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Luke Crane, Mammal Extraordinaire

Andrew Goenner
United States
St. Cloud
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Yup, changed the Avatar for self-promotion.
Go vote in the 24-Hour RPG Design Contest!
So, thanks to the wonderful US - RPG Chain of Generosity, I recently acquired a copy of The Burning Wheel (Revised Edition). I'd heard nothing but great things about the system, so when I saw it pop up in the chain I knew I had to put my name in the hat.

Since receiving it, I've read through the books hungrily and am in the midst of creating my "Burning Island" campaign; a campaign world originally created to use Dungeons & Dragons (4th Edition), but set aside as it wasn't well-suited to the system. However, it turned out to be a perfect campaign for the Burning Wheel.

Of course, when it came time to figure out my list of who to approach for an interview, Luke Crane was one of the first names to pop into my head. He was kind enough to answer my questions and the results of said interview are now here for your reading pleasure.

What brought you to the RPG world initially? What was the first RPG you played?

I was visiting an aunt and uncle in Maryland when I was in 6th grade. Their neighbors introduced me to D&D (Expert Set) and Marvel Superheroes. But the first game I played for more than one session was Paranoia run -- as a dead serious sci-fi game -- by my friend Aom. It was both traumatic and exhilarating. I told Greg Costikyan that story once and he said, "I'm sorry. You poor boy." and laughed.

Are you still an active RPG player? If so, what do you play other than Burning Wheel?

I recently played in a 14-session campaign of Greg Stafford's King Arthur Pendragon. Great game, one of the best designs in the history of the artform. At the moment, we're playtesting new designs.

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

I think Jared Sorensen's designs are grossly underrated and hugely influential in the design scene. Jared refined and perfected a lot of concepts that Greg Stolze, Robin Laws and Greg Stafford were experimenting with in the 80s and 90s. Check out Inspectres and Lacuna. It's hard to find more perfect RPGs.

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

I designed my first game immediately upon returning home from Maryland -- after my introduction to RPGs. I had been gifted a copy of the old Avalon Hill game "The Wizard's Tower." I dumped out the pieces, laid out the map and designed a proto-RPG for my friend Joe to play. He made a half-demon warrior and killed gremlins and stuck them to a spike on his helmet. He drew a picture. I wish I had that picture.

What is your favorite roleplaying memory? Least favorite?

Honestly, the games I play keep getting better and better. Each successive campaign that we complete is the best we've done. I have great friends and we play hard and intensely. It's the best hobby in the world!

Burning Wheel is quite the unique system. When did you sit down and decide the RPG world needed something new? What brought you to the Duel of Wits and Fight! mechanics?

I did what felt natural. I designed from the table, to encapsulate my players' good habits and nudge them away from their bad ones. That is one of the reasons why my games read like a series of odd rules and exceptions, but when you sit down and play them everything fits into place.

The Fight system arose from a desire to better manage the chaos of RPG combat -- without losing the feeling of chaos. There are many embarrassing iterations of Fight littering old design docs. Even now, it's the most contentious mechanic in the book. I'd venture to say that even most of my fans don't like it. Unfortunately for everyone else, I think it's quite fun. I'm always looking for a good challenge in a fight!

The Duel of Wits mechanic was developed for a project (long dead) called Apollyon Noir with Jason Roberts and Gareth Skarka. I read the first chapter of War and Peace as research and realized that we needed a way to simulate the conversations in the salons. As we playtested it, we realized it had more far reaching application and we adopted it into Burning Wheel.

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

I rather prefer being a mammal. We tend to win out in the end.

You also worked on Mouse Guard, which uses your Burning Wheel system. What about it appealed to you in regards to adapting Burning Wheel to it?

My friend Clinton R Nixon showed me the first issue of the comic in 2005 at ICON in Stonybrook, NY. In that issue one of the characters says, "It's not what you fight, but what you fight for." That is essentially what Burning Wheel is about. Clinton tried to work with the creator to design a game for him, but that fell through. I took a shot at it purely as a design experiment -- to see if I could strip Burning Wheel down to its core and keep it intact. We ended up with a rather different, unique game in its own right. I like it very much.

Are there other gamers in your family?

My younger brother and I have played RPGs since he was 9, but I truly lost him to the seductive lures of Warcraft 3. I recently introduced my 8-year-old nephew to Mouse Guard. He fought and ran off a beetle-eating toad. His eyes were ablaze afterward, so I think I might have a new convert.

Who is the most influential game designer for you? Who inspires you?

I always liked Greg Costikyan's designs — Star Wars and Paranoia in particular. Jordan Weisman definitely changed the way I conceived of RPGs.

I think Richard Borg is a masterful wargame designer. Memoir 44 and Command and Colors make me giddy. The clever iterative design makes me burn with envy. My friends Vincent Baker and Jake Norwood are two humble mothers*, but they're light years ahead of me in their designs.

Of the multiple projects you've worked on,is there one you're most proud of? If so, which is it and why?

I love all of my children equally, thank you. But if you haven't played FreeMarket, you should.

What advice would you give to budding RPG designers?

I have nothing but advice for budding RPG designers. 1) Play lots and lots of games. 2) Don't use BODY/MIND/SOUL or any variation thereof as your stats. 3) If you've been designing your game for 20 years to be the D&D killer...your game may be great, but it's not original in any respect. If you want more, please ask (or attend one of my seminars at PAX or Gen Con).

And my last qustion: Are there any big projects in the works that you can give us information on? A teaser of sorts?

We don't talk about projects that are in progress. Sorry, but it's best for everyone. We develop at our own pace and no one ends up disappointed!

I hope you all enjoyed reading this interview as much as I did in getting it posted. Stay tuned until next time, and remember: Don't just do, do with a purpose!

*edited for content
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