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Interview with Mark Bruno

Posted on December 31, 2003 by Flames

How did you get into gaming?

Like most people, I was introduced to the hobby by those already familiar with role-playing games. In my case, a close friend’s older brother, who asked if we wouldn’t mind filling in for some absent players, introduced me to gaming. That was back in 1984, and the game was TSR’s Star Frontiers. It didn’t take me long to grasp the concept, since I already had some rudimentary experience with this type of gaming via the Fighting Fantasy Gamebook series, and I was hooked from the onset. That winter, I requested Star Frontiers as a Christmas gift. Thankfully, my folks got me the boxed set along with a copy of Basic Dungeons & Dragons and a subscription to Dragon Magazine. It was a good year for me 🙂

What do you feel is the biggest issue facing the gaming community today?

In terms of those of us who develop games, I think the biggest issue is trying to come up with new ideas and concepts that older gamers will like. Many of us have been gaming since the late ‘70s, early ‘80s, and we’ve seen it all. So, convincing someone that your game is “different” can be quite a task.

With that being said, and with respect to the hobby at large, gamers aren’t getting any younger. I believe the industry (which also includes gaming enthusiasts, not just developers) really needs to start focusing efforts on getting new people into role-playing games. While I don’t think the hobby will disappear any time soon, now more than ever, we’re facing increased competition from the likes of digital entertainment, specifically online gaming via MMORPGs and live video game services (of which I’m a fan myself). Perhaps the industry’s current trend of developing games based on solid licensed properties (Buffy, Red Dwarf, Lord of the Rings) is a step in the right direction, since it provides publishers the opportunity to promote an IP outside traditional gaming circles.

What can you tell us about Unbidden?

The game’s fundamental concept is built around the whole notion of legends and lore as perpetuated by a sub-culture of people (called the Unbidden) who are suddenly, and without warning, forced to view the world for what it really is; that reality is manufactured for the benefit of demons (known collectively as The Darkness) who must feed off and fuel human emotions and proclivities to survive. The concept of legends and lore was introduced to provide a context for those fighting these demons, whether willingly or not. Essentially, they serve as a way to help the Unbidden understand what’s going on, what has come before them, what the future may bring, and perhaps more importantly, it fuels their own supernatural powers, allowing the Unbidden to stand toe to toe with some of humanity’s WORST nightmares.

But even more than that, Unbidden is about personal horror and overcoming your own demons. Imagine having the life you once knew ripped out from under you because someone, somewhere, decided you’re going to be a solider fighting a secret war against demons. Sure, you’re given you some really kewl powerz, but with that comes responsibility and a new life that is filled with nothing but hardship and loss. How would you cope with that? With that being said, however, the Unbidden are hardly victims (where’s the fun in that) and are quite capable of standing up for themselves in the face of that hardship and loss; you just can’t do it alone.

As one reviewer said regarding the game, Unbidden can be just as much about monster hunting as it can exploring your own secret desires and horrors. I think that Brett Bernstein (the man behind the mechanics of Unbidden) and I managed to create a mythos and setting that is very deep, versatile and intricate.

Are there plans for any Unbidden supplements?

Definitely! Brett and I always intended for Unbidden to be fully supported. I’m currently working on a sourcebook for The Darkness, which will feature new adversaries and new supplemental rules, while providing GMs with an even deeper understanding of how agents of The Darkness work and operate in modern society. I’m also toying with the idea of including rules allowing players to portray demons, making for a very different campaign style.

How did the “genreDiversions” line develop?

I’ve always been a fan of rules-lite gaming, particularly when it comes to running one-shots (of which I’m also a fan). Unfortunately, the current trend now entails releasing massive tomes filled with rules to cover every single situation under the sun. That’s fine for people who like rules, but I like a little ambiguity here and there so I can fill in the gaps, so to speak, and tweak things to my liking. I’m getting off track, though.

