Saturday, March 29, 2014

Interview with a Designer: Mikko Kallio

A while back, Finnish RPG journalist Sami Koponen interviewed me about this year's RPGSS contest. Here's a translation of the interview!

Congratulations, you made the top 4 in RPG Superstar! How are you feeling?

I think the competition was really fierce this year, and narrowing the top 16 down to 4 was particularly brutal. So, even though I didn't win, I'm very happy about making the top 4. Next year I can't enter anymore because I made it this far this year, but this was already my fifth time I entered, so I think it's about time to start thinking about what I can do with the skills I've learned in the contest.

In your podcast interview you mentioned that you've been playing D&D since you were little. Have you played other RPGs or has D&D always been your thing?

I tried many RPGs in the 90s. I probably don't remember all of them anymore, but at least MERP, Rolemaster, RuneQuest, Call of Cthulhu, Tie Tähtiin (a Finnish sci-fi RPG) and Cyberpunk 2020. Of newer games, I would like to try FFG's Star Wars: Edge of the Empire and maybe also Dark Heresy. But yes, D&D/Pathfinder has always been the one for me. What I like the best is probably the tactical depth and the versatile character building options with many different classes, archetypes, etc.

In RPG Superstar, many skills related to scenario design are put to the test. Do you design the campaigns you GM yourself or do you use published adventure paths?

In recent years, the adventures I've GM'd have probably been about 50% and 50% of published adventures and homebrew. Of published adventures, we just finished playing Paizo's Dragon's Demand. My latest homebrew was a Halloween special, an adventure reminiscent of Red Hand of the Doom, where the PCs waged war against an army of undead creatures, possessed animals, and humans bred in a hellish dimension.

You had earlier experience from RPG Superstar 2012. Compared with that year, how was this year's contest for you?

In 2012, the contest was over for me very quickly, whereas this year I knew what I was doing. One of the most important things to remember when you advance is that in each round you have to bring out the biggest guns you have. Even if your previous round went really well, you should not feel too safe because then you don't take enough risks. Safe is not Superstar.

In the four rounds of the contest, you had to design a magic item, a monster, an encounter with a map, and in the final round, an adventure proposal. Which round was the easiest for you and which was the hardest?
The most difficult round was definitely the third, the encounter round. It caused more lost sleep and stress than any other round, and I learned (i.e. had to learn) more than during any other round. At the same time, it was my most successful round.

The second round (monster round) was the easiest. I started with writing four short monster descriptions and let my friends choose their favorites. One rose clearly above the others, and when I was designing the monster I really had the feeling that I knew what I was doing.

This year the RPGSS judges' panel included many well-known people, such as Peter Adkison, Richard Baker and James Jacobs. How was the feedback you got from the judges?

Unfortunately, Peter was not able to comment on the entries, but it would have been really interesting to hear his opinion too. There were many different judges, so I got feedback from multiple angles, which is a really good thing for growing as a designer. I think there was a good balance between the amount of positive feedback and constructive criticism. Although I cannot fully agree with all the judges' comments, naturally it's a good idea to take all of it seriously if you intend to work in RPG design because the judges are the same people you'll be working with. The voters' comments are also important because they are the people who'll buy the products. 

Placing in the top 4 means your adventure will be published as a Pathfinder Society scenario. What is the scenario going to be like and how is the publication schedule looking?

EDIT: I later found out that the PFS scenarios really have nothing to do with out top 4 proposals. The scenario is based on an outline written by Paizo, and there won't be any new monsters.

Based on what I know about the previous years, all the top 4 adventures will be published within a year from the conclusion of RPGSS. That's all I can say at this stage, but I try to retain elements that people liked about my proposal (such as the new monster, centianima) if I can think of a good place for them in the scenario. Due to the page count of a PFS module, the majority of the proposal has to be cut off, and thus the plot will also be different.

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