Monday, October 24, 2016

Interview with Mike Evans

An Interview with Mike Evans of DIY RPG Productions

I had the opportunity to speak with Mike Evans, whose company, DIY RPG Productions, is about to release "Hubris", a setting book for Dungeon Crawl Classics that Mike successfully kickstarted last year. I'm a huge fan of Mike's work, especially with what I've seen of Hubris so far.

SDM:  So....Hubris. What's the deal? What's it about? What made you decide to publish it, other than obviously making millions on the RPG cash cow and buying yourself a private island?

ME:  Hubris is a Weird Fantasy RPG with elements of horror infused in for good measure. It really doesn’t have an overarching story or is loaded with tons of fluff. It’s just a terrible world with crazy people, messed up deities, and screwed up nobility that all plot and scheme against one another.
The development of Hubris really started when I stopped to look at creating a homebrew world again and what I wanted in it. Over the years of either home-brewing or running an established setting, I looked at what influenced me and I realized I had never played in a setting that fully captivated all my interests (and how could one, they aren’t written for me) or had the things that I wanted in a setting book.

Two other things happened while I first began working on Hubris. The first was I was reading the Freeport campaign setting, and it damn near killed me. I’m not knocking it- I’m sure people like it, think it’s a great book, etc. However, it’s such a “unique snowflake world” that is obviously the author’s own campaign that they penned to create this book. It is dense with history, NPC’s locations, districts, religions, cults- the works…but it’s not useful at the game table. It’s dense, requires note taking, constantly remembering location, names, metaplots, and all that. Something that does not interest me at all. By the time I was done reading it, I was fatigued and did not want to run a game in that setting.

Second- Zak Smith’s Vornheim was released and it blew me away. It’s roughly 75 pages and not a single wasted space. Every page is useful or has some cool unique thing that aids the GM during play.  
Vornheim nailed it exactly on the head for me on what I wanted a campaign setting book to be.

SDM: How did Hubris start?

I started posting thoughts on Hubris and started running a campaign with my own OSR frankenhack system and was fleshing it out.  I figured I’d release it for free like I did Wrath of Zombie or my Vornheim hack for Firefly, but Jez Gordon strongly suggested not to; to instead dial the awesome up to 11 and release it as an official product.

After that I needed to figure out how I wanted to do it and what system to use. I wanted to release a book I would use, and not just driven by the desire to make money. Releasing a book to just make some cash robs it of its emotion and slaps a “oh man- I hope the people like this product! I hope it sells well!” vibe to it. Not to say hoping a book sells well and makes some dough is wrong. I’m just not a fan of that being the main driving factor.

SDM:  Why DCC? Will someone need DCC to play, or is it easily adaptable to any old-school style system?

ME:  I started looking at what I would need to bring my frankenhack up to snuff to operate as a system worth playing and not full of holes.  DCC had really just started making waves and I read through it and realized the very strong similarities between my frakenhack and it.  I fell in love with the system right away and knew that its zany manner would be perfect for Hubris. 

Will you need DCC to play it?  Yes- Hubris is not a complete ruleset.  Goodman Games owns the rights to DCC and Joseph Goodman has been very gracious and supportive with Hubris, but yeah- you’ll need DCC for the rules.  That being said, the actual meat of the book is largely system neutral.  I did that on purpose.  I know that DCC isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and I didn’t want to force them to feel obligated to play it if they didn’t want to. You can easily hack the classes and the monsters to other systems.  The territories don’t have very many mechanics.
Hubris Art by David Lewis Johnson
The final part was the what…I had a rough idea of the world and the classes I wanted, but I needed to figure out how I wanted to convey it.  I wanted the book to be useful at the table.  I also wanted to avoid the standard problem of most settings: being treated as gospel.  I created ten territories, each with a d100 Lay of the Land generator and d100 Encounters table.  Each territory has a few interesting locations, all with their own rumors and hooks.  If I couldn’t sum up the location into a paragraph, it didn’t go into the book.  Each GM will roll on these charts as their group wanders across Hubris, making it unique to their own group.

SDM:  You ran a very successful Kickstarter for Hubris, which isn't always easy, especially for someone's first Kickstarter. Why do you think you were successful where others who are starting out aren't?

