Categorized | Interviews

Interview with Robert Baxter

Posted on May 21, 2004 by Flames

How did you get into gaming?

Dungeons and Dragons, I think that game started it for most folks my age. One of those weird things that a bookish nerd-boy picks up, they didn’t have Harry Potter back then, so this was the next best thing. After that it was Call of Cthulhu, Villains and Vigilantes, then HERO, then more Shadowrun…. and on and on.

Now I mostly play Dungeons and Dragons, 7th Sea, Seventh Seal, and Exalted. Although Fading Suns is a favorite, I rarely get to play it.

What has been your most challenging work in the RPG industry?

So far, the most challenging has to be the design work I’m doing for Creative Illusions’ new game Legion. It’s rewarding as well, no doubt. However, the basic concepts in Legion make it an interesting challenge to design for.

What has been your most rewarding work in the RPG industry?

So far… probably the most rewarding in terms of scope would be the Iron Kingdoms Campaign Guide. I did a lot of work on that creating the write-ups for the mercantile companies and writing about 70% of the magic chapter. The most rewarding in terms of creative freedom would be Legion; Scott and I both understand the idea of what Legion is about, so he is willing to give me a lot of slack. If I stray, he’s more than willing to let me know though ;).

Where do you get your inspiration? How do you keep your ideas fresh?

Fresh? Well I tend to “borrow” concepts from other games and turn them into variations that fit within a game world. In terms of design, I tend to look for new ideas in game design and try to push the concepts a bit further, seeing how far I can take them in terms of mechanical resolution while maintaining a balanced system with equal risk and reward.

In terms of basic ideas, I look to comics, literature, and history. The real world has a lot going for it in terms of weird stuff, so that always keeps me fully stocked with ideas. I pay attention to odd websites, blogs like gizmodo and slashdot and popular thinking blogs as well as weird stuff. Fortean Times, can’t live without that website. I’m a big fan of authors like Cory Doctorow and William Gibson, but also quite a big fan of George R.R. Martin and Clive Barker as well.

Movies are a big component to firing my imagination. I like films from folks like Guillermo Del Toro, Ridley Scott, Quentin Tarantino and Tsui Hark. Action, supernatural horror, I look to a lot of Asian cinema for new ideas as well since they tend to think of the fantastic in a different way. Asian fantasy doesn’t have to deal with decades of Tolkien influences so we see a very different creativity from the other side of the Pacific. I see a lot of fantastic stuff come out of Asian cinema that makes me think… “Wow, someone here would NEVER think of that, it’s just too weird.” Then I steal it to use it in my own stuff.

I also like to draw ideas from imagery, so artists like Yasushi Nirasawa, Melissa Uran, Hyung-Kae Tim, Matt Wilson, Brom, and Mike Mignola among others really bring my thinking around in terms of formulating concepts visually. I tend to start with a visual and work backwards to figure out how it would come to be in terms of rules and the like.

Music plays a big role too, but my I-tunes play list is in the gigabytes now, ambient dark and broody stuff with a mix of the Clash. White Zombie, QOTSA, The Pixies and Black Label Society thrown in for good measure. And I’m never very far away from my Pink Floyd.

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

I did a bunch of material for the Sentinels Bible. I wrote Suriel, Jeremiel and the other celestial orders. I also wrote the divinities that went with them as well as the new divinities and Arcana in the Sentinels Bible. Quite a few of the new backgrounds are mine. I wrote the artifact material as well. Probably wrote some other stuff, but it’s been about a year. I can’t recall all the exact details but I think I nailed it closely.

What kind of research did you do for your work on Seventh Seal?

Wow, tons. The Seventh Seal has a very rich mythology and so I had to delve into the Bible and Apocrypha, as well as referring to demonic and angelic mythology. Some Qabbalic mythology and philosophy was in there as well. I had to do solid research too, no slacking. The material had to be well founded in the myths of Christianity. Scott is great about that. He’s always pushing us to justify the existence of something within the setting. He cares a great deal about the feel and scope of the games he produces. Actually this is pretty much the case with every line designer I’ve ever worked with.

The most fun research I did was for the artifact section, just trying to figure out the properties of things and looking at the mythology of the various artifacts made it a lot of fun to write. I had a good time on that one.

What’s next for you?

Well I’m working on several things. Right now, I’m working with Privateer Press on various projects. Of course, I’m working with Scott Mitchell at Creative Illusions on Legion, a new RPG due out this year. That’s going to be a real treat and it ought to blow the pants off folks at Gencon. It’s a relatively fresh take in the infernal and role playing the idea of transformation and damnation. I’m also working on one of my favorite subjects, monsters, for ICE with their HARP RPG’s Monsters: A Field Manual.

After that is my own RPG. We’ll see what happens with that.

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