Interview: Pat Kapera of Crafty Games, Part 1

Over Labor Day weekend I had an opportunity to not only check out Tacticon in Denver, but sit in on a game of Spycraft 3.0 and chat in person with Patrick Kapera of Crafty Games. I had a blast both playing and chatting with Pat, who was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions for me over the course of about a half hour on the second day of the convention.

The whole interview ran over 4,000 words so I’ll be breaking it into a few different chunks over the next few weeks. So here’s part one!

Legend of the Five Rings, 4th EditionQ: Thanks for chatting with me today Pat! Crafty Games has been around since 2005 and before that you were at AEG (Alderac Entertainment Group, Inc.). Can you talk a bit about how you got started?

I got my start editing at AEG on Legend of the Five Rings. I wrote a couple of sourcebooks for L5R with some partners there. After that I basically had every job you could imagine at the company, though I was predominantly a staff writer and line developer.

I was the lead writer for Legend of the Burning Sands, which was spun off from L5R, and I was later the lead for Doomtown , after Rob Vaux completed the first storyline. I worked on 7th Sea and wrote one of those sourcebooks as well. And I worked on a bunch of AEG’s d20 stuff while I was there, before I developed Spycraft.

Q: How did you and Alex Flagg start working together?

That’s a funny story. Alex has this game called Ten Thousand Bullets, which is 13 years in the making now. It’s something Crafty will eventually release. It’s street crime noir, sort of GTA meets The Wire. Alex sent me an email saying “You don’t know me but I’ve got this setting and was going to release it on its own or possibly as a d20 variant, but then I saw Spycraft I figured that maybe we could do something with it there instead.”

Alex sent me the documentation, which was this sprawling world bible and product plan which, frankly, was much, much better than anything you’d see from your garden variety freelancer. I took this to the bosses and said “This guy seems to have a really good head on his shoulders. Maybe we could look at this as a sourcebook.” John Zinser really liked the idea and we went into development.

Alex and I met at Gen Con that year. We got along really well and picked over all his material. He had all these really great thoughts for other Spycraft products, and we were really jamming on all of that. We had a walk around the dealer’s hall and I introduced him to folks. It started with “This is Alex Flagg and he’ll maybe be freelancing for Spycraft“ but every time I’d introduce him it would get a little more congratulatory. By the end it was “This is Alex Flagg. He’s part of our Spycraft team.”

Spycraft2Alex ended up doing several sourcebooks for Spycraft. The line’s main series was based on the core classes, grouping them in pairs: Soldier/Wheelman was the first, and Alex came on during that. He wound up writing for pretty much everything we ever did for the game, except for Stargate. He had a hand in pretty much everything else.

For Second Edition we scheduled a summit to discuss core rules, all over the course of one really long weekend. That summit actually happened at Alex’s house, as he was central to everyone involved. Years later Alex and I became founders at Crafty Games to keep Spycraft going after AEG discontinued the line.

So Alex’s involvement was a steady but rapid uptick from that first contact, and now he’s half of everything we do at Crafty Games.

Q: You just released Little Wizards, which is a very different game for Crafty. How do you think it’s doing and are we going to see more one-off projects like it?

We were really nervous about Little Wizards because historically kids’ games haven’t sold very well. They don’t get a lot of market penetration. When you’re releasing product in this industry, you tend to wind up targeting the core gamer, and the core gamer may or may not have kids. They may not necessarily understand or have any interest in a kid’s RPG even if they know kids who are interested in gaming. That “bridge” isn’t necessarily there.

Also, Little Wizards is a bit of an odd beast in that it’s not a “junior version” of D&D, which is what most kid’s games are. Little Wizards is completely non-violent. It’s very mildly educational. It’s all about cooperation and storytelling and problem solving, and that was one of the things that attracted us to it and made it so special. But it also means it’s outside what you might expect — and that can make a game hard to market.

We didn’t create this game. It was licensed from a company in France — Le Septième Cercle — who published the original edition. We made two changes to the original. First, we modernized it a bit. The core engine only had one half of what we thought it needed, in that it had a pretty solid rolling mechanic. The magic system was fun, and the familiar rules were great, but we felt that that only served part of what the modern gaming hobby is like. On the other side you’ve got this heavy narrative movement, so we wanted to represent that. We brought in some Fate-style mechanics to establish that, and what we wound up with was a game that feels very different than all the other kid’s games on the market.

