Saturday, March 2, 2013

Rick Krebs Interview

Rick Krebs was an early contributor to the nascent role playing industry. After meeting Gygax in the 70s, they kept in touch for over 30 years. He is one of the authors of GangBusters, the hit TSR game released in 1982. He was a pioneer in recommending the use of computers to complement role playing games. Rick maintains several interesting blogs about the industry and GangBusters. A big thanks to Krebs for taking the time to answer the questions below.

RW: In the preface to the 1st edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide, Gary Gygax wrote, "The following is an alphabetical list of all those persons who in some way contributed to the formation of this work...  all are herewith credited and thanked, trusting that each will know what his or her own contribution was!
Your name is listed among the esteemed contributers.
Did you have much interaction with Gary Gygax in the time he was writing the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons rules?

RiK: At that time, we were probably corresponding on a weekly basis.

RW: How did you meet Gary?

RiK: I met Gary at the TSR Headquarters/house at 734 (?) Williams in Lake Geneva. An amazing place it was. I was living in Rockford, Illinois at the time and was publishing a fantasy fanzine, the Phanta Carta, which Gary enjoyed. I bought my miniatures and gaming stuff at Royal Hobby, where Greg Bell (original illustrator for the Little Brown Books) worked and Jeff Perren hung out. I played D&D at the comic book store Toad Hall with the excellent DM Steve Brown, who's Orc Castle is featured in Dragon #30. How good was Steve ? For 3 hours he kept us busy chasing a wizard through a dungeon, it was only at the very end we realized we had been had by an illusionist.

RW: Can you relate what portions of the rules you may have had a hand in?

RiK: My standard answer has always been that was between eGG and myself. In general, he liked several of my charts and mechanics of play and we had numerous discussions about the art of DMing and handling death in D&D. I came to role playing from the educational field having designed a Space themed retreat program for team building and Gary loved picking my brain on role playing and education.

RW: Steve Winter mentioned in his interview that Brian Blume was a fan of old gangster films and thought that would make a great role playing game. You and Mark Acres are credited as the creators of the game "Gangbusters". Did Brian Blume contact you to write the game for TSR? Or someone else? Did you work freelance on the project? What was it like working with Mr. Acres on the project? Do you remember much of what guidelines were provided on how the game should be made?

RiK: After moving back to Pennsylvania from Rockford, Illinois (Gary's parting words to me were "don't forget to hold Cemetery Ridge"), we kept in touch via correspondence (now that is Old School) and occasional phone calls.  During that time, I was teaching how to play D&D to young professionals in their homes and also in schools to game clubs. I also did radio and television interviews (this was late 70s) on gaming and role playing. I was doing gaming pretty much 24/7 laying the groundwork for opening my game store, Gamer's Guild. The ultimate irony was that I closed my game store a month before the release of Gangbusters and never sold a single copy.

Gary and I spent a lot of time discussing gaming and role playing. During one conversation I mentioned one of my gaming groups was having fun playing a cops and robbers game I was working on. Well, Gary talked about a game he played as a child and that Brian Blume was developing one also and maybe Brian and I could work together. eGG suggested I submit my manuscript to TSR. I would suggest going to my Bloody 20s blog at and going back to the beginning of the blog to follow the story of Gangbusters development. Yes, Gary frequently provided specific guidelines of what he wanted to see in the game. I met Mark Acres at Gen Con East at Weidner College in 1982 where he was introducing the game. The highlight of the convention was being dragged with my wife through the hallways by Gary Gygax as he bellowed out, "clear the way, game designers coming through."

RW: You ran a play by mail game in the mid 90s based on your home campaign, ElderLords. Did it utilize the Dungeons and Dragons rules? If so, which version. Did you keep campaign notes on ElderLords? Did you ever toy with the idea of putting the information together for others to see (perhaps as downloadable pdf)?

