Greetings, readers! Today I've got an interview with one of my favorite superhero RPG writers, Scott Heine. Scott is not only a gifted writer, he's an excellent roleplayer as well--I got a chance to sit down with him at Herocon MD back in 2007. In addition, Scott is a Senior Paster at the Hope Christian Fellowship and spends a lot of time working with young people in his community.
|Scott surveys the booths at Gen Con.|
Anyone who's been following the Warden for a while will probably know that Scott worked on some of my favorite Superhero RPG supplements of all time, including the mind-blowing Mind Games, To Serve and Protect, and other books for the Hero System (primarily in its 4th edition--my favorite).
It is a real pleasure to talk to Scott today about his contributions to the Hero System and Champions. Scott's work is an excellent resource to anyone looking to run a superhero RPG game, and I am always happy to run into Scott at Gen Con. If you ever get a chance to game with him at a convention or otherwise, I highly recommend it!
As always, my questions are in red text.
RW: Can you tell me a little about yourself as a gamer and as a game industry professional?
SH: I discovered my first RPG when I received the boxed Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set back in the late 1970s. The idea of creating your own stories and adventures caught my interest, and I soon connected with a group of players at our local library. When Champions was released by Hero Games in 1981, I was seated at the table for the very 1st convention demo game, and I was completely hooked. The years that followed were filled with some of the best friendships and shared comic-book storytelling that a guy could ever want.
Over time, my attention shifted from being a gamer to being a designer, though it was always more of a hobby for me than a job. I found it particularly satisfying to create characters or storylines that players enjoyed, and I have really enjoyed the relationships with other authors and illustrators in the industry.
RW: How did you get your start in the RPG industry?
SH: After getting married and moving to the other side of the country for grad school, my fondness for Champions remained though life was far too busy and gaming friends were too far away. So I channeled my enthusiasm and puttered away on an idea for an adventure module that would feature the characters from our games. When I submitted the manuscript and sample illustrations to Hero Games, they offered to publish the module. It was definitely a case of being at the right place at the right time. Then came an opportunity to write and illustrate another supplement, then another, and soon I found myself being invited as a guest at a few local gaming conventions. Without realizing it, I had become a part-time freelance game designer.
RW: You’ve written some of my favorite all-time Superhero RPG books during your career. What is it about the superhero genre that you love?
SH: There’s something very classic and “mythic” about the superhero genre; in many ways, comic books offer a modernization of the very ancient traditions of bigger-than-life heroes. I mean, who wouldn’t enjoy flying, right? The sense of good vs. evil is exaggerated, allowing for dramatic and engaging stories. Yet the opportunity exist for heroes to be fleshed out with their own personal struggles and challenges which must be overcome, so the “heroics” involve both external and internal conflicts.
RW: Do you have any entertaining stories about creating or playtesting To Serve and Protect or Mind Games?
SH: Mind Games was written at the same time that the 4th edition (the “Big Blue Book”) was in development, so I was developing material without a clear idea of how psionic abilities would work. Though the book was originally going to be a focus on the mechanics of mental powers in the game, the decision was made to shift attention to developing characters and sample storylines instead. I had a lot of fun thinking through the combinations of psychotic psychology and superpowers, leading to a couple of nasty love-to-hate-‘em villains. When I received my first round of notes from editor Rob Bell, the pages were full of red ink with various changes, rules tweaks, etc. — Rob was tough! But the page describing the villain Mind Slayer simply had one word written across it in large, bold, red letters. (It rhymes with “itch.”) I laughed pretty hard that day.
RW: What is something great about working in the RPG industry?
SH: The people are the best — they’re usually really friendly, extremely creative, and super intelligent. It’s really easy to hang out with publishers, authors, and artists and swap “war stories” of various projects, great moments in gaming, opinions of movies and books, etc.
|This supplement is one of the best Champions books ever made.|
RW: What is something really bad about working in the RPG industry?
SH: As much as the industry focuses on people having fun, it’s still a business. And for some companies, it’s a struggling business. I remember doing work for a publisher and struggling to get paid. The company continued to ask for additional work in order to generate the funds necessary to pay off past debts, and it quickly became an unpleasant vicious circle. Before long, too many conversations between gaming friends included talk about rotten business practices; it sort of diminished the enjoyment of being creative at the time.
RW: How has your perception of working professionally in the RPG industry changed over the last 5 years?
SH: As I’ve grown older, so have the friends I’ve made in the industry, and many folks have moved on to other careers. Naturally, we’ve also seen lots of fresh young talent entering the industry, and I’ve enjoyed seeing new creativity. Technology continues to advance, allowing for beautifully produced books and game elements (the idea of a gaming book filled with color illustrations was unheard of when I began). And the increasing quality of computer graphics and multiplayer experiences continues to create an easy, attractive alternative to traditional tabletop RPGs, though probably at the expense of the relationships that would otherwise be cultivated.
