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Interview with Lou Zocchi: "The first dice idea I was shown is still a secret"

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Lou Zocchi at GenCon 2007 (photograph by Alan De Smet)



Lou Zocchi (born 1935) has been active in the gaming scene for close to fifty years. A game designer, publisher, and distributor, Zocchi is probably best known for his dice. He became the first manufacturer of polyhedrals in the US, starting around 1975. In the 1980s, he invented several news shapes, for instance the hundred-sided “Zocchihedron”. To this day, Zocchi is a strong proponent of dice quality, advocating for precision dice (see for instance the videos embedded below the interview).

I had the pleasure to interview Lou Zocchi about Dice, Gamescience, and Everything. Well, not quite everything. Hope you enjoy it!

(A German version of this Interview will be published in issue #107 of Anduin.)






You were one of the first manufacturers to produce ten-sided dice, and a few years later you invented a true d100, the Zocchihedron. Before that, how did you do percentile rolls for systems like Chaosium’s Runequest (BRP)? Did you use d20s?

20-sided dice were imprinted to read 0-9 twice. If you needed a true 20 outcome as well as a D-10 result, half of the digits were inked with black and the other 0-9 digits were inked green. If the die rolled a black number, it was used as is. If it rolled a green number, you would add 10 to its outcome, so a green 3 would be considered a roll of 13.

T.S.R. was the first company to make a ten-sided shape and sell 7 piece dice sets. They were the first to provide a d-20 which read 1-20. While everyone else making dice changed their 0-9 twice twenty-sided dice molds, I made the mistake of putting a + sign on half of the digits on my 20-sided dice.  These were very slow sellers and many gamers didn't want to add 10 to the numbers which came up with the plus sign. After losing a large market share to those who had 1-20 numbered dice, I made a 1-20 shape also.


Who was or is Cliff Polite, and how did the d10 come to be? Were you the first manufacturer of ten-sided dice?

When I saw the T.S.R. 7 piece set had a separate D-10, I wanted to make a D-10. Cliff Polite was a game buff, stationed at Keesler A.F.B. and he worked in their art department. I gave Cliff a T.S.R. D-10, and told him I needed drawings of a 10 sided shape which I could send to my mold maker. To my surprise, Cliff truncated a D-20 into the D-10 shape you see me selling today. If you count each of the diamond shaped faces around the equator of the D-10, you'll discover that there are 10 such diamonds. I was the first manufacturer to supply customers with a ten sided die you could buy separately. The only other way to get a D-10, was to buy the T.S.R. 7 piece set.

When you produced your d3, d5, d14, and other new polyhedrals, what kind of demand did you anticipate?

When I made the 3, 5, 14, 16 and 24-sided dice, I did not expect the customers to buy them quickly because in most cases, there were few uses which required such shapes. I made the first 5 sided die, by boring out the numbers on one of my D-10 molds, and making plugs which could generate 00-90, as well as 1-5 twice, and 00 to 40 twice and 10-50 twice, as well as a set of chess piece faces, which could be used to teach someone how to play chess. There was not much interest in any of these shapes. Later I created the 16-sided die, and found slow sales until someone using a D-16 won a button man contest. Shortly thereafter, the D-16 sold better. 

jasri wrote:
It's possible that Zocchi
misrembers this, and the
d24 contest was run in
Polyhedron #51 (results in
#55). (Did I mention that
RPGGeek's article search
is amazing?)

After I invented the 24-sided die, I gave several to the publishers of KNIGHTS OF THE DINNER TABLE, and I asked them to run a contest which offered free 24-sided dice to the gamers who made the best suggestions for its use. This worked out very well, and Koplow asked me for permission to manufacture and sell copies of it. 

After I invented the true 5-sided die, which is shaped like a Vicks cough drop, D&D players kept telling me there was no need for a 5 sided die. So I asked them to tell me what is done when you use a magic missile?  They replied, you roll 4+1 to get the result.  Then I asked what is the total of 4+1? They said 5. So if you roll a 5 sided die you don't have to add 1. Then they said, "What happens when you roll a one?"  I said, "you reward the player who has never questioned any of your decisions, and you punish the player who argued with every thing you said."  After making the 3 sided die, I got the same argument from D&D players. "There is no need for a 3" they all cried. So I asked them if there are any reasons to roll 4 minus 1. Oh, yes, but I hadn't though about 4-1. In addition to the numbers 1, 2, 3 imprinted on the tips of the die, in the center of every die are the letters R. P. and S.  When I tell them that R stands for rock, most of them reply that P stands for paper and S stands for scissors. Because many live action role playing games use the R.P.S. method to resolve combat, this die is a big help in those games where you find yourself playing against a cheat, who is slow to show his hand.

Zocchi wrote:
Obviously 1 mm is a very small amount, and he wanted me to take 1/15th of a millimeter off of the 14mm thick prototype. "How did you come up with such a strange finding?", I asked.

How did you make sure your polyhedrals like the d5 have a fair distribution of results?

