Presenting a one, two punch about the RPG industry in the 80s in Europe, Graeme Davis was gracious enough to answer some questions for an interview. Games Workshop was a real hot bed of creativity during that time, and Graeme was there, along with Phil Gallagher. Mr. Davis has made an impressive line of RPG products (see some of his credits in the questions below). This is part of a series of interviews with luminaries of the RPG industry.
RW: I was recently in correspondence with Philip Gallagher. I asked him a similar question as the following and thought it would be interesting to get your perspective on the same question. You created the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying game (with Richard Halliwell, Rick Priestley, Jim Bambra, and Philip Gallagher) which took the European market by storm. And then, to top it all off, you helped write the Enemy Within campaign which many consider the greatest fantasy adventure ever created for any roleplaying game system. At the time, did it seem as though the work office at Games Workshop was exploding with creativity? Can you relate a little bit to the readers what the process for creating the Enemy Within material? Was being at Games Workshop a fun place to work?
GD: The GW design studio was a very creative environment when I joined the company, and it was a great place to work. We all had wacky/childish senses of humor, as you can see from the in-jokes and silly stories on the backs of minis boxes and elsewhere, and we were always coming up with ridiculous ideas to see what we could get away with. We had a regular weekly playtest evening when the company provided pizza and people brought in the latest games they had designed, as well as evaluating games submitted by fans. It was a lot of fun.
I'm not the best one to comment on the process of creating the Enemy Within campaign. Jim and Phil did all the initial planning, at least up to Power Behind the Throne. After that, as I think everyone knows by now, the plan was overtaken by commercial realities and we were mostly reacting to needs and opportunities rather than following a preset course. As far as working practices went, up to Death on the Reik the patter was that Jim and Phil worked very closely together while I mostly worked alone. I wrote Shadows Over Bogenhafen and they wrote The Enemy Within; they wrote the bulk of Death on the Reik while I wrote the River Life of the Empire insert. From time to time we switched and edited each other's work. I edited Power Behind the Throne while Jim and Phil developed the Middenheim city book, with contributions from various others in the studio. I also edited the Character Pack booklet written by Paul Cockburn and the WFRP inserts in the various Dungeon Floor Plans products, looked after most of the WFRP content in White Dwarf, and edited The Restless Dead after Carl Sargent put it together. By the time Something Rotten in Kislev came along I was better known as an editor than as a writer, so inevitably I got that job too. I got a co-author credit in the end because there was a lot of editing to do and quite a few holes I needed to fill in. As for Empire in Flames, that was written by Carl Sargent and beyond the initial brief I had almost no involvement. Mike Brunton did the editing and layout as Flame's first project after we split from the main studio.
RW: Are you familiar with the Pelinore setting from Imagine magazine? There is Internet speculation that there is a connection between Warhammer FRP and the articles about Pelinore. Being one of the creators of the Warhammer Fantasy game, do you see any similarities? Perhaps superficially?
GD: I am indeed. Imagine was a great magazine that deserved a much longer life, and Pelinore was perhaps its greatest achievement. It certainly did influence WFRP, not least because Jim and Phil had written for Pelinor when they were staffers at TSR UK, as had Mike Brunton and the new GW studio head, Tom Kirby. I'm sure they applied the same thinking to WFRP that they had developed in working on Pelinore.
RW: I have read that Games Workshop spun off RPG production and that you entered
the freelance market. Could you go into a little detail about that time? Did
Games Workshop let you know what they were planning, or did the change in
direction come as a shock?
GD: GW didn't stop RPG production during my time there - that came a year or two later. However, I can't say it was a surprise. When I left GW in October 1990 it was partly because I could see the writing was on the wall for RPGs at GW, and partly for personal reasons. Also, I had always wanted to write RPG material but the longer I spent at GW the more and more I was pigeonholed into a role of developing other people's work and this was frustrating.
Ken Rolston introduced me to Mark Rein-Hagen, and we talked a lot about the game that would become Vampire: The Masquerade. I saw and commented on some early drafts, and Mark asked me to write for the game: in the end I contributed to just about every release in the game's first two years. I also hoped to write historical sourcebooks for GURPS and other systems, and I had some freelance contracts with Flame, which was taken over by Robin Dews and Carl Sargent after Mike and I left.
RW: You wrote the Vikings GURPS source book in 1992. How did you get the opportunity to write this prestigious book? Did you come up with the idea and pitch it to SJ games? Or were you contacted out of the blue with an outline of what they wanted to see?
