If you only know
him for his Dragon Magazine appearances, you don't know what the Laws are around
here. We take a break from our regularly scheduled publisher interviews to speak
with one of the men whose work includes not only shoot 'em up funtime games like
Feng Shui, but fan favorites Hero Wars, Dying Earth and Rune as well. One of the few "hired guns" of game design, give it up for Robin Laws.
All reviews must start with the standard who are you and how did you get into role playing question. Answer away!
I was born in 1964, am married with no offspring,
and live in the beautiful city of Toronto. I'm a columnist for Dragon
Magazine as well as the designer of roleplaying games such as Feng Shui,
Rune, Dying Earth, and Pantheon and Other Roleplaying Games, as well as
Hero Wars, which will soon appear in a revised version under the name
HeroQuest. My novels include Pierced Heart and The Rough and the Smooth,
both from Atlas Games. I've written oodles of adventures and supplements
for companies like White Wolf, FASA, Pinnacle, Last Unicorn, Wizards of
the Coast, and Steve Jackson Games. My most recent publications are the
Player's Guide to Kaiin for the Dying Earth RPG, and the surprise hit
Robin's Laws of Good GMing.
I first discovered roleplaying in my early teens when I discovered one
of the early D&D intro boxes in a Virginia gift shop while on vacation
with my family. I began my career as a gaming writer accidentally, my
making connections through the APA Alarums and Excursions, through which
I ended up working with Jonathan Tweet on Over the Edge and writing the
notorious GURPS Fantasy II sourcebook for Steve Jackson.
With the wide variety of work you have, both system and publisher wise,
what is the piece you're most proud of?
I'm always most excited by the most recent thing to come out, as well as
the project I'm working on at the moment. I suppose I maintain a special
fondness for the novels.
What product do you feel had great potential but didn't come out the way you envisioned it?
I'm lucky enough not to have been disappointed in this
way, so far. Hero Wars has some serious presentational
flaws, because Greg Stafford was still working on it when
he realized that he had to either publish the game or allow
his new company, Issaries, Inc., to vanish without a trace.
I supported his pragmatic decision to release the game as
it was, and am gratified that the legions of Glorantha fans have been
willing to put in the extra bit of work to get to its content. I'm also
looking forward to its upcoming release as HeroQuest, which will have a
more accessible presentation, and will be much closer to my original
Do you feel strange that gamer designers and writers are starting to get
some name recognition beyond Gygax finally?
I found it strange at first to be asked to autograph people's books for
them, but I'm getting used to that. I also find it odd that some of the
kind folks who approach me at conventions feel the need to apologize
before telling me they dig my work. The day I feel imposed upon because
someone wants to compliment me is the day someone should take me out
back of the barn and put me out of my misery.
What products do you feel the market needs right now that only Robin Laws can provide it?
Naturally, I must confine my brilliant ideas for the future
to pitch meetings with publishers. Speaking very generally,
the real trick is to create a game that establishes a new category, as
Magic: the Gathering and Mage Knight both did.
Are you still gaming? If so, how often and what system?
All of my work this year has been fiction-oriented, so I've given myself
a momentary break from gaming to focus my attentions on my current
projects. I think it's essential to be actively playing RPGs when you're
designing for them, though. Before the hiatus, I was running a pulp
adventure game using Hero Wars rules, and, before that, D&D set in a
kooky fantasy version of Ancient Rome.
What do you think the role playing publishers have to do to make RPGs more
popular or do you feel that it should be a grassroots movement among the
Only WotC has the marketing muscle (read: $$$) to mount anything other
than a grassroots campaign to expand the audience for RPGs. And such a
campaign does not fit Hasbro's strategic vision. So whether it should be
or not, the only growth we'll see will be grassroots or viral in nature.
A big increase in the audience base may occur when we see one or both of
the following things:
1) the appearance of a national chain of stores doing state-of-the-art
retail with well-lit, attractive inviting locations in malls, etc.
2) a killer Internet app that provides a quantum leap in quality for the
on-line roleplaying experience
Do you think Steve Jackson Games missed a potential audience by not putting 5% D20 Open Game Content in Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering to expand the potential audience?
My compadres down in Austin very cleverly capitalized on my Dragon
column by buying full-page ads in the magazine to promote Robin's Laws.
A regular berth in Dragon does convey name recognition to the D20
audience. Since the book is wildly outselling our mutual expectations, I
can scarcely claim that there are any marketing flies on SJG.
What do you feel is the greatest failure of the role playing industry outside of terrible pay? :-)
Lack of professionalism at all levels, from the manufacturer
to the freelancer to the retailer. But on the other hand, the industry
still has a sense of fun and collegiality, even innocence, that would
vanish pretty quickly if we suddenly grew to the size of, say, the
Are there any other authors you'd like to work with?
I tend to be more of a lone wolf than a collaborator. There are plenty
of colleagues whose work I admire, though I'm not going to make the
mistake of naming names, because I'm sure I'd hideously omit some
Any horror stories of books that didn't go the way they were supposed to?
I've had my share of business scrapes behind the scenes,
but I have nothing to complain about in terms of actual published books
that make me cringe.
What role do you think the web and electronic products will have on the gaming industry as time goes on?
Like I said before, we may someday see an online tool that really
explodes the potential for Internet play. I see continued but slow and
undramatic acceptance for downloaded products. Monte Cook is the real
leader in that arena.
What do you think about Gen Con moving? Will it effect you directly?
GenCon's move will be a big positive. The flagship show of
our industry has been stagnant in attendance terms for many years now,
because Milwaukee just didn't have the facilities for a larger audience.
I can't say I was a huge fan of Milwaukee's convention district, though
rumor has it that there are cool areas elsewhere in town. In my mind,
Milwaukee is like the prototypical bad game store -- badly organized,
ill-stocked, with an unhelpful staff, smelling of ferret. From talking
to Peter Adkison, I have formed the hope that Indy will be the clean,
well-lit, modern store of our dreams, with a computerized point of
purchase inventory system.
What's a typical day for Robin Laws on assignment?
Get up, surf the net for about an hour, work out, have
lunch, sit my butt in the chair, write a whole bunch, edit, knock off
for the day when my wife comes home from work.
Do you think there is a chance role playing games will effectively outprice themselves from common every day purchase?
Far more likely is that publishers will continue to shoot themselves in
the foot by producing games on razor-thin margins. Better to produce
somewhat fewer products and charge more for them. Given what other
entertainment products cost, I have no problems with reasonable price
increases on hobby game items -- even if that means that cash-strapped
college students will pick up fewer items with their limited gaming
bucks. Obviously there's a tipping point, but we're nowhere near that,
yet. $43 for Nobilis is still dirt cheap. $75 might be overdoing it,
What can we expect to see from you next?
For most of this year I've been working on an exciting new project
outside of the gaming industry, and look forward to the official
announcement, so I can publicly blab about it. I hope fans of my gaming
work will follow me on this new adventure.
Any plans for a Robin's Laws of Good Game Playing? Trust me, there needs
to be something like this. "Leave your personal problems at home. Remember you
are in a group environment. Soap is your friend." You know, basic stuff like
I would like to do a follow-up, schedule permitting, but I don't think
it will be player-focused -- that would cannibalize my Dragon gig too
much. Some of the Play's The Thing pieces have focused on negotiation
within a cooperative environment, though. I wouldn't expect Robin's Laws
of Good Hygiene any time soon, even though there are certain people who
should contemplate laundering their sweaters and T-shirts every so