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Kevin Cook has the worlds largest dice collection which I think is on the computer as DiceCollector.com. He told me that a Doctor of Mathematics who taught at a college in Canada, had built a dice testing machine to see if dime store dice rolled as randomly as casino dice.
His test showed that the dime store die rolled one face 6 times more often than any of the others. Because there is only one dimple on face #1 and 6 dimples on its opposite side, I told him that I suspected that the #6 had come up most often because it was on a side which was lighter than the side with one dimple. He never commented on my remark, so I still don't know if I was right.

Because I didn't know how thick to make my D-5, I sent him 11 prototypes, each of which was 1mm thicker than the next. After several months had passed, he told me I needed to make my die 13.85mm thick in order to assure that it rolled every face an equal number of times.
I phoned him for more details.  Obviously 1 mm is a very small amount, and he wanted me to take 1/15th of a millimeter off of the 14mm thick prototype. "How did you come up with such a strange finding?", I asked. He said, after his machine had rolled the 10mm thick die more than 5,000 times, he plotted its results. Then he rolled the 11mm thick die more than 5,000 times and plotted its result. Then the 12, 13 and 14mm dice were rolled. He repeated this testing on 6mm thick plastic and 12 mm thick plastic to confirm the performance results, which indicated that a die that was 13.85mm thick would roll each of its faces an equal number of times.

I told this story to everyone buying a 5-sided die. One day, while in a hobby shop, I told the store owner to witness the performance of this new unusual shape. I rolled it 10 times on her glass topped show case and was mortified to see that the die stopped on its large triangular faces every time. Later, I realized that glass and metal surfaces have no give back or bounce which is what causes the D-5 to roll upright.
Because wood and plastic surfaces give the D-5 a bounce back, I urge players not to use glass, metal or cardboard surfaces. Because many players use a wooden table covered by a table cloth, I suspect that the table cloth dampens the bounce back.


You’ve produced the d-Total (“seventeen dice in one”). It is based on a new shape of d24 designed simultaneously by Dr. A.F. Simkin and Franck Dutrain. During your career, did you often receive suggestions for new, interesting dice shapes?

The D-total rolls like 18 other dice shapes, 2 of which no one makes.  Who has a d70 or d80?  The D-Total is the second time someone has given me shapes I've never seen before. Franc Dutrain was a young guy who wanted to manufacture dice. The tool and die people told him not to come back until he could pay them $10,000. He scrimped and saved for years to get the money. When he paid them, they build the tool and made 30 copies of the die to prove that the tool worked. Then they told him to come back when he had another $10,000 and they'd make him 10,000 pieces. With only 30 prototypes to sell, he had no way to get out of his problem. He sent a prototype to Kevin Cook, in hopes that Kevin would buy his tool. Kevin told me about it and I asked Dutrain to send me a sample.  The next day, I received a phone call from Dr. Simkin.  He asked me if I would like to see a 24-sided die which could roll 5 different dice shapes. I asked him to send me one. A week later, both dice arrived on the same day, and each was the same shape and size of the other.  When I saw that Dr. Simkin had laid out his 5 numbers in a helter skelter pattern, I asked him to lay out the number results, like the numbers on a wrist watch.
He liked the idea and sent me another prototype with 8 digits, laid out like a wrist watch.  That is when I paid Dutrain to mail his mold to me.

While the design of the d-Total is intriguing, isn’t it a bit of a paradox for a dice manufacturer to sell a die that can replace all the other dice you produce?

Zocchi wrote:
...still a
secret...
Although this die does everything a dice set can do, it does several other things no dice set today can do. A number of these dice are sold to players who like the idea of using one die instead of a dice set. Furthermore, when rolling the D-total, your players have no idea which element of information you are reading on that die roll, so they can't argue with you. I'm sure many people are dice collectors and buy the D-Total just because they don't have one, while other gamers buy one to impress those who game with them. 

The D-total is the 3rd dice idea I've been shown.  The 2nd idea I was shown was to make a 0-9 D-10 into a 00-90. 

The first idea I was shown is still a secret. 

What about those dice testing reports which you mentioned in our pre-interview emails?

I sent several of my dice to be tested on the dice testing machine, and I was pleased to learn that my dice provided a performance very close to that of a casino die.
jasri wrote:
Link to the first independent test:
d20 Dice Randomness Test
(Awesome Dice Blog, 2012)


Two independent dice tests have been conducted and reported on the computer. The first test compared a Gamescience D-20 and a Chessex D-20. Both were rolled 10,000 times. Under ideal conditions, each die face should have come up 500 times. The testers decided that faces which came up 33 times over 500 or under 500 would count as a roll of 500. The chessex face #5 came up 488 times, and was the only face to fall within this category.  The gamescience  die had 6 faces that were within 10 of the 500 mark, and 13 faces were within 33 of the 500 mark. Gamescience face #14 came up only 295 times because the #7 on its backside, had a protruding clip mark. I used to think that the protruding clip mark was not important, but I know better now.  I urge everyone who has a protruding clip mark to cut it off with a razor knife. Doing so will make your die roll more randomly.

Kevin Cook feels this test had several mistakes. Both dice were rolled on a felt topped table, with a felt covered backing board, just like you see in casinos.  If both dice didn't bounce off of the backboard, the numbers rolled were not tallied. Kevin pointed out that most of us don't have a felt topped table or felt covered backing board, to roll our dice on. Because most of us play on a wooden table, or a table clothed wooden table, this test should have been made on those surfaces. Furthermore, only two dice were used in this test. 

