Interview: Paul “Wiggy” Wade-Williams Paul Wade-Williams is the author of literally hundreds of roleplaying articles and books, including the “steampunk Victorian” RPG Leagues of Adventure.
He took time out of his incredibly busy schedule to chat with Victorian Adventure Enthusiast.
Victorian Adventure Enthusiast: How did you discover roleplaying games?
Paul “Wiggy” Wade-Williams: That came through the release of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain back in 1982. A good friend of mine was caught reading it in maths class by the teacher. It turned out she was a gamer, and rather than offering detention she gave him and three friends of his choice the chance to start playing AD&D 1st Edition as an after school activity. I was offered a seat and have never looked back.
VAE: What grabbed you about RPGs that you’re still playing 30 of years later?
PWWW: I’ve always had an over active imagination. RPGs, with their unlimited scope for creating, telling, and participating in stories, proved a natural and constructive outlet for that imagination.
VAE: How did you make the transition from player to game writer?
PWWW: Within three months of starting playing I became a GM under our maths teacher’s wing. Over the next decade or so I spent many long hours creating new worlds that very few people (two, to be precise) would ever see. The transition to professional writer actually came many years later; in 1997 if I recall correctly.
We were playing a lot of Ars Magica 3rd Edition at the time and I came up with an idea for a rune magic system. Despite having absolutely no writing experience I sent a pitch to Atlas Games. When I came back from a holiday in Egypt I found not a polite rejection letter waiting on the door mat, as I had expected, but my first writing contract.
VAE: You’ve got over 200 titles under your belt, what do you consider the high points of your career?
PWWW: There have been a lot of highs over the years, but three stand out. The first was getting my first book published—that was a dream come true. The second was joining Pinnacle Entertainment as their staff writer back in 2004. The third was founding Triple Ace Games back in 2008.
In terms of publications I’d have to say Hellfrost (a Savage Worlds fantasy setting) is the high point. Thanks to the support of the fans, and their requests for more information, I’ve been able to write nearly 2 million words for what is still a growing setting.
VAE: You’re the author of Leagues of Adventure, do you have a snappy summation/elevator pitch for the game?
PWWW: It’s a world of Victorian globetrotting adventure in the high age of exploration!
VAE: When did “steampunk” first pop up on your radar?
PWWW: Although I’d seen films like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as a youth it was really sometime in the early 1990s, when we started playing Space 1889.
VAE: Leagues of Adventure uses the Ubiquity roleplaying system. Why did you go with this system?
PWWW: We’d already used it for All for One: Regime Diabolique, our swashbuckling-horror setting, two years earlier. When Robin Elliott, my business partner, suggested I turn his four pages of rough notes into a full setting I looked at both Savage Worlds and Ubiquity. The two systems have a lot in common, but Ubiquity edged it with its more diverse skill list and use of Resources. The latter, especially, really allowed the importance of the Leagues to come through.
VAE: The pulp action RPG Hollow Earth Expedition also uses Ubiquity, how compatible are the two games?
PWWW: Aside from the introduction of the Leagues of Adventure and all globetrotters starting out with a henchman, the two settings are totally compatible, both in terms of rules and general theme. This was another reason why Ubiquity was ultimately chosen for the system—Leagues lets you play out the adventures of the parents and grandparents of Hollow Earth characters. At the same time you can enjoy Leagues without any knowledge of Hollow Earth Expedition (and vice versa).
VAE: Most of the great games focus on a group of characters doing a specific thing: delving in dungeons, raiding cyberpunk corporations, investigating the occult… what sort of story could the protagonists of LoA expect to find themselves in?
PWWW: Exploration is the main focus. Our world is a vast and wondrous place, and the Victorian age really opened it up to travel, both to expeditions and, thanks to the first tour operators, tourists. These days we can watch documentaries about the lost cities of Central America or the desolate splendor of the Gobi Desert. We wanted to give players, through their characters, a chance to be among the first Western explorers to visit these remote places, to be the first to find lost cities or climb the highest peaks.
As well as being pioneering explorers, characters can get involved in stories concerning intrigue, weird science, and the occult (the latter by means of the Gothic Horror supplement).
VAE: Part of creating a character in the game is choosing an “archetype”, how did you narrow down what archetypes were available?
PWWW: Leagues characters are expected to be middle- and upper-class citizens, so we focused on archetypes that would suit those social levels. Within that list we made sure there were archetypes common to the genre of Victorian steampunk exploration—big game hunter, explorer, and inventor.
VAE: How does the choice of archetype affect the rest of character creation?
PWWW: Your archetype is probably the most important choice you’ll make. It provides a focus that helps with choosing skills, Talents, and Resources, as well as the character’s background story. If you choose Explorer, for example, you know you’re going to need certain skills, such as Athletics, Firearms, Linguistics, and Survival. That doesn’t prevent you branching out into other skills, of course—there’s absolutely no reason why an explorer can’t have an interest in the arts or sciences.
VAE: LoA has a fictionalized Victorian setting. One of the hurdles for some players is the feeling that they need to know a lot of history to play a historically set game. How much historical knowledge does a first time player of your game need?
PWWW: Not a great deal, to be honest. The first chapter has a potted history broken down by decade (1890 through 1899); lists of wars and rulers; sidebars on Imperial units of measurement, using the correct speech, and even mourning periods; and a Who’s Who. The Gazetteer section provides additional information on the state of various nations at the time.
VAE: How much of the game is history and how much fiction?
PWWW: That’s hard to say for certain because we’ve blended fact with fiction, but I’d say about 80% is historical and 20% fiction. Places like Arthur Conan’s Doyle’s The Lost World are assumed to be real, while H. G. Wells’ stories are, for the main part, replaced with his theoretical studies into various aspects of weird science.
When writing the Gazetteer (and later the Globetrotters’ Guides supplements) I deliberately looked for places that had myths or “alternate history” associated with them, and made the assumption those myths were based on facts. Take Loch Ness as one example. The monster might be a myth (or at least unproven) in the real world, but the game allows for Nessie to be something the globetrotters can actually encounter. Dinosaurs, lost cities, legendary treasures, and eve Martians left over from the first invasion (a small incursion kept secret from the public)—all are very real in Leagues of Adventure.
VAE: I really love the art design and visual presentation of the book, who was in charge of the art and layout?
PWWW: Robin Elliott, my business partner and co-founder of Triple Ace Games, is solely responsible for art direction, graphic design, and layout of the book. All the illustrations were by the talented Chris Kuhlmann, who we’ve worked with for many years, while Rob created the background, sidebars, and map.
VAE: There’s been a lot of steampunk RPGs released in the last few years, what makes Leagues of Adventure special?
PWWW: Oddly I think it’s special because it doesn’t contain any fantasy races, because weird science and magic is present but not all-prevalent, and because we focus more on the exploration aspect of the Victorian Age.
VAE: What are you working on now?
PWWW: I’ve just finished collating all the weird science devices from two PDF supplements into a printed book and putting the finishing touches to a non-collectible card game based on Leagues of Adventure (though you don’t need to know anything about the RPG to play). Our fingers are crossed we’ll be able to go into more details toward the end of May regarding these. If the VAE wants a scope nearer the time, just let me know.
Outside of Leagues I’m beavering away on more material for Land of Fire, our Arabian Nights-style expansion for our Hellfrost fantasy world.
VAE: Finally: could you sum up your philosophy on gaming?
PWWW: Have fun and play nice!
Triple Ace Games: http://www.tripleacegames.com/