RiK: The programming was vaguely based on the original Little Brown Books and supplements. But, Elderlords was more a strategic game (you were running a tribe/clan in a medieval setting ) than the tactical one found in D&D. But, the storyline came from my D&D campaign, as I attempted to make my fantasy world available to more people. I remember the main herding creature was a Gax. It was run on an old Apple tower Hard Drive, which I sold to buy my first MS machine. Gawd am I old. Unfortunately, most of that material was lost in a basement flood decades ago. I do have an old gnarly map (based on one of the first maps from Judges Guild) the "One Kingdom" of the Elderlords. Even after all these decades, the map does stimulate pleasant memories of my fantasy world.

RW: In the June, 1979 issue of The Dragon, you penned an article titled "D&D Meets the Digital Age" You predicted that the average consumer would gain access to computer technology. Did you ever imagine that the world would become as computerized as it is? Or perhaps it has not gone far enough? Do you believe your closing statement, "The computer provides the skeleton for gaming, and the DM still creates the flesh of the campaign." will be superceded in time by computers with Artificial Intelligence?

RiK: Does that qualify me to be the stepfather of fantasy computer gaming ? The last night I spent gaming in Rockford was playing D&D with some teachers and engineers. The discussion was centered on Radio Shack bringing out a home computer. It was apparent to me from that discussion, that computers were going to be the next big direction in gaming. Little did I suspect that James Dallas Egbert III disappearing at Michigan State University in 1979 would make D&D the next big thing in gaming.

My wife, Carolyn, made me 2 foam lined carrying cases to haul around that first TRS80 as I went around teaching D&D to whomever was interested. But it was my first Apple II that showed the real gaming potential. I played the heck out of Ultimate 1 and Wizardry (remember the hidden trapdoor to get you down to the second level ?) as well as the later D&D gold box games.  I still have an original Apple 5 inch disk with AKALABETH World of Doom (precursor of Ultima) on it.  Now here's a scoop, I was offered the job to create TSR's computer game department. But, due to life circumstances, I declined, and told Gary that I was impressed by the work being done by SSI.

The summer that the movie Wargames was released, I was teaching a computer certification course for teachers. It was amazing the interest and discussions that were generated by the movie. Yes, it was now apparent that there would be a computer on every desk and in every home. Prior to his death, eGG used to chide me on the failure of the computer to revolutionize Wargames as I had predicted. I had been overly optimistic at the pace of hardware to keep up. But, that day will come, too. I enjoy the MMOs, play when you want, do what you want and play as often as you want. I welcome every Beta invite to play online. Starting with Sloth MUD and continuing to  Asheron's Call, I think I have played most every online genre and enjoyed most of the computer gaming experiences. Sorry to say I didn't enjoy D&D Online, but did like the PC game, Baldur's Gate.

What's next with gaming ? My 4 year old grandson, Eric, is a wiz with his IPad.

However,  to me nothing in gaming has compared to those nights spent playing Dungeons And Dragons at Toad Hall in the mid 1970s and there was no computer involved, just an old cardboard box that DM Steve Brown used. I'll stick by my original closing statement. At play, human imagination will always be king.

RW: What do you do these days? Any interesting projects you tinker with in your spare time?

RiK: In addition to tending to my own health concerns, I am a caregiver for my wife who has Ovarian Cancer. A nasty disease. We spend too much time in hospitals, so my IPad and laptop provide much needed diversions. Thank goodness for Public Wifi. On my IPad, I enjoy the Infinity Blade series and the Minesweeper clone Dungelot.

Face to face, I have been playing a lot of Steve Jackson's Munchkin (have to admire the fact that Steve's company is still putting out product), but not as much DBA miniatures, as I'd like. Also, Playing a modified WW I flying game with planes I made with old clothespins.

Online, I have maxed out Guild Wars 2 (no further level expansion till fall) and hoping to get a beta invite to Elder Scrolls Online.

I'm always tinkering with something in gaming, just not ready to discuss it. Who knows, a new type of gaming app ?


  1. Thanks for this interview. Gangbusters was one my go-to games in H.S. I probably played it more than D&D. AS I type this there is a beat up GB Brown box on the shelf above my computer.

  2. A great interview. I might also mention that Rick sometimes hangs out at the "OD&D Discussion" boards, where we have a section devoted to Gangbusters.

  3. Yes, today is March 4th and I miss the opportunity to email Gary and discuss life and gaming. It is 5 years already.