Interview: Hannah Lipsky of Chaotic Shiny and Chaotic Shiny Productions

As a fellow member of the Gamer Lifestyle program, I’ve spoken to Hannah Lipsky a few times via e-mail over the last couple of years. Hannah is the founder of the Chaotic Shiny website full of wonderful roleplaying generators and Chaotic Shiny Productions which is the home of Martial Flavor and Martial Cultures. Even with her busy schedule, she agreed to take a few moments to answer some questions…

Obviously you’re passionate not only about gaming, but about offering great tools and products for gamers to use for their own gaming groups. How did you get into gaming initially and what has led you to creating these wonderful generators and products like the Martial Flavor and Martial Cultures series?

I first got into gaming via a series of odd coincidences that ended with me being in the right place at the right time to join my friends’ 1st ed D&D group. It was a few years before I tried DMing on my own. And that’s about when the generators started happening.

I had a few small generators around – mostly as a curiousity – when I realized that I sucked at coming up with taverns on the fly. So I made a tavern generator. All the rest of the gens are things that I needed, things that other people asked for, and things that just sounded fun.

The books started off as an idea I had on the train. I like creating things, but I get bored before I ever create a complete thing – and anyway, most people I know prefer to make a lot of their world out of stolen bits of things. That’s how I came up with the idea of making individual cultures that were easy to fit into anyone’s game world.

The generators on the Chaotic Shiny web page cover an amazing array of subjects – from languages and people, to places and things. What do you use to write your generators and how did you get started coding them?

I write all of my generators now in PHP, but I started out in JavaScript. You can tell which are which – the ones where you have to refresh the page are JavaScript, whereas the ones with dropdown menus are PHP.

I started out by taking a ‘random quote’ script I’d seen somewhere, and changing the quotes to character traits, then copying the script again and again with different traits. Later I started getting more complex, having some results depend on others – like how a tavern with expensive food is more likely to have expensive drinks, too. I think the 4e gen is probably the most complex one to date.

Of all your various interests, what do find the most fascinating to delve into?

That’s a tough one. I think patterns are the most fascinating thing to me. I spent half an hour this morning figuring out the most possible cards in a Set deck you could have out without being able to make a set (sixteen) and how those cards related to each other and the rest of the deck.

That same sort of thinking applies to reverse-engineering RPG classes so I can make powers that fit, or writing a generator that comes up with results that are uniform enough to be realistic but diverse enough to be inspiring – not to mention stated in grammatically correct ways, which can often be the trickiest part of a descriptive generator.

As a gamer, what do you play regularly? What are a few of your favorite games? Are you looking forward to anything in particular?

I’ll try just about everything, and I like different things for different purposes. Various flavors of D&D are great for crunch, but I love Wushu for cinematic games and Paranoia for silliness.

Right now I’m in a Star Wars Saga Edition game and a Mage: the Ascension game. They’re both fun in very different ways, and both groups value roleplaying over mechanics.

I’m getting a review copy of the Dragon Age tabletop game via Roleplaying Tips e-zine, and I’m looking forward to running that.

What have you found to be the most difficult parts of publishing your own RPG books? And what has been the most rewarding?

Different things are difficult at different times. The worst is probably when I can’t motivate myself to get anything done because there’s so much else going on in my life, and then I’ll look at my front page and realize it’s been a month since I released anything. Then I feel like I’m letting people down.

The most rewarding part is definitely when people tell me about how they used something of mine in their game, and it rocked. That’s what this is really all about.

What can fans of Chaotic Shiny look forward to in 2011?

I wish I knew! I’m almost ready to release Arcane Flavor, and I’m also working on the City Builder generator pack. There will probably be more of that sort of thing coming in the future, but aside from that, I don’t know. Having a full time job has meant updates have been slow lately, but that doesn’t mean I’m any less dedicated to keeping the cool stuff coming.

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A huge thanks to Hannah for taking the time for the interview and best of luck to all her Chaotic Shiny endeavors!

Be sure to check out the Chaotic Shiny generators site as well as the Chaotic Shiny Productions website for news on existing and planned books.

(For more about Martial Cultures: Arytis or Martial Flavor, check out my earlier reviews on Game Knight Reviews.)

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