As you may already know, Goodman Games offers a free license for creators to self-publish their DCC creations, and this month we spotlight community members whose DCC creations have added great new options for players and judges alike. Steve Bean is at the forefront of this group, with his innovative titles such as Rock God Death Fugue. If you purchase any DCC RPG product this month, you’ll get a free DCC guitar pick courtesy of Steve. In this interview, we talked to Steve to learn a little more about his past and present gaming interests!
How did you get into gaming, and what were your early gaming influences?
My dad taught me to play chess when I was about six, but my real love in elementary school was Risk. For years I was able to brag that I had never lost a game of Risk. I’m into board games of all kinds – strategy, cooperative, social games like Pictionary, minis games like Flames of War, Infinity, Mordheim and Imperial Assault, and of course tabletop RPGs. Around the time I was 12 – 1980 or so – my parents gave me the D&D Blue Box set for Christmas. It had the Keep on the Borderlands module in it and it was during the print run when TSR was having trouble sourcing polyhedral dice, so it came with cardboard chits instead. I still have body memories of the magic I felt when I first opened that box. I think it’s no exaggeration to say – like many of us who love this hobby – that my first RPG filled a hole in my soul I didn’t even know was there.
Right after that my family moved from the suburbs to a small farming town near Pine Plains, NY. Gamers from my generation may recognize that name – it was the location of the US factory for Minifigs Ltd., a British lead miniatures company that was big in Napoleonics abut also got the contract for the first official line of D&D figurines. So check this out: the guy in my class who became my best friend was Matt Abrams. His dad ran the Minifigs factory and his family lived in the house in front of it. My friend Seamus and I “dumpster-dived” the factory one time and came away with a bunch of rubber molds. But we figured out through trial and error that they were centrifugal molds, requiring a machine to spin them to make the molten lead to fill the cavity. Plus, the molds were worn out – that’s why they were in the garbage in the first place!
Matt and his brother Mike had a ridiculously large lead figure collection, especially for the early 80s, but they weren’t into wargaming as much as they were into D&D. Matt’s brother Mike, who was three years ahead of us in school, was our DM and by example he taught me all my early wisdom about DMing: giving players agency (he let his brother play a hobgoblin fighter), creating worthy nemeses for the PC party, and rewarding creative problem solving. My half-elf wizard worked his way up to 9th level while our party regularly confronted the evil work of an assassin called… I think it was “The Rooster.” It sounds silly but the guy was cunning and vicious and had his own crime syndicate that he sent directives to signed with a custom sigil – an abstract representation of a fighting cock – that Mike would draw on the notes we’d pull off henchmen we killed. Time and again the Rooster escaped from our attempts to bring him down until we finally caught him in an ambush that involved smuggling my wizard into his HQ in a bag of holding. Ours was a very carefully designed plan with lots of creative, tactical uses of magic items and spells. Mike could easily have challenged the complex logistics of our plan but he chose instead to reward our tactical creativity with the benefit of the doubt.
I feel truly fortunate to have gotten into RPGing in its Golden Age. I got to “play through” the incredible evolution of RPGs starting with the early versions of D&D that had their roots in miniature wargames and the Chainmail rules. My favorite D&D adventures were and always will the S series, especially White Plume Mountain. I followed these with super crunchy, “gamist” systems like the incredibly detailed and complex Champions, Aftermath and GURPs RPGs and “simulationist,” world-building focused stuff like Spelljammer and Forgotten Realms settings and the White Wolf stuff like Vampire: The Masquerade and Werewolf: The Apocalypse. “Simulationism” evolved into “narrativism” with genius systems like James V. West’s The Pool and D. Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World. Today we live in the “best of all worlds” where games like DCC can take the aspects of OS games that made RPGing feel so special when it first started and integrate superior, modern mechanics – like the Mighty Deed – to create the perfect blend of gamism and narrativism.
How did you discover/get involved with DCC?
I think the year was 2012. I’d left my career in education and non-profit management and was self-funding a career exploration “sabbatical” – looking to see if there was a living wage career for me in the game industry. I was hitting the regional game convention circuit in central California hard, making industry connections and chasing gigs. I was at Pacificon Game Expo and I ran into Terry Olson, who I’d known in graduate school but lost touch with. He and Stephen Newton pulled me into a game being run by none other than Joseph Goodman himself. The adventure was a zero-level funnel and involved a sea journey and an attack on the ship and a staircase down into the ocean. (Very Leiber! I recently asked Joseph about the adventure, thinking it was an early version of Sea Queen Escapes – which I don’t own and haven’t read but see the cover of all the time working the Goodman Games booth at Gen Con – but if I recall correctly he said it was something he was working on that he never published.)