What if the Chessex die used for this test, was not typical of all Chessex dice? What if they had used a Gamescience die without a protruding clip mark on face #7? If someone is going to repeat this test, I'd like them to use 3 or 5 dice from each source to make sure that one which is out of tolerance, doesn't screw up the test.  Furthermore, I'd like to see if dice which have all the digits on one side only, inked, and the other faces are without ink, does the weight of the ink cause the plain sides to come up more often?

The second test is "How True Are Your d20s?" This independent test compares Crystal Caste, Chessex, Koplow and Gamescience dice. To illustrate how uniform each die is, they made 6 dice stacks of each companys D-20. If these dice were uniformly made, all the dice in each stack should reach the same height. Only Gamescience dice reached the same height in each of its 6 stacks. They also measured the thickness differences of each die and reported that Chessex dice measured .010, Gamescience dice measured .003, Koplow measured .006 and Crystal Caste measured .022. This puzzles me because they had two additional measurements listed for Crystal Caste. CC opaques measured .006 and CC translucent dice measured .012 differentials.

Zocchi wrote:
I see RPGs and CCGs
as the most striking
changes in our hobby.

You still attend conventions. Do you also offer seminars?

Yes, I still offer to speak on HOW TO SELL YOUR GAME DESIGN, and HOW TO ROLL WINNING NUMBERS.

What was the best (happiest or most successful) time Gamescience had in all these decades?

Each time I bring out a new shape, I feel very good. Probably the D-100 in 1986 and being inducted into the Game designing hall of fame in 1987 were my proudest moments. Winning the H.G. Wells award in 1980 for my Basic Fighter and Advanced Fighter Air Combat game and the 1981 Games day award from England for my Star Fleet Battle Manual, getting my The Battle of Britain game published in 1968, publishing Flying Tigers in 1969, and in 1970 the Avalon Hill Luftwaffe board game. Luftwaffe remained on the Avalon Hill all time best sellers list for the next 25 years. I've had so many good years in gaming, it's hard to single out just one.


In 2009, you sold Gamescience to Gamestation, but rumor has it you bought it back some time ago. Can you please clarify and tell us some details about this?

Because Gamescience and Gamestation are in litigation at this time, I feel it is unwise to go into details. We are attempting to start back up again, but having trouble finding a molder.

Are the Gamescience dice from the Gamestation period different in any way?

I was unhappy with their lack of quality control.

What is the current status of Gamescience, and what can we expect from you in the future?

We are trying to find a reliable molder.  When we get one, it will probably take more than a year to fill all our back orders.  

Reflecting on the decades of hobby gaming history you’ve seen (and played a part in), what differences between then and now are, in your opinion, the most striking?

When I started in this hobby in 1959, only The Avalon Hill Game Co was publishing serious wargames. Milton Bradly and Parker Brothers offered military titles, which required the players to roll the die and move the indicated numbers of squares. The first to reach the end of the board, won the war. No merit titles is all they put out. I played every Avalon Hill game published until 1968. I was on their play test panel and play tested Bismark, Stalingrad, Afrika corps, Jutland and many others. 


In 1972 I started selling Dungeons & Dragons because I was a friend of Gary Gygax. Fantasy role playing replaced board gaming in popularity until the introduction of Magic: The Gathering. I like board wargames best, and playing miniatures second best. I see roleplaying and card gaming as the most striking changes in our hobby.


When did you first play a role-playing game? What was your reaction at the time? Did you perceive it as a new type of game?

I had been selling D&D for more than 15 years when I was eventually lured into a game. I knew what it was and what was expected by my character. I enjoyed it, but I still liked playing board war games better. By this time there were many others selling role playing games, including myself, so although I knew it was different, my dice sales kept me in close contact with it.

As the designer of some Star Trek gaming material in the early 70s, I assume you are a big fan of the series? Do you also like the newer series and movies?

I do enjoy Star Trek, except for the series where they tried to go back to its beginning, before Kirk.

You spent more than 20 years in the Air Force. How did that shape you as a person, and, possibly also as a game designer?

I frequently used my quite Air Force Duty time to work on my game designs. I was an Air Traffic controller and an Air Traffic Control instructor. While working in the Control tower on Saturdays and Sundays when there was no flying, I took some of my game designs to work with me, to work on.


You have been performing shows as a magician and ventriloquist for about sixty-five years now. What’s behind this passion of yours?

When I perform a trick that makes children scream in delight, or fills them with wonder, it is very fulfilling. I can make a crying child stop crying with one of my special tricks. It is just plain fun.
You might be able to watch on your computer, some of what I do if you enter veengle.com Louis zocchi magician. You should find an edited version of my magic show, and maybe a 3:45 video of 10 improbable things I can do with a match box. 

jasri wrote:
Both videos can be found at the Youtube channel for Louis Zocchi

You play a few instruments, and, like with dice, you seem to have a penchant for the extraordinary. Can you tell us more about Zocchi the musician?