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?
SH: I’d like to think that my skills as a storyteller and illustrator have grown since the early days. I look back on books from a quarter century ago and smile with the nostalgia of it all but also cringe at the quality compared to contemporary products. If I were creating those books today, I’d enjoy taking advantage of modern publishing techniques and a more seasoned skill for character and plot development. I’d also be more insistent on the inclusion of humor in the products, because I think gaming is best when it provokes a little laughter along the way.
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?
SH: Great questions! Freelancers need to have an accurate understanding of how the market works and what the audience desires so they can apply their creativity toward products that will not only be enjoyable for gamers but also profitable for publishers. Publishers need to interact with their talent in a manner that fosters respect and empowerment, inviting artists and authors to understand the vision and the limitations that apply to the work. Basically, both the creators and the publishers need to have a healthy relationship in which each side is helping the other side succeed at their goals.
RW: If you could change one thing about the RPG industry, what would it be?
SH: The RPG industry, along with the entertainment industries in general, seem to be more reactive than proactive when it comes to cultural standards. On the one hand, this makes perfect sense; these businesses are there to make a profit and capitalize on whatever provokes a response with audiences. On the other hand, this leads to a disproportionate presence of “darker” themes and genres in the marketplace. Perhaps it’s a sociological slippery slope, or perhaps I’m truly becoming an “old fogy.” But I’d love to see a movement of publishing RPG products that engage families, allowing parents and younger children to experience the fun of shared storytelling, with themes that are fun and uplifting. Perhaps kids who can be lured away from the TV and video games into truly satisfying (and, dare I say it, educational?) role-playing might remain loyal customers for the industry as they grow older.
RW: What do you feel is the best way for a game industry professional to engage with customers and fans?
SH: Designers who make themselves accessible through online forums, blogs, and face-to-face encounters at conventions demonstrate gratitude and respect for the audience that enjoys their work. It’s always important to remember that fans are there to connect with the creators in a way that enhances their enjoyment. Be cool! Have fun!
RW: What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment as an RPG professional?
SH: My most enduring contribution has been the foundational characters from the Mind Games supplement. For some reason, that product has provoked a more enduring response. I was especially pleased the first time I encountered the villain Mind Slayer in the Champions Online MMO. When she actually spoke, I was really tickled. Somewhere a voice actress had brought my character to life. (By the way, I might have had the same reaction when an actress appeared dressed as Mind Slayer at GenCon to promote the initial release of the game, but the studios had radically altered her appearance from what I first envisioned and the final result would make a grown man blush. It was kind of hard to engage that actress in conversation when she was wearing so little fabric.)
RW: What do you feel is your greatest setback as an RPG professional?
SH: At some point, I began developing a book we were calling Champions by the Bay which would have fully fleshed out the characters that originally appeared in To Serve and Protect, and would have provided a rich, detailed campaign environment set in San Francisco. However, delinquent payments on past work from the publisher caused me to discontinue the project. By the time things were straightened out, publishers had changed and the product line was moving in a different creative direction. A while back I ran across my early drafts of that unpublished book, and it was fun browsing through the ideas. It would have been great.
RW: How do you feel about representation of awards and recognition for quality in the gaming industry?
SH: Recognizing excellence prompts the industry to pursue excellence, and a little friendly competition is always fun, right?
RW: What is your favorite part of a gaming-related convention?
|One of my favorite Champions supplements.|
SH: I really enjoy meeting new people, interacting with gamers, and seeing old friends. Grabbing a farewell dinner at the end of the con is always a highlight. But perhaps my favorite convention experience involved grabbing reservations for a game of Champions, sitting down at the table, and realizing that nobody recognized my name. As the adventure unfolded, we discovered that the GM was using villains that I had created for one of my books. It was a blast watching someone else’s take on the characters! (I never shared my connection to those characters with the GM, but left very satisfied for the experience.)
RW: If you were a pulp-era adventurer, you’d be a…?
SH: I’d be a bookworm scholar at some university library of ancient religious tomes, and the heroes would call on me and drag me into their adventures for my knowledge of some obscure mythology or something. Of course, I’d never carry a gun, but my old days of boxing as a student would come in mighty handy…
RW: What’s your favorite RPG (that you have not worked on)?
SH: Fortunately, I was able to create for my favorite RPG, though I think I would have enjoyed creating sourcebooks for other genres in the Hero System (especially pulp-era stuff).
RW: If you could pick up the dice and play an RPG right this very instant, you’d play…?
SH: Champions, of course. It would be fun to see what’s happened to some of our old characters. But, more importantly, it would be great just to gather around the table with old friends again.