People kept showing up and Joseph kept letting them in until there were something like 12 or 14 players at the table. We all had a great time and afterward I talked to Joseph about my career exploration in the game industry and he gave me some good advice and then told me about the then upcoming Mystery Map Adventure Writing Contest. I entered that contest and while Jobe Bittman won it with what would be published as The One Who Watches from Below, both myself and Terry did well, placing in the top five. That led to contract writing gigs from Joseph for The Rat King’s River of Death, Trials of the Toy Makers, Monster Alphabet, Fifty Fantastic Functions of the d50 and more recently work in the Center of Áereth and DCC Lankhmar product lines.
What is your favorite music? And what in particular did you listen to when working on Rock God Death Fugue?
I’m a 70s “Prog Rock” guy: King Crimson, Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer etc. But I’m also a “Classic and 80s Metal” guy: Sabbath, Scorpions, Dio, Metallica, Iron Maiden, GNR, etc. And I’m also a 90s post-punk, Seattle “grunge-and-beyond” guy: Nirvana, Soundgarden, Foo Fighters, Lemonheads, Stone Temple Pilots, Everclear, etc. Those were all influences on Rock God Death-Fugue – and things I queued up to listen to when I was writing it. But above all, I listened to Pink Floyd, especially Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and Ummagumma. Hence the image on the Rock God Death-Fugue credits page of young David Gilmour with the DCC RPG logo Photoshopped over the Guiness logo on his shirt.
Now that I reflect on it, that mish-mash of music may explain why Rock God Death-Fugue itself turned out to be a little more of “mix tape” than its predecessor, Null Singularity. I wrote RGD-F as the follow up to Null Singularity and when I started out I wanted to capture the same nihilistic, existentialist’s dilemma-feel that had been awoken in me by James MacGeorge’s Black Sun Deathcrawl. I felt I had totally nailed that feel, exactly the way I wanted to, in Null Singularity and fully intended to nail it a second time with RGD-F. Null’s theme had been “What would you do to survive, even if survival meant giving up your humanity?” RGD-F’s theme was going to be “What is real art and will pursuing the creation of it cost you your soul, whether you succeed at creating real art or fail at it utterly or sell out for fame and money?”
I think the graphic design and art direction I did for the RGD-F interior (not the front and back cover, which are pure marketing) do a really good job of capturing the “Black Sun Deathcrawl, take 3” feel I was going for. To me, it’s very “artist doomed by rock stardom,” very “Kurt Cobain-meets-Jim Morrison-meets-Amy Winehouse-meets-Dave Alexander.” But as a gaming experience RGD-F took on a life of its own and was much more shaped by what play testers did with it than Null had been. I think Rock God Death-Fugue mostly gets where I was trying to go, but its doomed rock stars are a lot more tragi-comic a la This is Spinal Tap and Metalocalypse than they are darkly tragic like the protagonists in Black Sun Deathcrawl or Null. Either way, it’s super fun. I’ve only ever loved running it and so far every player group I’ve had has had an absolute blast playing out their “sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll” and “better to burn out than fade away” fantasies.
Here’s a little side note about Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. It is the album I most viscerally associate with role-playing. I was listening to it incessantly in the early 80s at the same time I was sitting in my basement for hours on end creating stuff to DM for RPGs, especially Gamma World. I listened to that album so much while prepping stuff for the Gamma World campaign I was running that the two are experientially inseparable for me. If I listen to Dark Side of the Moon I have body memories of playing Gamma World; when I see old Gamma World stuff, Dark Side of the Moon starts playing in my head.
What non-gaming hobbies/jobs do you have?
