Dom: Hi, Ed. Can you tell us a bit about yourself ?
Ed : I’m 57 now. I've lived in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada for almost all my life but have travelled widely in North America and, to a lesser extent, in Europe (England, France, Germany, Italy). I have an Honours B.A., B.Ed, M.Ed and taught English and Social Studies at secondary school levels for 26 years. I designed my first game when I was 12 - a battle simulation to use with my considerable collection of Britains lead soldiers. I still collect miniatures and now have over 9000 figures. Professionally, I began my game designing in 1975.
(this picture was taken at GenCon 1978)
In 1991, I suffered a massive heart attack, which was followed by a stroke and congestive heart failure and culminated with a cardiac transplant in 1993. Since then I have been happily retired on a disability pension and far busier than I ever was when I "worked for a living." I recommend early retirement to anyone who can manage it.
I have "catholic" reading habits. If it's between covers and contains some substance, it's fair game for me. My eclecticism clearly influences my game designing. I have a solid grounding in history, sociology, economics, political science, psychology, general science, and technology. All of these inform the rules I write.
Fiction-wise, I much prefer SF and fantasy - my favourite authors currently being David Weber, and David Drake for SF, and Harry Turtledove for alternate history/fantasy. As for non-fiction, I tend toward books and articles on military history and general history, and on science and technology. My all-time favourite is Sun-tsu's Art of War, which is THE handbook for anyone having to deal with conflict situations of any kind whatsoever. When I follow the Master's precepts, I rarely lose a "campaign" - and I'm talking about real-life situations, here, not gaming. Su-tsu should be required reading for anyone desiring a proper education.
Dom : What are your hobbies besides Rpg’s ?
Ed: "Hobby" suggests a passionate commitment to a particular activity. I cannot say that I have any real hobbies as such. I read maybe 500 books a year. I love watching good movies (I have about 700 videos in my collection now). I admit to a few pleasant vices. I enjoy travelling. I cook, and I especially appreciate French provincial cuisine. I have a passion for fine wines, particularly a good Bordeaux, Burgundy, or Cote de Rhone, although I also have more than a passing preference for a good southern French wine, a fine Alsatian white, or a white from the Rhineland. My friends in Australia, New Zealand, and California will hang me out to dry for saying that, but it's true. I prefer French wines, but I can deal with a good vintage fermented anywhere. Mind you, there are even some excellent wines coming from my own country now. which I understand many Europeans would find totally unbelievable. I much prefer a good British ale to other beers (drunk at the proper temperature, too, not iced down like North American beers), and I indulge my taste liberally whenever I am visiting my business associates in Britain. While I don't smoke much, I enjoy an occasional fine cigar or a good pipe. I build the occasional model aircraft or warship. I enjoy painting lead miniatures. I will submit myself ti a good computer game that tests my over-all abilities rather than just my (slowing) reflexes. I rarely have occasion to play board games or table-top wargames, but when I do I have a blast. Unfortunately, in my part of the world, I have found few RPG fanatics to indulge my taste for role playing, but when I do have the opportunity to enter into a game, I literally LIVE the experience. Gamemastering, unfortunately, is no longer an activity I can afford. Good GMing requires a lot of preparation time, and time is one commodity I have to husband carefully now.
Dom : How did you discover Rpg’s?
Ed: Two students of mine came to me early in 1974 with a copy of D&D, asking me what to do with it. I borrowed the rules over the weekend and that's how I became a Gamemaster. ( think I might have invented that term, by the way, for I was using it within a week of starting up a D&D campaign in 1974. I coined it because I found "Dungeon Master" to be offensive: it suggests a petulent, egotistical child with godlike pretensions who delights in pulling the wings off helpless flies caught in the "clever" traps he rigs by arbitrary application of "the rules.") Anyway, that precipitated my entry into RPG and it soon became one of my favourite activities. Not to mention the occasion for my entry into RPG designing. Rules back then were very sketchy and crude, and one had to develop all sorts of "In House" rules and procedures to cover all the situations that the formal "rules" never anticipated. It didn't take long for me to realise that D&D just didn't have the potential to ever meet the needs that I and my players had, so I started writing my own rules. Everything naturally proceeded from there.
Dom : Do you still have the time to play, and what are your favorite games?
Ed: Unfortunately, since my heart attack, I have found life too short to devote too much time to any one activity. Living with impending death for several years has a very sobering effect on a person and causes him to revise his entire list of priorities. So much yet to do, so little time left to me. . .
Yes, I play RPGs occasionally. I've already indicated some of my other gaming interests (see above). I have no one "favourite" game, but I do lean toward complex and demanding strategic conflict (computer)games. These are most convenient for me because I can sit down at one when I find a few spare moments - and those are becoming more spare every day, it seems.
Dom : How did you come to be such a prolific author ?
Ed: As I said earlier, I have very broad interests and a grounding in a wide range of subjects. I'm also an English major, can type as much as 75 to 100 words a minute when I really get going, and I can see the Big Picture. Most designers tend to exhibit a very narrow range of interest and knowledge. They might be expert in one or two areas but rarely across the board. I think that's what really sets a handful of us more prolific designers apart from the majority. We know more to begin with and we have eclectic interests that always have us off on a new direction, researching new subject areas, always learning and expanding our understandings.
