Sunday, March 23, 2014

Interview with a Designer: Mike Kimmel

In the first installment of the Interview with a Designer series, I'm interviewing Mike Kimmel, the founder of Freelance Forge and a fellow top 4 contestant from this year's RPG Superstar. Besides the same initials, Mike and I have eerily similar track records in RPGSS, and I jokingly call him my nemesis. Let's hear some of Mike's thoughts about RPGSS, Freelance Forge and freelancing!

Which year did you enter RPGSS the first time? How did you first find out about the contest?

My first year was RPG Superstar 2010. My very first post on the Paizo forums was to say "I'm in!" in a thread called "Welcome to RPG Superstar 2010." I honestly can't remember how I heard about the contest. I was probably just poking around to see what sort of goodies were available on and saw the link. I put in a huge amount of work that first year, and my item was terrible. I've really come a long way since then!

In 2013 you placed in the top 32, this year in the top 4. What was your biggest lesson learned from last year that helped you this year?

My Round 2 archetype for 2013 was pretty boring, if mechanically solid, and I suppose my biggest lesson learned was "don't be boring!" It seems obvious, but having a memorable entry (especially in round 2 when voters have to choose from 32 entries) makes a huge difference. With all of my 2014 entries I strove to create things which would evoke clear, memorable images in the voters' minds.

Another important lesson, from both 2013 and 2014, was "reject your first three ideas." My first couple of monster ideas included a rooftop gremlin who liked to collapse buildings, a friendly hearth spirit, and a fey that lives in wells. All of those ideas would have had some serious overlap with other contestants' Round 2 entries, and I am glad that I kept pushing myself to come up with new ideas.
Another thing that helped me out is simply that I played a LOT of Pathfinder this year. That is probably the most useful thing you can do if you want to improve your knowledge of the game.

Both as a spectator and contestant, which round has been your favorite and why?

I love the public voting element of Round 1. Many people complain about the high number of bad items in the slush pile, but the past two years of sorting through items has been quite a learning experience for me. The joy of finding the truly great items and learning what sets them apart from the others will keep me coming back to vote every year, assuming that element of the contest remains. Round 1 also seems to be the round with the greatest amount of community involvement, which appeals to me.

What do you consider your biggest strengths as a designer? What skills do you seek to improve the most?

I feel that I have a good sense of the game's mechanics, especially with regards to monsters and encounter balance. This didn't come from hours and hours of designing monsters and encounters, but rather from hours and hours of running and playing Pathfinder, especially over the past two years. Right now the skill I'm working on is my writing, not for Pathfinder but in general. The ability to craft sentences which simultaneously excite the reader and convey a message about game rules is a valuable skill; many writers are strong in one area but weak in another. My mechanics are typically clear, but my writing could be more exciting.

Who are your main literary influences on your work, both from RPGs and fiction in general?

That's a difficult question to answer. I've read a lot of heroic fantasy, but I think visual art has a much greater influence on my work than novels or stories, because most of my ideas come to me in the form of images or scenes. I spend a lot of time online browsing through fantasy artwork, especially when I'm trying to come up with an exciting location or character for a campaign. I have a tumblr where I post art that I like, but only when I can find and link the source:

What are your current plans regarding RPG freelancing? Do you have ongoing or upcoming freelancing jobs besides the PFS module?

I've had initial contact with a couple of third-party publishers who liked my work from RPG Superstar. I don't have any projects solidified just yet, but I'm hoping to keep up a steady stream of freelance work this year. Neil Spicer, Sean Reynolds, and plenty of other "big names" in the Pathfinder crowd always say that this is the time to really make an impression as a new freelancer, so I'm going to work extra hard on everything I write!

You are the founder of Freelance Forge. What is it and who should join?

Freelance Forge is a private web forum for current (or prospective) Pathfinder freelancers. We critique each other's work, share resources, and even have mini design contests to hone and broaden our skills. Most of our members have placed in the Top 32 or higher of RPG Superstar, including two actual winners of the contest, but there are also a few who have no freelance or RPG Superstar credits whatsoever. I got the idea for Freelance Forge from Adam Daigle, who encouraged the RPG Superstar contestants to form critique groups as a way to improve their skills. Right now we have just over 20 members, and we're looking for more freelancers who want to improve their design skills and help our young community thrive!

Interested parties can check out, or follow us on Facebook at I also use my personal twitter to post about RPGs, freelancing, and the Freelance Forge: you can follow me @michaelrkimmel.


  1. Great interview, Mike! It's nice seeing how other finalists got involved and their thinking processes in design. The Freelance Forge is a groovy place and I recommend anyone with a serious interest in game design to check it out. :)

    Thanks for doing the interview, Mikko. I've got you added to my list of blogs to catch up on!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Victoria! I hope to interview you as well! :)

    2. Sure! Just let me know what you need. :)


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