GD: I pitched the idea to Steve Jackson Games and they liked it. I found out later that Steve was a huge Viking fan and had wanted a GURPS Vikings sourcebook for some time, but I approached them completely out of the blue.
RW: You wrote the AD&D HR3 Celtic source book in 1992 as well. It seems like writing historical based RPG settings and supplements was a hot commodity during that time. How long did it take to write HR3? Did writing such source books come naturally to you, or did you spend a lot of time doing research?
GD: I had to do quite a bit of research, but historical and historically-based fantasy had been interested of mine ever since I first played Bushido at college. I'm not sure that historical RPG supplements were an especially hot commodity at that time, but I certainly enjoyed writing them! My college degree was in European archaeology so perhaps I was better placed to handle this kind of material, too. I sent a copy of first edition GURPS Vikings to my old Viking studies professor, but he never replied. I wonder if he was appalled at what I was doing with the knowledge he had given me!
RW: This may be a novice question, as I do not have an insider's perspective on things. It seems as though, from my limited outsider view, that in the early days of the RPG industry, the creators of the adventures, games, were treated more like novel writers, in that they seemed to keep some rights to the games they created, or had royalties. But, by the 80s, everything started to be "owned" by companies. But, now, thanks to the Internet, improving technology, pdfs, kickstarter, indiegogo, and other such factors, individual RPG authors have more control over their works. Do you think there is a sea-change in the RPG industry afoot?
GD: When I entered the industry in 1986, royalties were largely a thing of the past. Everything I did at GW was covered by salary, although for the first three years or so I was paid extra for the articles I wrote for White Dwarf and Warlock magazines on my own time. That changed in 1990 and GW suddenly announced that it owned everything I wrote, both inside and outside work. Steve Jackson Games has always paid royalties on their GURPS books, but the rates are low compared to royalties for a novel. Rogue Games pays royalties for the work I do on Colonial Gothic, but since I do very little other work in tabletop RPGs these days I don't know how other publishers handle things. Its certainly true that almost all the tabletop RPG work I did between 1990 and 2006 was work for hire without royalties.
Is there a sea change? Perhaps. I can certainly see the attraction for publishers, as they can offer a lower advance if they hold out the prospect of royalties, and that helps their cash flow. Since I've always worked on existing games that were already owned by a publisher, I have never retained any rights to anything I've written, with the exception of a few articles for magazines that bought only first-use rights.
RW: If a reader wanted to get their hands on something you have been involved in, so they can see what creative things you have done, to get the "Graeme Davis" experience if you will, What products would you recommend them going out and purchasing?
GD: Wow, that's a tough one. Here are the things I'm most proud of - maybe they will fit the bill.
The Taking of Siandabhair (AD&D) Imagine 5, reprinted in Imagine Special Edition 1
WFRP Rulebook - I was especially happy with the work I did on the Religion and Belief chapter
Shadows Over Bogenhafen (WFRP)
A Rough Night at the Three Feathers (WFRP) - originally published in WD94, reprinted in The Restless Dead and Plundered Vaults
Haunters of the Dark (CoC) - WD 67
Trilogy of Terror (CoC) - WD 97
Annabelle's Party (Vampire: The Masquerade) in The Succubus Club anthology
AD&D Celts Campaign Sourcebook
Lady Mijiko's Holiday (GURPS, AD&D OA, RQ Land of Ninja, Bushido) - Pyramid 14, available free at http://sjgames.com/pyramid/sample.html?id=1644
Creatures of Freeport (d20)
Tales of Freeport (d20)
Hell Hound on My Trail (Supernatural) - in the Supernatural Adventures anthology
The Enemy Within (WFRP 3rd edition) - all new adventures inspired by the themes of the original campaign
Colonial Gothic Gazetteer (Colonial Gothic)
Organizations Book 1: The Templars (Colonial Gothic)
Is that too many?
[[Answer: Can never list enough Graeme Davis work! -- RW]]
RW: Is there anything you might want to pass along to the readers that you are up to? Perhaps a blog or twitter account they might follow? Or a kickstarter or a company page you might want them to know about?
GD: Sure. I have a blog at http://graemedavis.wordpress.com/ which I update as often as I can, and a Facebook author page at https://www.facebook.com/. I also tweet occasionally as @GraemeJDavis.