I started out playing the ukulele, then the violin, viola, trombone, trumpet, Guitar, Electric Bass, Musical saw, snoot flute, slide whistle and 22 foot long garden hose. I'm not a great musician, but I feel that I am competent. Most of the novelty instruments I play, require almost no skill or practice, which is why I play them. I won the Air Force World Wide talent contest in 1971 in the instrumental solo category by playing EXODUS on an 8 point cross cut carpenters hand saw.

Is there something in your life you regret and really wish you could have done differently?

Yes, and I'm sure we all have those regrets until we make the next regrettable decision.

Which games did you play as a child, and what made you become a game designer and publisher?

I liked to play monopoly and chess. When I couldn't get anyone to publish my game, I did it myself. While preparing to print my 2nd game, a friend who helped me lay it out, told me that if I would use the 3 blank pages to advertise his games, I'd have something else to sell. When his titles appeared in my game, I got letters from other self publishers wanting me to advertise their titles and that is how my distributorship started.

Which is your latest game design? And when did you last play one of your own games?


I'm continuously reworking my The Battle of Britain game design, which I enjoy playing more than my other works. However it has been longer than 10 years since I played any of my own game designs. 

Zocchi wrote:
I've had so many good years in gaming, it's hard to single out just one.

What games have you played most recently, and what games do you hope to play next (if any)?

The Avalon Hill Waterloo game  was the last game I played and I'm hoping to play it again because I have an opponent who is as skilled as I and really challenges me. I also like to play Risk with 3 or more people.

Thank you very much for the interview!

Below is the two-part dice videos promised above, from GenCon 2008:




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News Bits (Nov 25): Story Games moves on, American freeform, and back to the roots - plus around RPGG

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The popular Story Games community is changing ownership! Founded in 2004 by Andy Kitkowski, Story Games began as an offshoot of The Forge, welcoming a more social atmosphere with less explicit focus on design. But the community has outgrown its older sibling and is now a thriving place to discuss story games and many other things. Nevertheless, Kitkowski has decided to move on thanks to a new job and his successful RPG publishing business (Kotodama Heavy Industries, specializing in translations of Japanese RPGs). James Stuart, until now a moderator on the forums, will take over ownership of the site. It sounds like, after the transition, we can expect some major changes to the site; according to his farewell musings, Kitkowski sees Google+ as the place to discuss things on the internet and Story Games as more of a community building tool. We can expect Stuart to shift the site more toward that mission.

Free RPG Day is looking for publishers who want to participate in Free RPG Day 2014. All that publishers need to do is sign up and commit to print a set amount of copies that will be handed out for free on Saturday, June 21, 2014. The deadline for publisher commitments for Free RPG Day 2014 is February 21st. (Retailer sign-ups will begin later.) See here for more details.

There's a nice overview of "American freeform" (a sub-genre of "structured freeform") by Lizzie Stark (with contributions from Emily Care Boss) here. As a bonus, you'll get some titles of games still in play test (like a Fiasco LARP by Jason Morningstar!).

For those of you interested in the early history of D&D, Zach Howard at The Zenopus Archives, a site dedicated to the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set (First Edition), has acquired a scan of J. Eric Holmes' third draft of the book. He's now blogging about his read-through and a comparison to the published manuscript. The first article is here; the rest are accessible from the front page of the blog. In a similar vein, Shannon Appelcline has a brief history of the (newly re-released) Dungeons & Dragons (Original Edition) on this page.

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Following hot on the heels of the 24-hour RPG design contest is the 2013 RPG GEEK 48-Hour RPG Contest. Design an RPG from the ground up within any 48-hour window before December 20 and win fabulous Geekgold prizes! This time around, there's an option to roll on a random list for inspiration, and there are other side prizes being set up here.

This week, we've got a new interview with Neil Carr. His most recent project, Companions of the Firmament, was funded by Kickstarter and Neil published his study results on crowdfunding as well.

Thanks to RPGG Newscasters Jonas (jasri) and Steve (sdonohue) for contributions to this article!

Have a news tip for us? Please send it along to rpgg-news@googlegroups.com!
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News Bits (Nov 18): Batkid, diversifying retail outlets, OMG shipping costs, and around RPGG...

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Wondering just how expensive it is to get books to your customers? Fred Hicks has a new blog entry breaking down the numbers for the massively successful Fate Core Kickstarter. Bottom line: they've got about $100k left now but several more stretch goals to write - so the whole thing will likely end up close to profit-neutral. (Also, note that shipping costs were about twice as much as actual printing costs!)

ICv2's regular retailer commentator has a new column about trying to diversify his RPG sales (which currently lean heavily towards Pathfinder). He's got some interesting insights into how retailers choose to promote games.

If you haven't heard about it, check out the the exploits of Batkid last Friday and reaffirm your faith in humanity. Geeks rule! There are zillions of other stories about the little crime fighter out there if you want more info. (For the record, this is obviously a particularly elaborate LARP, so it clearly fits into our RPG news section.)

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Our latest Interview with an RPG professional is up! This time we talked to Jacob Wood, who is best known for Psi-punk. And for being an all-around great guy on RPGG. If you're an RPG Professional and would like to be interviewed, please send a geekmail to sdonohue.

Did you know that the QOTD has now passed its three-year anniversary? (The first question was posted on November 12, 2010.) Thanks sdonohue!

