Jeff Dee is a game designed based in Austin and the founder of UNIgames. Dee co-wrote and illustrated Fantasy Games Unlimited’s Villains and Vigilantes which has been described as the first complete superhero roleplaying game. In this interview Jeff has kindly agreed to talk about his latest game, co-written with Talzhemir Mrr, which may also be the first complete stonepunk roleplaying game.
Q1. Can you quickly explain what “stonepunk” is to gamers who might not have heard the term before?
Steampunk is the exploration of advanced uses of the technology and materials available in the Steam Age – coal, steam power, brass, and and gears – and the resulting social and cultural changes. Stonepunk is the same thing – but with the technology and materials available in the Stone Age – rocks, fire, wood, and vines.
Q2. Is Cavemaster the first stonepunk roleplaying game? Are you familiar with any others that might be described in similar terms?
Cavemaster isn’t the first prehistoric RPG. Most have been intentionally comedic. We’re not aware of any others that focus specifically on the stonepunk angle.
Q3. At the end of 2011 you took the Cavemaster proposition to Kickstarter and successfully completed the fund raising project. In your opinion how has Kickstarter influenced the roleplaying industry?
Well… among other things, Kickstarter enables independent designers to take their most creative ideas directly to the gaming community – without having to convince a publisher of its marketability.
Q4. What three tips would you give to authors, artists or game designers who are thinking of using Kickstarter to raise funds for their RPG project?
1) Just because you won’t have to convince a publisher that other gamers are going to be attracted to your idea doesn’t mean it isn’t an important question. Be sure you’ve really got something exciting! 2) Show your prospective backers that you can deliver. It may seem counter-intuitive, since Kickstarter is all about raising funding for your work, but the more you can show at the start of your project the more likely it is that they’ll fund you the rest of the way. And 3), This is your opportunity to show the world that unique, quirky, imaginitive idea that’s been rattling around in your brain for ages. Sieze the day!
Q5. Let’s move from modern technology to some very old technology – and to Habilis. How does Habilis work? Will Cavemaster players have to track down some table safe rocks to play the game?
Habilis is designed to be an RPG system that cave-men could have actually played. In place of dice, Habilis uses handfuls of small stones. To test a character’s ability, you pick up its stones and secretly split them between your two hands. Your opponent (or the Cavemaster) does the same with stones representing the opposing difficulty. Each side picks one of the other’s hands, and the stones in those hands are revealed. Whoever winds up with the most stones wins. You don’t throw the stones, so they endanger the tabletop less than dice do.
Q6. What was the inspiration to create a game like Cavemaster?
I’d been troubled by the direction the big RPG publishers have taken lately, toward great big expensive boxed sets of hardbound books, special dice, sets of cards – making the hobby more and more expensive, when in my view what we really need is to make the hobby easier for newcomers to get into. That got me wondering – what’s the fewest specially manufactured components a game can possibly get away with, while still having a resolution mechanic? What kind of RPG could you play if all you had to work with were things you can find in nature? That got me thinking about primitive people, and that led to the Habilis system.
Q7. Do you need to be knowledgeable in stone age history in order to play or run a game of Cavemaster?
The short answer is ‘no’. You can play a fun game of Cavemaster without knowing anything more about the era than you’ve picked up by watching bad caveman movies. The long answer is that as with most things, you get what you put into it. The late Pleistocene is a fascinating period, and you can certainly play a deeper, richer Cavemaster game if you take advantage of that.
Q8. Do you think the industry needs less Tolkienesq fantasy RPGs and more games, like Cavemaster, that try something new?
The industry has always offered alternatives to generic medieval fantasy, going all the way back to MAR Barker’s ‘Empire of the Petal Throne’ which was alien and science-fiction based, and which TSR itself published a year after D&D. I think it’s great that gamers have so many options to choose from.
Q9. What tips, techniques and tricks would you recommend to a gaming group for them to enjoy a better Cavemaster experience?
Make sure you have at least one character who specializes in each of the different ‘jobs’ (hunter, gatherer, healer, warrior, etc.), because a lot of Cavemaster gameplay deals with sheer survival, and all of those different jobs are crucial in order for the clan to thrive.