A Chat with Chris Hill of Old Kingdom Games
Their name is Old Kingdom, but they're a relative newcomer to the gaming industry. Gamegrene took some time out to talk with Chris Hill of Old Kingdom Games about their past, present and future, and learned a little bit about The Nightmare War, their first major release, due out on December 3.
GG: Tell us about your company. How did you get started?
OKG: Old Kingdom Games was created in May this year to act as a vehicle to create and distribute a specific game idea I'd had which has been taunting me for a while - one of those 'wants to be written' ideas. The basic idea was that the characters are on-the-run escaped slaves in the near future, around the year 2035. There are ex slave masters desperate to recapture the characters - they are the stuff of nightmares, called Phages, and characters come to learn that they themselves are something more than human as they try to fight back. A series of guerrilla skirmishes in the side streets and slums of the cities of 2035 threatens to explode into a full scale inter-dimensional war between the characters and the Phages and their allies.
That was the basic idea anyway. I had many ideas about how this all fitted together, but completing it wasn't possible for a long time.
GG: Who's involved, and how long have you been around?
OKG: I've been roleplaying for nearly 20 years and half of that with largely the same gaming group - at one point or another we've all been heavily involved in tabletop RPG's or LRP (thats LARP to readers over the pond) and many years ago I worked at a local RPG store - so for us its definitely 'in the blood', I call us collectively the 'Old Folks'. Not sure how the guys feel about that though!
As a group we bounce around ideas about games we'd like to play, just like thousands of other gaming groups - ideas we'd like to see in print, games we wished we had the time to create - however our own increasingly hectic schedules left us with just one and a half games masters and very little time to design systems from scratch. We opted more often than not to play off the shelf games but found that to really get into a system more than one book would be needed. Its great to have such support for various systems in the current gaming climate but what we really needed were some self contained games that gave us enough to go on but didn't leave the really useful stuff for later splat books. We'd also like to get all the goodies before our favourite line vanished in a puff of smoke! Of course, we could have just made up all the wonderful detail that we needed ourselves but time always seemed against us. Real life, of course, comes first. We're like a lot of gaming groups I'd imagine - we'd love to get back to the days of hoarding whole lines of books, eagerly awaiting the next release for our favourite games. For us at least, this isn't as feasible as it used to be (its a /shelf/ problem, dammit!).
The thought occurred to me that we can't be the only group with the same issues and that old game idea of mine dug its way out of my subconscious and shouted rather loudly at me. Ironically, a bit more free time came my way finally and I decided to see I could find people to bring the game idea to life. This was initially going to be just for ourselves but the more I talked about the idea the more people seemed interested. After a couple of false starts I decided we'd do this properly. We put capital investment into OKG, and we hit the 'net looking for freelance writers and artists to bring the idea - The Nightmare War - to life, with a clear aim of making it a self contained book with entirely optional free online enhancements.
GG: Are you a d20 house? Otherwise?
OKG: We thought long and hard about whether to have our own game mechanics developed, or to go down the d20 route. With its near future setting and blend of sci-fi and horror, we saw potential for The Nightmare War in the d20 marketplace. Using the d20 system would allow us to focus our resources on the setting. We're very familiar with d20 so it seemed quite natural for us to go in that direction - for now.
We were lucky enough to secure the services of Jason M. Hardy as lead writer, and we'd already had some input from three times Ennie nominee J. P. Quinn so we were off to a good start. We'd also decided to really go to town on the cover. We wanted the book to be the highest quality we could, given our initial investment in OKG, so we brought in Ricky L. Hunter to create the cover art - and he did a great job, his style really does it for me, and he created a piece that conveys the blend of near future sci-fi and modern horror that we're really proud of. Interior illustrations from Gavin Hargest, Gifny Richata and Michael Jaecks bring the book to life.
GG: What are some of your favorite games and systems?
OKG: As I type this I realise I need to get another book cabinet. I thought I could get away with simply propping up the shelf containing my many many copies of White Wolf's Trinity (Aeon!), Adventure and Aberrant series (I've managed to gather around three copies of each Trinity book, a game I absolutely love running for our gaming group). After several years that shelf is looking like it might give way though. I'd move them around, but my World of Darkness shelf (2nd Ed, never did get around to looking at the new WoD) isn't fairing much better. Then there's the Ars Magica, Fireborn, Talislanta & Star Wars shelf. That looks OK for now - just. The 'miscellaneous' shelf has definitely seen better days. I need to admit I need more than just a replacement book cabinet. There's two piles of books in another room. I don't have a roleplying problem. A shelf problem definitely, but no, not a roleplaying problem!
As if all these books weren't enough - I went ahead and started a game company too, so I could contribute myself to other people's book shelf problems (or hard drive problems, I hear that particular malady can be just as extreme).
GG: Tell us about your main product, The Nightmare War.
OKG: I'd created a horrendously long document with all my various scribbles about The Nightmare War - the antagonists, the mood, the long term events in the setting, the player characters and their sense of being outsiders, being hunted by a terror they can't begin to understand. That document was a collection of all my thoughts about the idea and where I saw it going. I can laugh about it a few months later now as we near the launch date but it must have been some task to decipher it. Jason did a great job though, he pushed the core idea in directions we simply hadn't thought of, created the glue that brings together all the elements and made it his own while keeping the themes I felt were important - a sense of discovery borne of desperation. I wanted player's to experience each game session as a true challenge - one they were thankful for getting through by the skin of their teeth. Jason has absolutely delivered that.
While keeping the focus on the struggle of surviving and on what it means to be a Nightwalker, it was essential that the near future setting was blended into the mix seamlessly. Phages are limited in number compared to humanity, so we introduced some human accomplices (allies is too strong a word as you'll see in the book). The characters are now pitted against not only the Phages and their otherworldly strength and intelligence, but humans with full access to the technology of 2035.
We think that with The Nightmare War we've given enough information to get games masters going straight from the book, and players entertained for many game sessions. We've achieved what we set out to do and already have some free enhancements under way for upload to our website once the book is released.
GG: What's in the future for your company?
OKG: With work largely complete on The Nightmare War now, we're gearing up for release (December!). We labeled The Nightmare War a 'campaign gem' - something a games master can just pick up and run without needed more source books. We're turning this into a series of Campaign Gems - our second book has been commissioned and its as different from The Nightmare War as you can get. We used the 'net again here to solicit game ideas and we think the one we've chosen is going to secure a good reception. We're sure we can deliver a second book sometime in Q1 or early Q2 2007 that will be a great addition to the Campaign Gems.
It doesn't stop there for us though. As I mentioned above, we've been roleplaying a long time and the Old Folks here all have their own pet loves and pet hates. We're literally equally divided, for example, on whether the d20 phenomenon is a good thing or a bad thing for roleplaying in the long run and how effective it is as a rules set for roleplaying games. I see OKG as producing great game ideas irrespective of system, and if d20 is one way to deliver those ideas effectively for a given setting, then we're all for it. We are aware of a requirement for non-d20 games though (including amongst our own ranks), and we're already in the process of developing a non-d20 set of Campaign Games, including The Nightmare War - but that's a little while away yet.
For the near future we want to add as many comprehensive titles as we can to the Campaign Gems series (d20 and non-d20 versions) and then if those books do well enough through our online PDF store and print on demand partners then we might start looking at our own system. Our focus for now however is on a variety of unique and challenging Campaign Gems.
If you like, you can go and grab some previews for The Nightmare War now on our website including several pages from the first chapter, some interior art and a high quality version of the full color cover art.
We hope you like them.