January is a crazy month full of madness -- from looming project deadlines to illnesses. These are not excuses, just letting you know what's up and why I haven't been as blog-post-making-guy as I used to be. :)
This week's blog post is all about Andy Hoare. Andy is an exceptionally gifted writer and game designer who I came into contact with when I was working at Games Workshop back in the early 2000's. Andy is a great human being who has conquered some amazing challenges and continues to inspire legions of fans with his books.
Behold the mad genius himself.
I brought him into the 40K RPG side as soon as I could when I was working at Fantasy Flight Games from 2008-2011 and he always provided top-notch writing even under some heavy deadlines!
Andy's fantastic work helped build some great games, amongst them Deathwatch, Rogue Trader, Black Crusade, and Only War amongst others.
I'm very pleased to count Andy as a friend and colleague, and I'm very proud to have interviewed him for the blog.
If you want to learn more about Andy, check out his blog at: Mr. Andy Hoare, Esq
As always, my questions are in red.
RW: Can you tell me a little about yourself as a gamer and as a game industry professional?
Andy: As a gamer, it all started with red box D&D at school. I bought my first blister of miniatures around about the same time (a Citadel Lord of the Rings blister containing Gandalf, Ranger and Frodo). The blurb on the back of the blister mentioned White Dwarf and Warhammer, so a week later I bought White Dwarf issue 86 and that Christmas I received 2nd edition Warhammer, which I fell in love with. The next year (1987) 1st edition Warhammer 40,000 came out and that was the best Christmas gift ever!
A prolific crafter of worlds!
As an industry professional, I worked in the Games Workshop Design Studio from 2001 to 2009 as a games developer. During that time I worked alongside or met some of the leading lights of the industry, both past and present. Since leaving GW I’ve been fortunate to work with several other companies, including Fantasy Flight Games, Wyrd Miniatures, Architects of War, Wargames Illustrated, Mantic Games and others. I’ve also written a number of novels for Black Library.
RW: How did you get your start in the RPG industry?
Andy: It started when I heard that the Dark Heresy roleplaying game was to be expanded into Rogue Trader. I was working at Games Workshop at the time and knew a few other people in the business had been brought in as freelance writers. I contacted one (John French, who I’d say is one of the least well known best writers at Games Workshop) and he put me in touch with a guy at FFG called, oh, what was his name.. Ross something? I’d met Ross a few years earlier when I was a guest at Baltimore Games Day when he was working for the US White Dwarf, so clearly the stars were in alignment. Loving the 1st edition of Warhammer 40,000 as much as I do there was no way I wanted to miss out on a chance to work on a roleplay version and as it happened it was the start of a really good working relationship that continues to this day.
I think Andy is a Rogue Trader at heart!
RW: What is something great about working in the RPG industry?
Andy: Anyone who can genuinely say they work in the industry they most want to work in is fortunate indeed, so that’s how I feel about it.
RW: What is something really bad about working in the RPG industry?
Andy: While not specific to the rpg industry, perhaps the biggest downside is that everyone’s an expert when it comes to critiquing your work! We all do this of course, whether we’re denouncing the latest Hollywood blockbuster as uninspired or slating a novel for a lack of pace, so you have to cultivate a certain degree of empathy with the consumer and not regard such critiques as the work of the antichrist or as personal attacks.
RW: How has your perception of working professionally in the RPG industry changed over the last 5 years?
Andy: There seem to have been a lot of changes in the four years or so I’ve been most involved in the rpg side of things. The enormous rise in social networking has brought writers and players into direct contact, especially at the smaller end of the scale. Bigger companies can’t really communicate that way of course, so I doubt that’ll change enormously. On a less positive note, I’ve seen a lot of unpleasantness being aimed at individual writers, but that’s more an issue with human nature and the platform of social networking than anything specific to the industry.
RW: You’ve been in charge of your own projects before… how would you do things differently now as opposed to the first couple of projects you were in charge of?
Andy: It’s inevitable that you’ll look back on past work and see immediately how you’d do it differently – in fact I’d worry if that wasn’t the case!
RW: What do you believe is the most important aspect of professionalism in the RPG industry from the viewpoint of the freelancer? What about from the viewpoint of a publisher?
Andy: Something I’ve seen in many would-be freelancers and in fact in some newly minted ones, is the desire to reshape a setting or ruleset according to their particular view of it. For me, the ability to zero in on what makes a line popular and to accentuate that element, even if it’s not how you personally would do it if you were in charge, is key. Writing for someone else is not an exercise in vanity and you have to set aside your own wants in order to fulfill the brief and serve the needs of a product that is the result of many peoples’ creativity, not just your own. You also have to be able to respond to feedback positively and not expect your first draft to be accepted without comment, which is another area many fall down on.
Mr. Hoare is THE White Scars expert.
In terms of the publisher, I think they have to walk a fine line when dealing with freelancers, who are often in a precarious position themselves! Communication is really important, as I’ve often seen people given almost carte blanche within a project only to be told on handover they haven't produced what was wanted. Good briefs that set solid milestones whilst identifying which parts the writer can really go to town on are very important. Managing creatives is a tricky business though, and I’ve seen some people get it very wrong and others get it very right, so there’s no simple answer.
