Tynes is co-owner of Pagan
Publishing, and co-creator of the Call
of Cthulhu supplement Delta
Green, which many consider to be one of the greatest supplements
ever made for any role-playing game. Since DG was published in 1997,
Tynes has created his own game worlds, equally as vivid and compelling
as his CoC material, in Atlas Games' Unknown
Armies and the short masterpiece Puppetland.
He's also continued to shape contemporary Cthulhoid media with efforts
like the miniatures game The
Hills Rise Wild!, and Pagan Publishing's considerable contribution
to the Call
of Cthulhu D20 core book, coming in 2002 from WotC. Pagan is
also about to bring out its first self-produced RPG, Dennis Detwiller's
Tynes' non-gaming projects are too numerous to list - we defer to
his (huge) web site. He
is one of gaming's most original minds, and we thank him for devoting
some time to this email interview with Mike Sugarbaker.
What got you started
playing Dungeons & Dragons in junior high school, and soon got
into Top Secret and Chill. I played a little Call of Cthulhu in
high school, but didn't really get into it heavily until I went
off to college.
led to your writing the Death
To The Minotaur article for Salon? (Interesting story, or just
the expiry of an NDA?)
was a story I'd wanted to tell for quite a while, and at various
times I considered writing a book about WotC. But I ultimately rejected
the book idea on the grounds that I'd already given them a year
of my life, and I didn't want to give them another one. I ended
up writing the article because of my friend Mike
Daisey, whose one-man theater show about working for Amazon.com
(21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ Amazon.com) made me realize the parallels
between WotC in 1994-95 and the dot-coms in 1996-99, and got me
interested again in telling the story. I also felt that there were
very few people in a position to tell that story, since I particularly
believed that the drinking game and its aftermath was critical to
the divergence between WotC's dream and WotC's reality - and there
were only six or seven people at the meeting on Monday morning to
discuss the situation.
were you expecting the response to the article to be like, and how
(if at all) were you surprised by what the response actually was?
didn't know what to expect, except that it was bound to be interesting.
The biggest surprise that resulted was how positive the response
was. I received well over a hundred emails, and only three or four
were complaints from gamers that I'd insulted all of gamerdom or
somesuch. I had a lot of responses from current and former WotC
staffers, all of whom enjoyed the article and were pleased to see
the story told.
was a real perception among gamers that Peter Adkison must have
hated the article, despised me, etc., and that just wasn't the case.
I've hung out with Peter since then and we're cool. I interviewed
him briefly for the article while I was writing it and told him
the focus was on the drinking game, and he said that was a really
profound experience and was intrigued I'd zeroed in on it. We shared
some interesting times during my year at WotC, and I'm pleased that
Peter was open-minded and self-aware enough to take the whole thing
in stride. He's a pretty fascinating guy.
what do you make of Adkison's response to your article, quoted in
Sci Fi Wire and repeated at a couple of other sources: "When
asked what he thought of the Tynes story, Adkison said, 'Not much.
Thanks for asking.' He added, 'Basically the only thing I want to
say in response is to correct a factual error. There was not the
level of open sex going on at the office that John reports. At least
not that I was involved with or even had knowledge of.' "
glad you brought this up, because that really got under my skin.
The reporter for Sci Fi Wire distorted Peter's response in his article.
See, Pete CC'ed me on his email response to the reporter and I saw
was Pete's statement:
I haven't written sooner, but I've finally decided what to say
about John Tynes' article, and that is "not much." Thanks
other words, Peter decided not to say much about the article.
The reporter distorted this so it sounded like Peter said he didn't
think much of the article, a very different and much more
provocative statement. Whether the reporter did this intentionally
to add drama or was just clumsy in his wording, I have no idea.
I sent the guy an email pointing this out and he agreed and apologized.
But of course, the damage was already done.
re-quotes the second portion of the Sci Fi Wire blurb, containing
Adkison's statement "There was not the level of open sex going
on at the office that John reports."] There
was a heck of a lot of sleeping around - stick four dozen unmarried
young men and women in a close-knit, exciting environment and that's
what you get. Whether that constituted "open sex" or not
probably depends on how plugged in to the grapevine you were; it
wasn't discussed on the internal bulletin boards or anything, but
awareness of who was hooking up with whom seemed pretty widespread
did personally take me to task on one point: he says that during
the drinking game, when he named WotC employees he'd been involved
with, he meant that this involvement happened some time earlier,
before those people were employees. I'm willing to take him at his
word on this and wrote a form letter to that effect which he could
use in the future should he be interviewing for a board position
did Godlike come about?
it was finally time for Pagan Publishing to produce an RPG, and
I asked Dennis Detwiller to do it because I knew he was a writing
machine and had a lot of great game ideas kicking around in his
head. Ultimately we decided to have another company, Hawthorn Hobgoblynn,
actually publish the game and we are just producing it.
your role in the creation of the d20 edition of Call of Cthulhu,
and how has that process been going?
process ended months ago in terms of my involvement. WotC hired
Pagan Publishing back around January to write all of the non-rules
chapters for the book, which included Equipment, the Cthulhu Mythos,
Settings, Creating Adventures, Creating Campaigns, GM Tips, and
a scenario. We also wrote up some proposed rules affecting combat
and firearms which may or may not see print.