Are you a foodie? By which I don't mean "fan of gourmet food," but instead a fan of "bizarre regional food traditions"? Then sign up for the new L.A.X. - 1st RPGGeek International Food and Beverages exchange and share your home's cuisine with someone far away. Signups close December 8; gifts should be delivered by January 31, 2014.

Have a news tip for us? Please send it along to rpgg-news@googlegroups.com!
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RPG Pro Interview: Derek Hiemforth

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We recently interviewed Derek Hiemforth aka

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as part of our RPG Industry Professional Interviews series.

His interview is here: RPG Industry Professional Interview: Derek Hiemforth
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Interview with Aldo Ghiozzi, organizer of Free RPG Day, head of Impressions

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I've had the pleasure to talk with Aldo Ghiozzi about Free RPG Day. For details about the upcoming FRD (Saturday 15, 2013), see the news post next door. There's a lot of gaming goodness coming to your FLGS, and it's free - go check it out!

First off, could you please introduce yourself to our readers who don't know you? What is your company, what exactly do you do?
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I am Aldo Ghiozzi and I'm the owner of Impressions Game Distribution Services (www.impressionsadv.net). Most gamers would not be familiar with what Impressions is all about as our main focus is handling the distributor and retailer sales, shipping and warehousing for over 60 game companies. We're not a distributor, but a service hired by game companies to handle these things.


Everybody seems to be talking about crowdfunding. What's your opinion (personal or professional) about kickstarter and the like?

We've had our nose in crowd funding since Kickstarter first started. It's been great for the game industry definitely. I honestly love it because it has definitely increased business for us. The bad side though is that the game market is getting super crowded and super saturated with game releases. Again, crowd funding has been great for business, but I hope it settles just a little bit in our market.

What's the history behind the Free RPG Day? How did the first „FRD“ come about, and how hard was it to make it a reality?

Everyone asks this story and I wish it was more entertaining...So, Joseph Goodman from Goodman Games has been a client for 10+ years, and obviously, we've become good friends. He was actually in town (I live in the San Francisco Bay Area) for something family related and we setup to have lunch. He pulls out his notebook and says, "I actually have a list of ideas I want to talk for Goodman Games." His first was, "Impressions should copy Free Comic Book Day and call it Free Adventure Module Day." My response was simply, "That is such a lame name. We'll call it Free RPG Day. OK. Got it. Next?" And that was it. Again, it was quite simple to emulate Free Comic Book Day and all I really needed was to get publishers on board. That was actually the easy part. I figured if I got 3 publishers to participate, that would be a good start. Year 1 we got 17 participating publishers and 301 stores. Our goal was 80 to 100 stores!

How has the event changed over the years?

Well, I definitely think we have the process down pat. Getting it done logistically has become easy. Probably the biggest change this year was adding what we call "Uber Kits". This was mainly for the U.S. retailers because we ship direct to them ourselves vs. stores outside the U.S. go through our distributor partners in the participating countries. An Uber kit is a regular kit of the freebies, but then we put in actual core product from 4 of the participating publishers so retailers would be guaranteed to have items to sell on the day of the event. Unfortunately, we've found that stores either forgot to order product for their shelves or because of FRD, distributors didn't have product for the stores to buy as the event came up...this meant that stores were not able to use FRD for exactly what it was meant for --- to increase sales of RPGs!

What do you like most about Free RPG Day?

The excitement and support from both the consumers and the retailers. It's crazy cool. I get emails from consumers being so formal and professional asking or complaining or complementing things, and they all have a passion to them...and they all act like we're some giant company who they'll never get a response from. We're tiny. It's mostly just me.

How many stores in the US participate, and how many from the rest of the world? Are any of the states particularly active? Same for foreign countries: Do some stand out?

This year we had 391 stores participate worldwide, but this is down from our usual ~420...BUT the event sells out every year, and this year, participating stores bought more kits because we only have 600 every year...That is the maximum we're able to offer each year...and the event sells out every year. 276 U.S. stores and 145 stores outside the U.S. Our biggest concentration outside the U.S. is Canada and then the U.K. but that is mostly because we have large distributor partners in those countries.

What's the strangest (or farthest) address you ever shipped a FRD parcel to?

Strangest? I don't think we've had a strange country! Har har. I would say for this year, Thailand and the Czech Republic would be our smallest/ farthest places.

What do you think is the most compelling argument for stores to participate in the event?


Well, I can tell you that the biggest argument AGAINST participating from stores is because RPG sales are quite small compared to all other games out there. But I go back to what I said above, the retailers are passionate about the event. For those that still play traditional pen and paper RPGs, there is an intense passion for them, so stores that have a great RPG following make a great day out of the event. As a business answer, the event is only $85US this year, and I would argue that stores need to give reasons for consumers to get off the couch and get into their store, and FRD is a reason if the store makes a real event out of the day. Plan games, get GMs, buy lunch for participants, have a sale, get balloons, whatever. If you build it, they will come!

You've mentioned in an interview some years ago that you don't see much growth potential for the FRD, and probably, for the RPG market as a whole. Could you please explain?