So, how was the line developed? About a year ago I attempted to start my own publishing venture called ThreeSixty Publishing, and released a line of mini-games called One-Shot Mini-Adventure Packs. The concept was similar to Deep7’s 1PG line of games in that they were designed around a simple set of rules and supported with several game scenarios that could be played in just under 2 hours. The first release, Armada X, which would later become HardNova, went over big with fans, but soon after I closed shop because I really wasn’t prepared to run my own game company.

A few months after that, I contacted Brett to see if he might be interested in publishing the One-Shots under PIG because I really didn’t want to see them die a horrible death. Being a fan of Armada X, Brett was happy to oblige and so we started brainstorming about how they could be improved. The system that “powered” Armada X was dropped in favor of a new set of rules based on PIG’s Active Exploits mixed with several elements from the PIG House Rules System. Thus, we now have the Xd6 system 🙂

The rest is history. With a revised set of mechanics that can, quite literally, handle any genre thrown at it, we started putting together ideas of what we’d like to see published, and thus was born Ghost Stories and the other titles. More are scheduled for 2004.

Ghost Stories offers a night of haunted gaming… what were the inspirations for this supplement?

The primary inspiration for Ghost Stories stems from my adoration of horror movies, particularly those that involve the supernatural. I wanted to create a toolkit that would allow gamers to simulate the feel and mood of a horror movie, which is the purpose of the entire genreDiversion line. That is, provide just enough rules, adventures, and background material to facilitate cinematic gaming in a variety of genres. HardNova tackles space opera, Vice Squad covers police action movies, Ghost Stories covers horror, and the upcoming Earth AD covers the post-apocalyptic genre.

The neat thing about Ghost Stories is that it can handle any “type” of horror, from modern-day slasher flicks, to Edwardian horror mysteries (my personal favorite), to Victorian-era tales of the supernatural. There are rules for ritual sorcery, psychic powers, a whole menagerie of Things Man Was Not Meant To Know, which GMs can throw at their players, and more.

What makes for a good night of horror gaming?

I’m sure there are others who can give better advice, but I think the most important element to consider when running a horror scenario is setting the mood. Nothing can ruin the experience of a night of horror gaming more than if you can’t scare the shit out of your players. Having rules to simulate character fright is all well and good, but it does nothing to instill a sense of uneasiness and trepidation in the players.

Also, never give out too much detail about the situation the PCs have found themselves in; if they know what it is they can deal with it. Don’t let them. Rather, give the PCs’ imaginations enough rope to hang themselves. With that being said, it’s always a good idea to focus on details that conjure a sense of tension and fear.

I could go on and on and on….

What can you tell us about your work on The Seventh Seal RPG?

I was hired by Scott Mitchell — the game’s primary developer and CEO of Creative Illusions – to help fill some gaps in the rules and background when the former editor had to jump ship. I came in rather late in the game, but I wrote a little bit of everything for TSS, including the historical information on the actual author of The Book of Revelation, some of the demonic Iniquities, adventure seeds and a bunch more material. Scott had a clear vision for the game and I enjoyed working with him. He’s a consummate professional who is very driven and creative.

What keeps you busy when you’re not gaming?

When I’m not playing or writing RPGs, I spend most of my time with the family. I have a beautiful wife and two small children, whom I’m trying to indoctrinate early into the hobby, much to the chagrin of my better half 🙂 When I do have spare time, it’s spent on activities such as reading (SF, fantasy, crime drama), playing music, watching movies and trying to break my obsession with MMORPGs, specifically Asheron’s Call 2, Star Wars Galaxies and various Xbox Live titles. Eating good food and getting sleep are also a top priority.

What’s next for you?

More writing I suppose. I’m working with Brett on PIG’s genreDiversion line of quick-fix games and I’m also working on a few titles for Deep7, including an XPG version of Shriek: The Game of Teen Horror Movies and several books for the Mean Streets line (an RPG based on classic film noir I wrote and developed early last year for Deep7). I’m also in the process of writing a children’s fantasy novella aimed at middle-grade kids (ages 8-12) tentatively titled “A Quest for Annabelle.”

For more information on Mark Bruno, check out his website at http://www.angelfire.com/rpg2/mbruno/.

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