put together a team to write this stuff, which consisted of myself,
Dennis Detwiller, Adam Scott Glancy, John H. Crowe III, and Ken
Hite. We turned in the last of our material back around April or
May. Monte Cook is doing the rules sections, and the drafts I saw
early this year looked good; he continues to run the project now
on a freelance basis. WotC designers Bruce Cordell and John D. Rateliff
wrote the excellent monster/deity chapters, though I believe that
both have lost their jobs since then in WotC's ongoing layoffs.
good people are still involved, however. Brian Campbell, a long-time
fellow-traveler, is serving as editor for the project; he's a veteran
White Wolf freelance writer and loves Cthulhu. Ann Koi and Jason
Soles of Catalyst Studios designed the book cover; if you saw our
booth at GenCon, we were selling a lot of Catalyst's sculptures
and artwork. Heather Hudson, who has been doing artwork for Pagan
for years, is doing some of the interior illustrations. Really,
I think it's sort of an all-star jam project and it should turn
your opinion (humble or not), is the D20 System in fact going to
devour the entire RPG field, and if so, should anyone be bothered?
present it's something of a gold rush and we'll see how it shakes
out. The real question will be whether there remains a market for
generic fantasy products a year or so from now. If so, it's a good
sign that D&D3 has succeeded and that the market is indeed willing
to embrace the D20 model. I don't think we'll ever see all major
RPGs migrate to D20, but at this point very few products have done
anything innovative with the basic mechanics. As time goes by and
people realize just how much freedom they really have to experiment
with the core mechanics, we'll begin to see more interesting products.
Time and the market will tell.
obviously love film and see a lot of movies. What can gaming learn
from movies and the movie-making process, that it hasn't learned
a good question and I don't have a ready answer. There are elements
of cinematic storytelling, especially cross-cutting, that can be
helpful for a GM running a game where the characters are doing different
things simultaneously. Few rulebook covers are as well-designed
as even a mediocre movie poster. Product launches in gaming are
low-key events, if they're events at all; finding ways to turn the
release of a game into an event that can occur at stores all over
the country would be invaluable. Likewise, I think game companies
do a poor job of using their web sites to promote upcoming/new games.
A couple of PDFs and some art really don't cut it. I'm still surprised
that I haven't seen someone make a live-action commercial/trailer
for a new game and put it on the web, but I suppose the technical
barriers to that are daunting to many people.
you still regularly involved in any RPG campaigns, and what can
you tell us about them?
only game I've been playing in the last year is The Hills Rise Wild!,
Pagan's miniatures game. Jesper Myrfors and I have played dozens
upon dozens of THRW! sessions in the course of playtesting the expansion
sets we've been working on. Besides that, I sat in on one session
of Ken Hite's Unknown Armies campaign last year, playing an NPC
who showed up to advance the plot; that was great fun.
a game that doesn't exist, that you don't have the resources (financial,
emotional, attentional, whatever) to produce, but that you would
love to play.
love to play an RPG based on James Ellroy's novels. The problem
is that the plot for a given campaign would have to be so insanely
dense, and the GM so masterful, that it would be difficult to pull
off. And of course, there's the problem of playing immoral (but
not unethical) murderous thugs.
you could travel back in time to when Pagan Publishing first started
and give your former self one piece of advice, what would it be?
it up as a not-for-profit corporation instead of a for-profit corporation.
The key difference in this regard is that a for-profit corporation
expects to provide rewards to its owners, which has never been an
expectation we've operated under; being not-for-profit doesn't mean
you can't still hire freelancers, pay salaries, sell books, etc.
We could have set this up as a not-for-profit instead and saved
a lot of paperwork and taxes over the years. Also, I would have
done a new RPG years earlier. We wasted a lot of time.
do you see yourself going in the next few years, or in the longer
term if you've got an answer for that, with respect to the game
really expect to be substantially involved in the game industry
five years from now. The projects I like to work on don't sell well
enough for this to be a viable career on anything other than a subsistence
level, and they're too time-consuming to keep up as a spare-time
hobby. Just when and how I'll make that transition out of gaming
are questions only time will answer. It's been a great ride, but
I've been doing this since I was nineteen years old - my entire
adult life has been devoted to the game industry. Sooner or later
I want to wrap this up and move on to new challenges. But making
a major change in your life like that isn't easy, and it doesn't
happen quickly unless you're irresponsible about it. I'm not done
people are going to read that and think it's a damn shame that the
game industry isn't big or mature enough to hold the interest of
someone like you. What do you think?
thing is that my interests in gaming are very, very narrow. Outside
of the products I work on and a few by people whose work I really
admire (like Jonathan Tweet, Robin Laws, and Greg Stolze), there
is really nothing on the market that I have any interest in. The
power-fantasy/escapist appeal of gaming isn't a turn-on for me,
and I like to use gaming to explore other kinds of experiences.
The fact that I'm in a small minority is in no way a condemnation
of gaming in general - like a lot of people, I'm picky about my
enthusiasms. I don't expect my interests in gaming, books, movies,
or whatever to be shared by lots of people, because we all get interested
in different things for different reasons. Hell, I hate microwave
popcorn. That doesn't mean grocery stores are bastions of ignorance
Is there anything in particular you'd like to make sure you accomplish
in games before you're done?
eleven years of doing what I wanted in this field, there's not much
left at this point. I feel that I've accomplished a heck of a lot
and have few regrets. The one thing I want to take a crack at is
trying to find a larger audience for Unknown Armies, because I believe
there are a lot of gamers out there - not a majority by any means,
but still more than we have now - who would really enjoy the game.
That's the last thing I really want to take a stab at over the next
couple of years.
John Tynes' Web Site