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Interview with game designer Clash Bowley

Posted on September 6, 2005 by Flames

How did you get your start in the gaming industry?

My son urged me to publish my game (the original StarCluster) so that other people could play it. It was a mess. I knew nothing about publishing, and had never written anything for the retail market – all of my writing had been user manuals and other technical writing. I hadn’t done any serious illustration since High School – that’s thirty years ago for me – and had almost no experience with layout. Of course I jumped right in. I’m slowly getting better, though!

How did Flying Mice LLC get started?

Flying Mice was already in existence. It’s my embedded electronics design company, and is doing very well, thank you. I have investors, so I promised that the RPG publishing unit would not interfere with my real work, and would be self-funding. So far, that remains the case. It’s running in the black, I pay my writers and artists in advance, and I pay for advertising out of the company’s profits.

What do you feel is the biggest issue facing the industry today?

I wrote a long paragraph here, but I deleted it. Really, nobody’s going to care. I’m an old curmudgeon, and people would get terribly bored listening to me ramble. I’m not representative of any market segment or school of thought, so it’s all moot. Let’s just say I think the general quality of games is the highest it has ever been, that we are living in a golden age of role-playing games. People should be very happy.

What can you tell us about Blood Games?

Ah! My friend Wes Fornero was a player in my StarCluster and Sweet Chariot campaigns. He came to me with an idea – basically to recreate V:tM with the StarCluster engine for his private use. I had played V:tM long long ago when it was first released, and disliked their take on vampires as tragic heroes, but I agreed to work it out with him. We played a few games with the new setup when I suggested we try working it the other way, from the point of view of the vampire hunters. The initial reactions of the players were very positive and we embarked on a long long period of refinement. During this period, I overhauled the StarCluster engine, and incorporated the changes into what had become Blood Games. Early on, we decided to emphasize the role of religion in fighting vampires and other creatures of evil, and brought Wes’s friend Jason Ludwig into the process. We wanted to keep the role of normal people fighting evil as very important, and kept a reign on the Paths of Power so that they could work side by side with regular Joes and Janes without a huge disparity in power. We decided which Paths we wanted to work on, and which we could leave to supplements. It finally ended up almost nothing like what it started out as. Vampires were now nasty, selfish, solitary predators; normal people weren’t just cattle to be harvested as they could fight back; religion had become vital; and there were a whole lot more creatures out there than Vamps… my particular favorite is the lycanthropes. About the only thing that stayed from the original concept was that you could play a vampire character, but even that was strongly discouraged.

You’ve mentioned religion in Blood Games, what has been the reaction from fans over this vital part of the game’s setting?

So far, it’s been uniformly positive, from both fans and critics, at least as far as realizing I was treating a delicate subject with respect and without dogmatic agenda. Some wondered why I made it so important in the game, especially critics. My idea was that religion, shorn of sectarian differences, has at the base a purpose of protection and comfort, and that all religion is at heart magic. In a world with vampires and werewolves such a thing ought to be very important. I wrote the whole game around that concept.

What do the Blood Games supplements Prouty Island and Paths of Darkness offer?

Prouty Island is a strange adventure, one with almost no chance of violence, nothing physical you must beat down, but when I ran it, it cast a weird little spell on everyone playing. It’s an adventure centered on love and jealousy, fear and redemption, and righting an old wrong. When I finished the original running of the adventure, we sat around talking about it for hours afterward. It affected everyone in odd ways. This basic reaction has happened every time I have run it. It’s just a quirky little adventure.

The Paths of Darkness focus on the flip sides of three Paths of Power. In Blood Games, though the game is built on normal people fighting back the night, there are several Paths of Power, each of which gives the character a particular power. Of these Paths, the Cambion, Esotericist, and Shaman can work for or against the Light, but the Witch, the Magus, and the Templar seem to be only for the Light. Paths of Darkness shows the Dark Paths that mirror these last three, the Witches of the Dark Circle, the Diabolist, and the Thaumaturgist. These three paths are important in that they give a choice, and choice is what it’s all about.

What can you tell us about StarCluster?

StarCluster is our oldest and most popular game. It’s a hard Space Opera – where the science is as hard as you can get it and still have FTL and antigravity. Its set very far in the future, after the Earth has been destroyed, in an open cluster about 300 light years from Sol. The humans reached the cluster in huge slower than light fusion colony ships which took between 1200 and 1700 years to get there. Humanity fractured into hundreds of separate insular cultures, spreading all throughout the cluster. After a couple of centuries, aliens came visiting with a FTL drive to trade. Seems Sol’s death throes had – in addition to destroying all life within 60 light years of earth, it also toppled the star spanning culture of the Etvar, in whose ruins these other aliens had literally dug up the drive. The game is set 500 years after the first humans came to the Cluster, where trade between worlds has created a spacer quasi-culture of its own. It’s heavily influenced by the works of C. J. Cherryh, David Brin, and Larry Niven.

What can you tell us about the F20 Gaming System?

F20 is an OGL system designed by Timothy Jones, AKA Almafeta. It is a non-d20ish OGL system, very small and scalable, yet nicely crunchy. F20 uses a point buy chargen, and is very simple to run. The two games we have released using the F20 system, Aquavita and Tribes of Mother Night, are very different – a grand, wide-open SF setting on a watery Dyson sphere, and a dark fantasy working with themes of prejudice and cultural marginalization. F20 is meant to be a universal system, and these two games show some of its flexibility.

What advice do you have for hopeful authors & artists trying to get into the RPG industry?

Don’t quit the day job! Very few people get a living out of this. Also, don’t get into stupid arguments with other people, especially in public fora. Everybody involved in these loses, and making enemies is never smart. Another thing – accept praise and damnation equally, and always accept responsibility for your mistakes. Nobody’s perfect, so learn to live with it and do better next time.

What RPGs are you currently playing or running?

Right now I am running a new game in playtest and the Book of Jalan. I just finished playing in a kick ass JAGS-2 game with Marco Chacon.

What’s next for you?

The playtest game – yet another SF game called Cold Space. It uses modified StarCluster 2 mechanics, like Blood Games, but is not part of the StarCluster background. It is set in an alternate universe from 1949 to 1989, where FTL and Contragravity were discovered in 1949, but otherwise is hard SF. We’ve had a lot of interest in this so far. 😀

For more information about Flying Mice LLC products, visit the website:http://www.flyingmice.com

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