As I mentioned above, FRD sells out every year. Most ask, "how can it sell out?" Well, that is because the publishers supporting it can only make so much product to be given away for free. There is a limit. These publishers may mark this as a marketing expense, but its pricey to make even the smallest RPG product these days. I continue to try and think of ways to grow the event, but the RPG market is by no means the size of say, the comic book industry. In terms of the RPG market as a whole not growing, I see numbers daily since we handle distribution for RPG companies and they are small. RPG players tend to just play an old system or some variation of systems from years past, so new RPGs have a tough time on the retailer shelf.

What will you do on Saturday 15, 2013?

Every year, I go to my FLGS, Black Diamond Games in Concord, California, and every year I run some games and buy pizza all day for those participating. We probably have 6 tables running 3 games with 4-8 people every 3 hours, all day. For Black Diamond, this is a very large event.

Bonus question: What are you drinking right now?

Well, I'm on California time so your email hit me right in the morning where I have my coffee in hand (1 sugar, lots of milk)...but now its cold because I responded to your email...off for another cup! Thanks for the time!

Thanks for your time, Aldo - and sorry about the coffee! Cheers!

Have a news tip for us? Please send it along to rpgg-news@googlegroups.com!
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Thu Jun 13, 2013 12:00 am
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The latest on RPG Pro Interviews

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Our roving green slippered reporter,

Just another Steve
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has continued to round up RPG professionals! If you've missed the new interviews over the last several weeks, check out

RPG Industry Professional Interview: Dave Chalker - designer most recently for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, and formerly a Geek admin
RPG Industry Professional Interview: Gareth-Michael Skarka - head honcho at Adamant Entertainment
RPG Industry Professional Interview: Mike Nystul - head honcho at Castle Nystul

In these "get to know you" interviews, you can read about the early gaming life, influences, and favorites of each interviewee - and learn about the only D&D spell to be named after a real person rather than a fictional character!

If you'd like to stay on top of the interview series - and Steve assures me he already has several more underway - I'd recommend subscribing to this master geeklist.
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Fri Apr 12, 2013 3:30 pm
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RPG Pro Interview: James Wallis

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We caught up with James Wallis, the founder of Hogshead Publishing for an interview. You can read the details here:

RPG Industry Professional Interview: James Wallis

Our thanks to James for taking a break from Kickstarting his first new RPG in fifteen years, Alas Vegas! to answer our questions.
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Wed Feb 20, 2013 5:37 am
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Jason Morningstar: Jurassic theropod

Andrew Goenner
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St. Cloud
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Thanks to fellow RPGGeeks
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and
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I was recently introduced to a wonderful game called Fiasco. This is a game I'd heard a lot about, but knew would probably not be a big hit with my group. To be honest, I was wondering a bit how much I would enjoy the game myself, but I wanted to give it a try. Needless to say, like many others who have delved into this game, I feel in love.

That being said, it is my great honor to present to you my latest RPG Pro interviee, Jason Morningstar:


What brought you to the roleplaying hobby in the first place?
I was a bored, imaginative kid whose father anduncle were both really into wargames. One day my uncle brought over a game he'd bought on a whim but that made no sense to him. It was white box D&D and it sure made sense to me!

What was the first game you designed (whether it was published or not), and what did you feel upon completion?
The first game I designed was called, ambitiously, Jesus Tic Tac Toe. I was in first grade. Jesus Tic Tac Toe was like regular Tic TacToe, only Jesus-sized, with 20 columns and 20 rows. It was my first unplayable game design as well. I like to think that it taught me a lot. It certainly wasn’t the last time I’ve stolen from the greats.

What's the most underrated system you've played in or run?
Underrated? According to who? A game I'd love to see get more exposure and love is Matthijs Holter's game Archipelago.

What is your favorite roleplaying memory?
I have so many good memories! There have been times when I've played with people who were totally new to the hobby and had a delightful experience with them, watched their eyes light up with the possibility of it all, those are good times.

Least favorite?
I remember being scolded and chastised for making some culturally inappropriate move in a Bushido game when I was like twelve, something I had no idea about. A bunch of adults basically yelled at me and I remember thinking "now this is some bullshit."

You have not only designed a popular game, but also a game that is completely unique in its mechanics that has made its way up to #2 in the RPGGeek rankings. Where did the idea come from and how did you go about building it?
First of all Fiasco isn't completely unique - it builds on other games, as all games do. The idea came from a need that I observed over and over again - a game that could easily fit into a short time period and deliver a complete, satisfying experience. All the design parameters forced the game into being what it is.

If you were a dinosaur, what kind would you be and why?

A badass Jurassic theropod, because I like to steal eggs and run around.

Other than RPG-related activities, what is a hobby you partake in?
My wife and I love to travel, so we're always out getting into trouble. I tend to get really obsessive about one thing at a time; right now it is the history of early cinema.

When you designed Fiasco, did you have any idea it would garner such a following in the RPG world?
Nope.

Are there any other gamers in your family?
We're all gamers, but my older brother and I are in a weekly gaming group together, which is great.

Who has had the most influence on you as a designer and why?
I would say my local friends that I am playing with every week, because in the end I am designing games I want to play with them.

Do you have a RPG night and what games do you play if you do?
I'm in two groups that meet more-or-less weekly.