Little_Wizards_LogoThe second thing we changed was to expand a couple of the areas in the book. The Little Wizards Line Developer, Amanda Valentine, added a bunch of character creation material and some really fantastic guidance for running the game, especially in managing and presenting failure, and I expanded the plot of the biggest of the Tales in the game, The Squeakydoor Manor Mystery.

We released the game just before Gen Con, and it did well digitally. It wasn’t a blockbuster hit. The numbers were there but they weren’t blowing the doors off or anything. So we went into Gen Con thinking: “Well, this will be OK, it will get us into different people’s minds. It will do something that we feel is critical for the hobby, which is to provide parents a way to introduce their kids to gaming without necessarily having to promote violence and corpse robbing. And that’s enough. If it does well enough to pay for itself then it’s serving a very important social purpose, and we’re happy. We’ve done our jobs as company owners and as socially conscious designers, and at the end of the day we can put that feather in our cap and be content.”

But it turns out that the game had huge legs at Gen Con. When people could actually see the book, and see the game played, and talk to us and the original creators to see what it was all about, it’s been huge… especially with educators and librarians. It’s going to be one of those games with a slow but very steady uptick, and we believe that it will ultimately do some really amazing things out there.

As for the second half of the question, “yes” is the easy answer. One of the things we figured out the hard way with Crafty Games is that open-ended lines are something that a lot of folks say they want, but that aren’t actually all that helpful in the long run — not for every game. There’s this weird perception that unless a game is being aggressively published, it’s dead, which we all know is ridiculous. People are still playing 1st edition D&D! But above and beyond that, there’s this idea that unless a game has a future (“future” defined as “new products”), then it’s somehow failing in its obligations to the fans.

So when we started Crafty Games we embraced the expectation. Fantasy Craft was developed as an open-ended line, and originally Ten Thousand Bullets was the same. What we’ve since come to, though is that it’s not always in the best interest of the game, the fans, or us. This is why Crafty Games is going to have very few long-term, open-ended lines moving forward.

Fantasy Craft is a long-term, open-ended line because it was developed that way. It’ll be a much more measured schedule than you might see with something like Spycraft, but it’s open-ended. You’ll see maybe a book a year. It may even be less sometimes. When we have a good idea and we think it adds something to the overall game, we’ll make that product. And in that way the line will continue in its current form for as long as it continues to be viable.

Spycraft_Third_Edition_LogoSpycraft has an aggressive schedule because it’s our flagship. So when that comes out it will also be open-ended. It’ll have a lot of product support, and that product will eventually level out to whatever the accepted release schedule is for everyone. Neither Alex nor I know what that end game schedule looks like yet because the market will dictate it.

Everything else we do is a limited game line. Right now Little Wizards is a one-book game. You don’t need anything else, really. That book gives you three adventures, and plenty of the world. It gives you the rules. It’s done. We could do another book if we wanted, and the market demanded it. We have a couple ideas, but we’ll wait to see if it’s a good idea. Right now it’s too early to make that decision.

Ten Thousand Bullets is being developed specifically as a limited game. We’re not sure how many products there will be, but I’d ballpark it somewhere in the neighborhood of a half-dozen. From the get-go we’ll say this is what you can expect from us and there will be an end in sight when we launch. What that does is really interesting, because it means that the people who buy into that game… they can see the end from the start, or at the very least they know there’s going to be an end from the start. They can plan for it. It gives them the authority to go out and start planning their campaigns without worrying that we’re going to trample all over their ideas as we release whatever product is coming down the line. That has a fantastic effect, we think.

Mistborn is also a limited game line, but it doesn’t have an end date yet. Part of that is process-driven. There are a lot more people involved. We have to take into consideration what Brandon [Sanderson] is doing and what he wants out of each product. He has a continuity editor who’s always involved. Mistborn products are tougher to make because of the freelance talent that’s required as well. So all the products just take longer to make, and there are more wild cards at every stage. Because of all that it’s really hard to say “We expect this line to go to so many products.” We have a rough idea, but it’ll ultimately shake out as it needs to.

——————————————————————

I have to thank Pat for taking the time to chat with me on two separate days at Tacticon. I had a great time just shooting the breeze about gaming in general and Crafty Games in specific!

There’s plenty more to this review, so check out part 2 and part 3!

 

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