Primeval Games Press

Designer Interview: Vincent Baker

Jasper McChesney, 1 Mar 2005

Vincent Baker is owner of lumpley games.

What games have you designed?

Dogs in the Vineyard, kill puppies for satan, Mechaton (a miniatures battle game, not an RPG).

What's your day job?

I work in the library of a teaching hospital.

Where do you live?

Western Massachusetts.

What are some of your favorite games and why?

Ars Magica. I've been playing some form of that game since 1990. I've never understood why rotating GMs and troupe-style play haven't caught on more widely.

Universalis. Before I played Universalis I thought that RPG rules were for people who don't get along with each other. Training wheels for functional collaboration. But Mike Holmes sits me down and we start playing and I'm like, buh. Look what the rules are doing! They're, like, making us get along even better! It was an eye-opener.

Primetime Adventures. That game is a cunning sleight of hand, it makes me happy every time I think of it. By telling us that our characters are TV characters, it tricks us into treating them as, y'know, characters. Which is what they always were and how we should have been treating them all along. Smart game.

The Mountain Witch. Talking of eye-openers, expect to hear a lot more about this little game. Expect it to inspire a whole generation of tributes and imitations.

Is there some key element that you feel is necessary for an enjoyable session of role-playing?

The key element is, we have to touch each other on a human, heart-to-heart level.

People think I'm hyperbolizing when I talk about this stuff. But I've been role-playing for 20+ years, y'know? In the last couple of years I've had such consistently good role-playing experiences that they've changed my standards. What used to be the best session of a summer with my very best friends in the world, right, you know how good that session is? I demand roleplaying that good now from a 4-hour con game with mostly strangers. And I'm getting it!

Any game can be training wheels for functional creative collaboration. To be worth playing, a game has to be better than that. It has to give me something I couldn't get on my own.

What game has most profoundly impacted your development as a role-player or as a designer?

Oh, Ars Magica, no doubt. If you want, you can look at everything I've done in RPG design and theory as my attempt to solve the problems that Ars Magica poses.

Do the games you've designed share any common themes or features?

Most of 'em feature religion but not for any good reason. Coincidence and where my mind's been at, is all.

I think more significant is that I ask you, in most of my games, to judge your PC. Is your PC a good person? Does she get what's coming to her? Should she?

What’s the most important thing a game needs to do in order to be successful?

It needs to express your passion. Write about something that moves you, and I mean really moves you. Designing games is like writing fiction or poetry: design from your worst, meanest, ugliest, most hurt place. Or your most in-love place. Or your sweetest, most naive place. Design to expose yourself.

Human contact, right? It should happen between the players, and it should happen between the players and the designer.

What advice would you give to aspiring game designers?

Don't make another normal RPG. There are plenty and more than plenty, there are too many people still making them anyway, and they have bigger budgets than you can compete with. Don't waste your time.

Also, don't spend more money than you can spare.

Is there any major change that you see the hobby going through, either now or in the next few years?

Nope. The hobby's conservative. It doesn't matter what we do, the hobby will resist us.

Me, I expect the next few years to give me a positive avalanche of good games. More good games than I can possibly play! From my point of view, that's a major change for the better, but I don't expect the hobby at large to notice it at all.

Is there anything you’d like to see happen within the hobby?

Nah. The hobby's fine without my help.

Thanks, Vincent!

Sure thing!