One plays longer-form campaign style games and the other usually goes for three sessions of the latest hotness, then moves on to the next thing. Right now we're playing Archipelago and World of Dungeons respectively.

What advice would you give to budding RPG designers?
Make a lot of games and play even more. Find a positive, supportive community and embrace mutualism. Fail early and often. Don't spend money you don't have.

And finally, are there any big projects you’re currently working on that you can tell us about?
Well, my game Durance is almost done - we're looking over final proofs before sending it to the printer as I type this! After that, looking ahead, I have a ton of little ideas percolating, but I don't really know what will rise to the top. I am also helping out friends by contributing to various projects at the moment.

-----------------------------

And there you have it folks, the creator of Fiasco. Jason, thanks again for taking the time to answer my questions, and I know I have a new game on my list of those that deserve more exposure to give a readthrough.
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Wed Oct 3, 2012 5:15 am
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Sandy Petersen is a Pachycephalosaurus with the soul of a T-Rex

Andrew Goenner
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I discovered role playing through two games initially. Those games were DC Heroes (1st Edition) and Ghostbusters International. While DC Heroes was the first I purchased, GBI followed soon after, and this was actually the first game I played.

In highschool, I discovered and fell in love with Call of Cthulhu. However, while this is a fantastic game, Ghostbusters International will always have a place near and dear to my heart (and in fact I play it to this day). That is why it is truly my great honor to present here an interview with the designer of not only the #1-rated RPG in the database, but also one I will always remember as the first game I ever played.


What brought you to the roleplaying hobby in the first place?

In 1973, a friend of mine showed me a game he had borrowed from one of his college professors (we were freshmen in college at the time), and we thought we’d try it out. It was Dungeons & Dragons – the first print run, and it changed everything. I had always been a gamer but this was something fabulously new, despite its crudity.



What was the first game you designed (whether it was published or not), and what did you feel upon completion?

I don’t know. My friends and I had been playing board games as long as I can remember, and complex wargames since the age of 12. We made up our own rules for them, using airfix plastic WW2 armymen. We were probably 13 at the time, and had a complete set of combat rules, even incorporating a form of “roleplay” into it, as one of the officers on each side represented ourselves. Later on, I read that this was how D&D started – playing miniatures (Napoleonic though) and identifying some of the officers as the players. I guess we were shooting at the same mark, though in a far more disorganized manner.


What's the most underrated system you've played or run?

I would have to say Bunnies and Burrows. It had a skill system (as opposed to just leveling up), and was the first game I know to have used a character’s stats as influence on his skills. But of course no one played it, because you had to be a rabbit.


What is your favorite roleplaying memory?

I have been playing so many years, it’s hard to think of just one. But I guess the top one would be winning the Gamer’s Choice Hall of Fame in 1990. It’s voted on by the gamers themselves (instead of publishers or developers) so it meant a lot.


Least favorite?

Being told off by a player that I was “racist” for assuming that dwarfs were short.


Before I get to the question about the obvious game you were involved in designing, I want to ask about one closer to my heart. How did you come to be involved in the design of Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters International and how were you able to successfully combine the horror and comedy aspects of the films into the RPG?

West End Games had gotten the license to do an RPG using the Ghostbusters license, but Eric Goldberg (the designer instrumental in gaining the contract) had no confidence in his own ability to do the game. So West End basically subcontracted it out to me, expecting me to be able to mix horror & comedy. I think they expected rather more horror and less comedy (at least they kept urging me along those lines), but I hung tough and it worked out in the end. The secret was to do what I feel was a solid, flexible game system, and then to let the players provide the comedy, instead of the game system. By putting useful characters, with a range of abilities, into silly situations, we ended up with what I think was a good mix.

Often, comedy games are done by slacking off on the system, feeling that the fun is in the jokes. While this is a defensible, Ghostbusters at least demonstrates that the alternative also works.

Also I have spent many years watching bad monster movies and that experience was most useful.



If you were a dinosaur, what kind would you be and why?

Well my fave is the Tyrannosaurus rex, but with my luck I’d be stuck in the body of a pachycephalosaur or something else retarded.











Now the obvious question. Call of Cthulhu. Great game, timeless, and one of those on the short list of RPGs non-role players may have heard of. What was involved in adapting the works of one of the most in-depth horror mythoi in American literature into a RPG format?

RPGs of the time were pretty much combat and stat-oriented. D&D was just a dungeon crawl killing monster after monster. My first challenge was to somehow make a game out of a genre in which combat pretty much always leads to madness and/or death. I mean what would be the very weakest monster in the entire Cthulhu Mythos – probably a cultist? But a cultist, by definition, is as strong as a player-character, plus has numbers on his side. Combat was almost certain death, or at least very one-sided to the players’ disadvantage. I had another challenge as well, which was to somehow make the game feel “scary” – to make the players act like creepy things were going on.

The first part of the challenge (reducing combat) was done by emphasizing the mystery aspects of the Mythos – where players investigate, rather than focusing on intercepting or stopping the horrors. In CoC, the final conflict became closing a gate, or burning down a secret temple, or banishing a monster via a ritual. While there might be some kind of combat in the background, or attacks along the way, the emphasis became survival and escape, and the use of lore and discoveries. So this was a social change in the way the game worked, which is why there is the whole chapter at the end of the early editions explaining How To Play this game. It also led to the emphasis on things like arcane books, or library use, etc.