RW: If you could change one thing about the RPG industry, what would it be?
Andy: The obvious answer would be more money and paid in advance, but that would be madness!
RW: How do you engage with the fans of your work?
Andy: Well firstly, I dislike the term ‘fan’ because it implies the work is passively consumed by a spectator, which isn’t the case in this industry as people actively engage with it in the process of playing. To be honest, I’m not really one for pushing myself into the limelight (I know I probably should though!) but I hope I’m open and friendly and if anyone asks me something on my Facebook page or blog I’m always very pleased to answer.
RW: What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment as an RPG professional?
Andy: A couple of things stand out actually. One is the Lure of the Expanse adventure book Owen Barnes and myself wrote soon after Rogue Trader was released. There’s a couple of things I’d do differently of course, but on the whole I’m really proud of it and consistently see positive chat about it.
There’s also the settings for Black Crusade and Only War (the former written alongside lycanthropic tabletop wargames veteran Andy Chambers). Developing a background like that is a real challenge as you have to provide a broad but necessarily shallow sandpit that everyone can play in, whilst seeding numerous ideas that you and other writers can expand on later on (which means you can't be too precious or jealous about these ideas). I’ve seen this happen with the Black Crusade setting, where little ideas I included in the core rulebook, often no more than a paragraph, sentence or name, are now being expanded on and because they’re rooted in the core description of the setting the whole process is pleasingly organic.
RW: What do you feel is your greatest setback as an RPG professional?
Andy: Being a generally positive person it’s hard to say, but I hate missing a deadline, though if I do its usually only by a very small margin and I’m sure to agree an extension with the client before it becomes an issue. I’ve occasionally had to turn a job down due to other commitments, which I really hate doing as you’re never quite sure if that client will come back (they have so far!).
RW: How do you reconcile working on a game that, on the one hand, requires a set of rules… but on the other hand, encourages GMs and players to break the rules or come up with their own?
Andy: I have no problem at all doing so, but I appreciate that others do. For me it comes down to seeing the issue in black and white or as shades of grey. I’ve seen some people objecting to the idea that GMs should add in their own rules on the grounds that they could do that anyway, so what’s the point in buying a rules set in the first place, while others want a game that allows the GM lots of leeway to jam along as they see fit. The way I see it is you have to provide a balance between the two; you have to provide a usable and stable framework and when you build in leeway you have to provide examples of how to do so. There’s very little point in saying ‘make stuff up!’ if you don’t give a couple of examples to demonstrate what you mean. Ultimately, any game has to appeal to a wide range of people to be commercially viable but, paradoxically can never be all things to all players.
Professor Hoare's latest adventure involved some squidly fellows.
RW: If you were a fantasy adventurer, you’d be a…?
Andy: An old school sword and sorcery barbarian :-)
RW: What’s your favorite RPG (that you have not worked on)?
Andy: I cut my teeth on West End Games Star Wars and have a soft spot for their D6 system so I’d say that’s still my favourite. I still enjoy a good old mechanical dungeon bash though!
RW: What is your favorite part about writing for games? The background, the rules, the adventures?
Andy: I’ve always tried to occupy the exact point where these things all come together and spark the player’s creative drives to go off and do something. When I was writing codexes and White Dwarf articles for Games Workshop I’d always try to provide those small gems of background, rules or hobby inspiration that make you go off and collect a new army, write a new scenario, start a new campaign or whatever.
RW: What advice would you give to someone looking to enter the game industry?
Andy: To get there in the first place, take part, contribute, be a positive influence and promote your creativity in a way that inspires others and ultimately gets you noticed. Maintain a blog and fill it with examples of your work and lively discussion so that when you approach potential clients you can show them what you’ve been doing (and they may well have heard of you already). Be rounded and don’t obsess over little details (at least not in public!). Don't indulge in rants or hyperbole. Be humble and polite, and respectful of other people working in the field, even if deep inside you think they’re fools of the worst order - remember that one day (if you’re lucky) you might be working with them or given a brief to write something in a way you wouldn’t choose to do yourself and it might all look very different indeed.
RW: What is a project that you have always wanted to make but never have had the chance?
Andy: I’ve been plugging away at a set of narrative tabletop skirmish rules for a while, aimed at non-setting-specific ‘sword and sorcery’ wargaming and if I ever get the chance I hope to develop them to a publishable point and get them out there. If they proved viable I’d expand the core rules into other genres too so you never know…
RW: What do you look for… and what is a red flag… for a random freelancer submission?
Andy: I think you primarily look for people who can demonstrate that they truly ‘get’ the setting. This doesn’t have to be an intimate knowledge of the canon (though that helps) but rather an affinity for the themes, feeling etc that it promotes. In terms of turn-offs, I’d be on the look out for the writer’s ego seeping into the work too much – like I said before, if they’re trying to re-write the setting or rules to better fit their own idea of how it should be done they’re doing it for the wrong reason.
RW: If you could pick up the dice and play an RPG right this very instant, you’d play…?
Andy: FFG’s Rogue Trader, WEG’s Star Wars or (red box) D&D, all for very different reasons!