ME:  I’m thankful for the support I received and the excitement that was generated for Hubris.  I think the biggest reason that Hubris succeeded is that many people said they hadn’t really seen a setting quite like it, be it the way I handle the toolkit approach or the meat grinder philosophy behind it.  Also my way of generating the setting as you play is unique(ish).  The other is communication; I was writing Hubris for three years before the KS went live.  I shared most of the classes, many of the monsters, all the Patrons and Deities, and half the territories all on my blog.  People could see exactly the ride they were in for.  That goes a long way.  We all like to guard our secrets because we’re afraid someone will steal them, beat us to the punch, or worse -- claim them as their own, but I think playing EVERYTHING so close to the chest and then saying, “Hey!  Here’s a cool setting inspired by X, Y, and Z!!!  Come give me money!” is not necessarily the best way to have a successful KS.  If you have a strong audience that trusts you, then fuck all you can do what you want.  But as a basically unknown name, especially at the time of the KS, it would have been suicide for my project.
Hubris Art by Angie Groves

SDM:  Is there anything about Hubris you regret? Something that you wish you could change or add or remove that got missed?

ME:  I regret nothing.  I’m not a person to live with regrets.  Regrets only hold you back and you can’t change what’s past, so I don’t dwell.  I know more now about how to do a KS, publish a book, project manage my time and the project better, etc. than I ever would have before.  I got an opportunity to share a book that I am proud of and love.  People have been supportive and excited and there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t get an email or a G+ message from someone explaining that they missed the KS and when can they get on the Hubris train.

Were there delays and frustration and anxiety throughout the project? Absolutely, but now I’ve learned and I’ll be able to tackle things differently next time.

SDM:  When does Hubris come out?

ME:  I’m hoping Hubris will be out for general release in the first few weeks of November.

SDM:  After it releases, what's next for Hubris?

ME:  I’m pondering doing a Hubris comic book and I have several modules in note form.  I’m also considering the possibility of hiring those who would be interested in writing Hubris modules under the DIY RPG Productions banner in the near future.

Finally, I have an idea for a Hubris supplement down the road.

SDM:  Is there anyone, in gaming's past or present, indie or professional, whose work you worship/admire?
Hubris Art by Alex Mayo

ME:  I don’t worship anyone- except my wife, because I’m smart and know who’s the boss.  People are people and putting them on a pedestal only invites disappointment and failure.  However, I do greatly respect the work of Zak Smith, Trey Causey, Harley Stroh, Jez Gordon, Matthew Adams, James Raggi, David Lewis Johnson, Jeremy Duncan, Alex Mayo, Scrap Princess, Joseph Goodman, Erik Jensen, Jason Sholtis, David McGrogran, and so many others that I’m forgetting to mention right now.

SDM:  How about artists? Even outside of gaming, is there are a particular artist whose style you absolutely love?

ME:  Aside from several artists I dig that I mentioned above, I’d say Tony DiTerlizzi, Gerlad Brom, and Erol Otus are favorites of mine.  Outside of the RPG arena I really dig Cordello Cordaro, Don Kenn, Jamie Hewlett, Ivan Bilibin, Frank Frazetta, Mike Mignola, and many others I’m totally blanking on right now.

SDM:  What, in general, inspires you?

ME:  The Weird is a big inspiration on me…I dig the unusual in a setting or in art or music. I also think that’s why I’m drawn to things like Heavy Metal Magazine, Hellboy, fairy tales, Death Trash (really excited for that video game to come out), The Thing, Junkhead (animated short movie), Vornheim, etc.

Music plays a huge inspiration for me too.  By and large when I’m writing I listen to stuff that is, at least to me, in the same vein/feeling of what I’m writing. Horror and mystery also tends to influence me.  John Carpenter’s The Thing had a profound impact on me and always seems to fuel my fire. Stodgy British Murder Mysteries also gets my mind going…my wife jokes that I’m really an old man in a young man’s body.  I’m a curmudgeon who likes his BBC and beer.

SDM:  How did you get started in gaming?

ME:  I started in high school as a player in a really terrible GM’s D&D game.  It was so bad it was nearly my first and LAST time gaming.  A few days after the session, my friend who was also a player in that game, showed up and apologized for the terrible session and offered to run a game for a friend and I who were hanging out.  We agreed, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I started playing Shadowrun a week later, and was in a year and a half campaign for that, and was running my own D&D and Shadowrun games about 2 weeks after that.
Hubris Art by Angie Groves
SDM:  Why "DIY Productions"? If you could sum it up as a mission statement, what would you say is the "core value" of what DIY stands for, and the type of content people can expect you to produce?

ME:  DIY RPG Productions came about because I’m very much inspired by the DIY RPG community and the DIY mentality in everyday life.  I also love punk rock and there is something about the 'fuck all, damn the man' attitude I find endearing.