The second part of the challenge (making the game seem scary) was pretty much pulled off by the use of the Sanity rule. I had encountered an early issue of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice magazine, in which the writers posited a sort of Mind stat for players in a theoretical horror game, which they had to make a saving throw against when they saw something bad. If they fumbled their saving throw, the stat could be permanently reduced. I took this concept and enlarged upon it – using Sanity as a rather large number which could be reduced by seeing Terrible Things, and if too much was lost at a time, then temporary, long-term, or permanent effects could ensue.

In 1980, I tried out the concept of this Sanity system in the very first ever playtesting of Call of Cthulhu, with a band of players in Davis, California. They crept into the basement of a haunted house, and changed a spell they’d found in an old book, which they mistakenly believed to be the key to the house’s mystery. I just told them the spell was to summon a malign being from Beyond, so they were not sure what would happen (it was a dimensional shamble). When they chanted the spell, I said that they heard odd sounds, and then something started to emerge from the void. Out of five players, two said they were closing their eyes, and two others said they were looking away. Only one met the horror head on. And suddenly I realized that I had something new – the players actually were trying NOT to see the monster! That was so different from anything I’d encountered in 7 years of D&D that I was agog. They were acting as if they were afraid, and I guess they were, at least for their characters. The actions seemed to mimick what people do in horror movies and books and I knew I was on to something.


Are there any other gamers in your family?

Everyone plays games from time to time in my family, but mostly just my four sons are what you’d consider “gamers”. My daughter and wife like games, but as you know, that doesn’t make them gamers.


Who is your favorite RPG designer and why?

It’s hard for an rpg designer to be someone’s “favorite”. Most of us don’t design that many different RPG systems, compared to the number of games a boardgamer can pull off (I’ve worked on maybe a half-dozen RPGs, and that’s a lot for one of us – compare Reiner Knizia’s 500+ board games) . Plus who has time to play more than a handful of RPGs? They take a long time to hear, and several hours, even weeks, of play time to plumb their depths. So we get the short end of the stick as far as becoming faves. That said, I always felt that Steve Peterson had a lot on the ball, and not just because his last name is a misspelled version of my own.


If you had to go up against any Old One, which would it be and why?

Great Cthulhu. I know he would be utterly, contemptuously victorious, but he has been my favorite since I was 8 years old, and I would be proud to have my puny efforts crushed by him. I own a large original acrylic painting of him by Tom Sullivan. It’s hanging on my living room wall right now.


Of all the RPG projects you've worked on (be it system or supplement), which are you most proud of?


Uninterestingly enough, Call of Cthulhu. Sorry, no surprises there. It is still the reason I get invited to game conventions. Think on it – I have done video games that have sold tens of millions of copies, and been popular round the world. But it is the Call of Cthulhu fans who are the fanatics – who are the most interested in me and who, in turn, most interest me. Their quirky personalities, and fun game stories are always entertaining.


What advice would you give to budding RPG designers?


Make the game that pleases YOU, that YOU would like to play. When the folks at Chaosium got ahold of the license for H. P. Lovecraft’s fiction, they did not (at that time) respect nor love his work. They thought HPL was a laughable hack. But they were smart enough to know that because they didn’t respect HPL, they were not the right people to design Call of Cthulhu. They knew I was a big fan, and so they felt that I would put in the effort to make a good game on the topic, and that was the right decision. Not necessarily picking me (modesty forbids), but picking someone who loved the works of HPL, so that I would take them seriously, be obsessed with them, and try to do them justice.

When I was at id Software, making the computer game DOOM, we gave no thought to the mass market. We just worked on aspects of the game that WE thought were fun. We included multiplayer not because we thought people would like it, but because WE liked it. We were making a game to please ourselves, and our hope was that it would please at least some other people too. And it did. It turned out that when you are doing a game you love and want to play, the extra effort and care you put into the game really shows.



And finally, are there any big projects you’re currently working on that you can tell us about?

Yes, I am working on a game tentatively titled CTHULHU WORLD COMBAT which is a combination of Lovecraft’s universe along with strategy gaming. It will initially be released for the iPhone/iPad market, and will feature player-to-player combat struggling for mastery of the world in the End Times. You can play as several different factions (including Cthulhu), summon monsters, and lead your army across the globe. We are currently preparing a Kickstarter video for this project to get funding and kick into full production (the design document, some art, and preliminary programming are already finished). So if any of my games have given you or your readers pleasure, please keep an eyestalk open for my kickstarter and thanks for your consideration.
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Thu Aug 16, 2012 1:07 am
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The mind behind a Game Company - Interview with Patrick Kapera

Jaime Lawrence
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Game Knight Reviews has posted an interview with Patrick Kapera in which he outlines the history of Crafty Games and discusses the way they make decisions in the industry. The interview also offers some insight into the upcoming Spycraft (Version 3.0).

http://www.gameknightreviews.com/2012/04/publisher-interview...
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Fri Apr 27, 2012 2:36 am
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