13th Age: Obskures.de Interview With Rob Heinsoo

Rob_HeinsooObskures.de recently interviewed three-fourths of the creative team behind 13th Age. (Aaron McConnell was on deadline and chained to his drawing table that week.) In this installment, co-designer Rob Heinsoo is on the hot seat. 

obskures.de: How did you get involved in gaming, and how did you make the leap to becoming a professional?

Rob Heinsoo: I found a Lowry’s Hobbies ad in the back of Boy’s Life magazine when my family lived in Herbornseelbach Germany in the early 70’s. I started ordering and playing wargames: my first was Fight in the Skies, featuring WWI fighter planes. I ordered Dungeons & Dragons in 1974 when we got back to the USA. I ran games for my sixth-grade friends in Kansas using half-understood mechanics, filling in with melee rules from Napoleonic skirmish wargames when we couldn’t understand the combat tables.

I first started meeting gamers whom I hadn’t taught when we moved to Oregon a couple years later. I played most of the early games — my favorites as a kid were probably Bunnies & Burrows, Tunnels & Trolls, Melee/Wizard, Lou Zocchi’s Knights of the Round Table and McEwan Miniatures’ Star Guard, a sci-fi miniatures game.

In high school I got involved with the Alarums & Excursions fanzine put out by Lee Gold, thanks to a mention in the back of the Arduin Grimoire. The games I liked most then, Runequest, Champions, and Arduin, got a lot of attention in A&E. I started contributing and therefore got to know a lot of people who ended up writing games or owning game companies.

I started working professionally in the game industry just about the time the Internet came into common use. Jobs at Daedalus and Chaosium and A-Sharp and Wizards of the Coast followed, along with many periods of freelancing and work on everything from collectible card games about soccer to roleplaying games about Hong Kong action movies and computer games I mostly can’t talk about yet.

obskures.de: What was the first role playing book you owned?

Rob Heinsoo: Brown box original D&D.

obskures.de: What does a typical working day look like? What do you do, when you are not working on 13th Age?

Rob Heinsoo: As the lead designer for Fire Opal Media I’m involved to some extent in all our games, tabletop and electronic. I also still design some games freelance, notably card games like Epic Spell Wars from Cryptozoic. I’ve got at least one other freelanced card game coming out in 2013.

Other gaming includes an upcoming sci-fi spaceship campaign I’ll get to play in instead of running. Miniatures games I’m always fond of, but don’t play enough. My favorites are DBA and the newer SAGA skirmish game from Studio Tomahawk.

I read, write stories, socialize, play on two soccer teams, and blog at robheinsoo.blogspot.com, sometimes about 13th Age.

obskures.de: Why did you use Kickstarter for 13 True Ways but not for 13th Age?

Rob Heinsoo: Our publisher, Pelgrane Press, asked us not to use Kickstarter for 13th Age, mainly because they’d been burnt by a Kickstarter project that never surfaced. Once we’d pushed 13th Age firmly into the ‘actually almost finished’ column, Pelgrane felt better about getting associated with another Kickstarter project. And in fact they have followed up with two Kickstarter campaigns of their own.

obskures.de: What is your favorite role playing game?

Rob Heinsoo: For mechanics, I lean toward D&D and d20-rolling fantasy. For the RPG world I like thinking about Glorantha, the world used by RuneQuest and HeroQuest.

obskures.de: Who is your favorite game designer and/or game artist?

Rob Heinsoo: Roleplaying designer? Robin Laws. Current boardgame designer? Chad Jensen has been doing things I’ve greatly enjoyed for GMT. And Eric Lang has done a couple of the games I’ve enjoyed playing most in recent years.

obskures.de: What do you think about the recent projects by your  ex-colleagues at Wizards, such as Numenera by Monte Cook? I really thought 13 True Ways would be more successful than Numenera, but I was wrong.

Rob Heinsoo: I backed the Numenera Kickstarter. The game is like a birthday present I can anticipate but I don’t have to do anything more to receive.

As to your original guess about relative Kickstarter performance, I don’t know of any alternate worlds in which a 13 True Ways Kickstarter could have out-performed a Numenera Kickstarter.

obskures.de: What do you plan next for 13th Age, and in general?

Rob Heinsoo: Shards of the Broken Sky, an adventure book. 13 True Ways. A bestiary produced by Pelgrane. Some surprising organized play. And maybe other surprises.

obskures.de: Finally, some fun and quick questions. We start with: Role playing is …

Rob Heinsoo: …a wonderful way of life.

obskures.de: Fighter, Cleric, Rogue or Wizard?

Rob Heinsoo: It occurs to me that from a roleplaying perspective, I tend to play fighters as if they were rogues, rogues as if they were sorcerers and wizards as if they were clerics.

obskures.de: Gamemaster or player?

Rob Heinsoo: Gamemaster. It took me longer to become a good player: there are GMs in the world that I still owe apologies to.

obskures.de: Your favorite game product you worked on (aside from 13th Age)?

Rob Heinsoo: Shadowfist for Daedalus. King of Dragon Pass for A-Sharp. D&D Miniatures for WotC. And a game that isn’t public yet from Fire Opal Media. In truth, however, 13th Age IS my favorite above all of these. Just saying.

obskures.de: I get the best ideas for my games when … or I am most creative when …?

Rob Heinsoo: My goal, and my entire work-style, is to avoid having just one answer to that question.


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