in the 'price of popularity', in the form of some people jumping onto the bandwagon with a glut of products that aren't all that awesome; quickly-written stuff meant to sell at low price and make the authors a quick buck.
Worse still, a continued pattern (that we'd already been seeing for a while) of people making books that are NOT OSR, but making them with a vaguely 'osr-esque' look, style, theme, or even outright claiming to be an 'old school' game when in fact they're anything but. Particularly I mean people from the old Forge/Storygame crowd, that spent a decade shitting all over D&D and are now shamelessly trying to imitate old-school, to parasitically leech off the OSR's success.
5. Tell us about the books you've written for Fantastic Heroes & Witchery?
I haven't written a single book for Fantastic Heroes & Witchery. I think you might be confused: I've written Dark Albion, and Dark Albion: Cults of Chaos, which were published by DOM publishing who also publishes FH&W. But Dark Albion is a system-neutral OSR setting book; you can use it with ANY old-school game or edition of D&D. Yes, there's an appendix (written by Dominique Crouzet) which has some conversion notes for running Albion in FH&W, but before that in the book there's also Appendix P, which are my own D&D house rules.
Dark Albion is a super-historical medieval-authentic OSR setting, of a version of England in the 15th century during the War of the Roses. It has a gritty kind of dark fantasy similar to the style found in Game of Thrones.
Cults of Chaos is a sourcebook meant for Dark Albion, but also viable for ANY OSR system/campaign regardless of whether you own Dark Albion or not. What it consists of is a whole framework for creating "Chaos Cults" (sinister cults) with real details, based on authentic religious concepts, with a very strong authentic-medieval style (things like witch-marks, alchemy, and familiars that aren't like D&D-familiars but rather the way people during the Witch-trial era believed Familiars to be like). It lets you flesh out shadowy sects ranging from a tiny group for a single adventure to large-scale movements meant to be ongoing opponents.
6. What are the top 3 things you look for in an RPG book that you might want to purchase/review/use?
Hmm, tough question. First, that it be in some way innovative, not just like 5 other books I own, but NOT the fake kind of "gimmicky" innovative that focuses on cheap tricks with dice or mechanics. Second, that it have real meat to it, material you can go deep into, rather than just a shallow flashy style but void of substance. Third, adaptability: that it can be used over and over again. Tons of random tables usually helps too.
7. You're a magician/occultist. How has that influenced your gaming life?
Not enormously. I know that you seem to link the two together in your RPG work quite a bit. But I was a gamer long before I became an Occultist. The most I could say is that it may have affected a bit about how I perceive the notion of a 'virtual world'. And also, that some of my studies of occultism have served as inspiration in my RPG setting writing, most notably, the demon-summoning rules in Dark Albion are based on the real grimoiric demon-summoning of real-life magical books like the Goetia.
8. What does the future hold for tabletop, paper & pencil roleplaying games? Is it a dying art/hobby?
I've been hearing that the hobby is dying since long before I was the Pundit. The closest I ever felt to thinking that was true was around the late 90s, when D&D had utterly collapsed into irrelevance, and gaming seemed to be falling to pieces, before 3e D&D showed up and everything got reinvigorated. I don't think the hobby is dying. It certainly isn't down here; I get reminded of that whenever I go to one of the local RPG cons or events and 95% of everyone there is nearly 20 years younger than me.
I think that the old RPG industry might be dying, or really dead. Which is bad news if you used to make your money as an 'insider' or a 'freelancer' and felt all snobby about working for some big company (hey, in my case, the biggest company of all asked me to come work for them to make their new D&D a success; so I'm now utterly immune to any asshole who tries to claim their status in 'the industry' makes them special). But in its place there is an explosion of small-press material that is way more interesting than most of what the big corporations will allow themselves to make anyways. I don't think that's likely to go away.
9. What are you working on now?
Right this instant, in RPG terms? Nothing. Cults of Chaos has just come out, and I'm relaxing a bit and focusing on promoting it.
My next project will probably be a setting book based on my current (insane) "Last Sun" DCC campaign. It will be the literal opposite of Dark Albion: instead of gritty medieval authenticity, it will be edgy gonzo insanity taken to 11. The premise for that campaign was in that I looked at the rules of DCC, realized their gonzo potential, and saw that at the same time they were being largely used to make adventures/campaigns that were still pretty well in the mainstream D&D. So I asked myself "if we take the implications of DCC's rules system to its extreme conclusion, what kind of world would you have with those rules in place"?
That was the birth of the Last Sun campaign, anyways. It's become so much more since then. Probably before the end of this year I'll get to starting on writing it, maybe for DCC and Goodman (if they want), or maybe as something else. We'll see.
Interview conducted by Venger Satanis