With DIY RPG Productions, I wanted to create a company for my books and products and have it be under my control.  I want to guide them where they need to go, not someone to oversee them.  If they fail, it’s on me and my decisions, not because the owner of the company decided to take my product in a different direction.

Secondly I will never create a long-winded product full of piles of fluff.  The two products I’ve released thus far, the Starrunner Kit: A White Star (and other OSR systems) Space Toolkit, and Black Hack: Cyber-hacked, and everything I will be releasing in the near future have a toolkit element to them, which is the driving force.  I want to provide just enough fluff to give a sense of the world/setting/module, whatever, but by and large I don’t want to project my own “this is what the game should be” mantra upon a group.  I want the game to be theirs.  Take what you want from my products, say fuck all to the rest if you’re not interested, if that’s what you want.  I’m more than happy with that.

SDM:  Does DIY have a "team", or is it just you? Do you have any plans for growth?

ME:  DIY RPG Productions is just me right now (and my wife who helps me along) and then whoever I commission for projects.  Right now, I have no real plans for growth.  I think I’ll need to see how things go before I decide to grow.  In the end, I’m probably more comfortable and happy with a model like James Raggi.  All on you, and contract out what you need.

SDM:  Who would you love to work with that you haven't had the chance to yet?

ME:  I’d really love to collaborate with Jez Gordon, James Raggi, Trey Causey, Zak Smith, and Jason Sholtis, among others.  I’m going to be commissioning Matthew Adams in the very near future, so I am really excited to work with him.  Also always happy to work with David Lewis Johnson, Alex Mayo, and Jeremy Duncan!  These guys are amazing and have been instrumental in the awesomesauce that is Hubris.

SDM:  Are there any games (settings or systems) you haven't played yet that you wanna try?

ME:  I want to try David Lewis Johnson’s Gathox Vertical Slum, Jez Gordon’s Dead West, Zak’s A Red and Pleasant Land, and the new Death Frost Doom by James Raggi and Zak Smith.

SDM:  What was your last gaming purchase?
SDM:  What's the next product you're most excited to see someone release?

ME:  David Lewis Johnson’s Gathox, Jason Sholtis’ Operation Unfathomable [currently on Kickstarter], Trey Causey’s OSR-ified Strange Stars [preview] are the three off the top of my head that I’m jazzed about.

SDM:  What else is in the pipeline for DIY productions?

ME:  Aside from Death is the New Pink, Barbarians of the Ruined Earth, and High Noon, I’m currently working on Helldust, Land of the Spirits, a seven-part zine, Ruins of Malanthory (a level zero funnel for Hubris), and about 10 other things are in various stages of development.

SDM:  What can you tell us about DitNP, BotRE, or HN?

ME: Death is the New Pink is a zany post-apocalyptic setting inspired by Tank Girl, Jude Dredd, Borderlands, Fallout, etc. It uses the Into the Odd rules. Players take on the roles of Meat Bags, reside in a megacity called Scratchtown, and travel the wastes killing raiders, mutants, beasties, and blowing shit up in the hopes of finding powerful Doodads, guns, and booze.

Barbarians of the Ruined Earth is a game I wrote for Black Hack inspired by Thundarr the Barbarian. I also threw in a healthy dose of He-Man, Wizards, Heavy Metal Magazine inspirations to make sure that I wasn’t JUST ripping Thundarr off.

Finally, I have High Noon- it uses Swords and Wizardry White Box to deliver old-school gritty western action.  I’m also in the works of creating a Weird West setting called Helldust for this.

SDM:  Will there be kickstarters?

ME:  There is a chance that I may do Barbarians of the Ruined Earth as a kickstarter. We’ll see… It’ll greatly depend on layout and how much art I want to pack into the book!

SDM:  When do you expect them to release?

ME:  No firm dates yet.  Everything is kinda in limbo until Hubris launches.  Then I can breathe easy and move those books from the back burner to the front.  I’m hoping Death is the New Pink will be released in Nov or Dec.  And Barbarians of the Ruined Earth by late winter or early spring.  High Noon will be sometime in spring or early summer

SDM:  What's after those?

ME:  After those are out it’s back to full-scale writing, mainly focusing on Land of the Sprits, Helldust, the zine, and some Hubris modules.


I again want to thank Mike Evans for his time, and I'm definitely looking forward to Hubris and future releases by DIY productions...everything sounds awesome, and directly in line with my own interests. Also a very special thank you to my assistant, Noel Martin, who helped me put this interview together to post to the blog.

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