I LIVE for gaming. No, really. I have a day job that everyone tells me is great work, innovative and helping make positive change in the world – and it is, it really is – but the thing I always land on about my day job is how several of my students have contributed to my game publishing company – art, photography and layout. I used to have other hobbies – sailing/kayaking/surfing, martial arts (especially Western-style sword study focused on rapier fighting, but also some Tae Kwon Do and a little Tai Chi), some Renaissance Faire cosplay… but I think those were really all just alternate forms of LARPing for me – trying to live my RPG characters in reallife. I work at least 50 hours a week at my day job and all the other time I have that doesn’t go to my partner, Tracey, goes into playing, designing, writing and publishing games. Tracey and I DO take care of two awesome dogs – a pair of Newfoundlands (155 and 120 lbs) – for an international businessman. They’re like our kids, but I think they might be unconscious LARPing too – they’re pretty much friendly Quaggoths or maybe avatars of Roofdrak.
Any future game writing plans you can talk about?
Sure! Let me start by saying I don’t only write RPG stuff, I’m also working on designing and publishing other types of tabletop games. I just published AUTO-DESTRUCT-O-RAMA!, which is an easy-to-learn, fast-playing, low-barrier-to-entry, zany tabletop miniatures car combat game set in a very Death Race 2000-esque dystopian future. They don’t know it yet, but an adaptation of AUTO-DESTRUCT-O-RAMA!, is going to wind up as a Battlesystem™-esque expansion to either Reid San Fillippo’s Umerica DCC-compatible setting or Brendan LaSalle’s DCC X-Crawl. I’m designing a Star Wars Kessel Run racing game that is inspired by the classic FASA chariot racing board game Circus Imperium. But I probably can’t get a Star Wars license so if I want to publish it I’ll have to re-skin it a second time. I’m trying to find time to get back to my “wizards-cause-global-warming” board game called “Eroding Empires.” It has a cool tile removal (instead of tile laying) mechanic to depict sea level rise. I’d also like to find time to get back to my homage to Tom Wham and Awful Green Things from Outer Space called Grognards Vs. LARPers – a simple skirmish board game in which tensions between gamer cliques at a convention hotel turns into open “warfare.”
On the Goodman Games contract/staff writing side, I’m working on the NPC Resource Guide stretch goal for the DCC Lankhmar Kickstarter. I’m also writing an adventure that is going to be a bonus adventure in the reprint of Intrigue at the Courts of Chaos. Because Intrigue is so focused on, well, intrigues, Joseph asked me to come up with a very combat oriented concept that would be totally different from the main module. I’ve got an idea I think is cool – think “Corrupted Hunger Games.” I wrote some encounters for the 2017 DCC Gen Con Tournament Module, but anything related to that is classified ULTRA TOP SECRET. Really!
In the 3PP realm… oh man, too much. Last year, Julian Bernick (co-writer on the Steve Bean Games-created 0-level funnel World-Quest of the Winter Calendar) published his sorcery-noir DCC setting Nowhere City Nights. I’ve been itching to write for it, so I’m working on a Blade Runner-inspired adventure that I’ll be play testing at Gen Con and aiming to publish around the time the second film releases in October. I’ll also be play testing at Gen Con a module that mashes up Mutant Crawl Classics with one of my favorite 80s-era RPGs Paranoia. Entitled Stupid, Mutant-Losers Must Be Fired! the module replaces Paranoia’s Alpha Complex with a “Trump-stopian” setting called The Tower (despite it being underground – that’s “alternate facts” for you!) and replaces The Computer with a Patron A.I. called The Don-A.L.D. (Alternative Logic Directive.) It works like Terry Olson’s Shrouded Fen in that it starts out as a 0-level funnel then levels the PCs up to 1st level during the adventure. I already convention play tested it and I’m super happy with it. Yet another Gen Con event: I adapted Tim Callahan’s awesome 2015 “Star Wars-meets-70s-claymation-Xmas-TV-specials” module Advent of the Avalanche Lords for MCC. I’m hoping that Tim will bless the adaptation and that Joseph (Goodman) will grant me a license to publish it as a Mutant Crawl Classics adventure. Lastly, I outlined a new module in January while I was on vacation and literally lying bedridden with Montezuma’s Revenge. I don’t want to say too much about it but it’s going to be the DCC medieval fantasy version of the movie Fantastic Voyage – the PCs will have to use an enchanted artifact to inject themselves into the body of a king dying of plague to try to cure him. One thing I will say about it is that there will be no treasure to be gained from saving him – the reward will be a boon owed the party by the powerful king, probably the closest thing any of my players’ PCs will ever come to AD&D wishes in my Dungeon Crawl Classics game.
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Steve Bean Products