A case in point: I am currently editing Lee Gold's revised Land of the Rising Sun for release in 2001 as a C&S campaign supplement. Now I have always been interested in Japanese history and culture, but in preparation for my editing job, I put in almost a thousand hours of research in the past three months just to be sure I knew what was what. The result has been not only an ability to make informed judgements when handling Lee's well-thought-out material, but also to be able to make material contributions to the work - notably in the area of setting up the game mechanics to reflect the historical realities of feudal Japan - economics, military organisation, stuff like that. I'm also adding even more "colour" to an already rich background which Lee has provided. One of my interests is heraldry, for instance. Lee's brief treatment of Japanese Family Mon (Crests) led me to do some research. The result is several hundred illos of Mon, along with a brief summary of the named families and their positions in feudal Japanese society. Toss something interesting or new my way, and I can't seem to leave it alone.
This sort of thing happens with me all the time. I see a problem to be solved and do what is needed to solve it. I'm a "quick study" and can rapidly get on top of a new topic. I particularly enjoy writing "colour" background, and RPGs cast in total environments demand lots and lots of colour - detail that makes the setting of the action come alive for the players and the Gamemasters.
The bottom line, though, is that I just love writing. I think I could write reasonably decent fiction, but I seem to be putting my creative urge into game designing. That, too, requires imagination and a feel for plot, character, theme, action, and setting. In some ways, it's even more interesting.
The difference between writing RPG rules and other forms of writing is that the fans tend to be very loyal and appreciative over the long haul. We know of players who have been committed to C&S ever since it appeared in the late summer of 1977 and still play regularly. The same thing is true of Space Opera. That sort of appreciation is an added spur to one's writing. No matter how much I do, they always seem to want MORE, and I hate to disappoint people. Somehow, there's a huge difference between that kind of appreciation and the kind one receives by writing, say, a good novel. RPGs are not read only once or twice. They are poured over again and again, and they become a part of the very lives of the people who play them. So writing RPGs is, for me, especially satisfying. So is hearing about all the incredibly imaginative and clever adventures and interesting characters that players have developed and enjoyed by using the rules I design. It's like I've written the basis for thousands of novels instead of just one.
Another aspect of my prolific output was that, until now, there were few author/designers who felt capable of handling the "complexity" of C&S (or of Space Opera, for that matter). Way back then, the only two I met who could were Wes Ives (Saurians co-author and now unfortunately deceased) and Phil McGregor (a long time C&S master gamer and, of course, co-author of Space Opera). This dearth of good writers forced the bulk of the responsibility to provide additional materials for C&S and Space Opera on me. Not entirely an onerous duty, as I enjoyed it immensely.
Fortunately, I am now associated with a team who have had long experience with C&S (and many also with Space Opera) who are excellent gamers and also very talented author/designers. As Brittannia Games and my own R&D company, Maple Leaf Games get into high gear, expect a veritable explosion of gaming products.
Then, too, there has been the advent of the computer. Unlike many of my generation, I fell instantly in love with computers the first time I got my fingers stroking the keyboard of a Radio Shack 16k unit many years ago. I currently run a 30 gb Seanix with a superfast Pentium III microprocessor and 256 mb of RAM. That, along with a scanner, colour printer, CD burning capacity, and a lot of other bells and whistles, not to mention highly sophisticated programs, all work to multiply me by a factor of 10 and enables me to do all kinds of stuff I could only dream about when I was designing games in the 70's and early 80's. Thanks to high tech, I can truly be the prolific writer I always wanted to be. There's so much still inside that I just couldn't get out by using a typewriter. This interview, for instance, represents maybe half an hour of my production time. As for communication, the Internet provides me with almost instant e-mail contact with any of my design or publishing associates. I remember waiting 20 days or so for a response to a first-class letter sent to Phil McGregor in Australia concerning some aspect of the Space Opera project. (Telephoning half-way round the planet was not an option then, as the cost would have bankrupted us. Today, not really a problem in this age of intense long-distance competition.)
In that regard, I cannot understand how anyone has failed to become computer literate. One does not need to become a programmer to be a "user." Computer literacy equals vastly increased productivity. I can revise or edit a piece of work in a tiny portion of the time it took me back in 1977 when I had to use a typewiter. And without any of the frustrations, to boot!
And then they're always coming up with all kinds of new toys for us users to use!
Dom : Can you tell us how you met Scot Bizar?
Ed: Pure accident. Wilf Backhaus and I went to GenCon in 1977 with our Chevalier RPG - admittedly a D&D clone in some respects but also containing all of the seeds that would soon spring forth as Chivalry & Sorcery, which I regard as a dramatic departure from the slash and hack approach to RPG that existed in those early days. Wilf and I were going to approach TSR to see if we could sell them Chevalier, but we had very bad vibes when we witnessed E. Gary Gygax chewing out some poor teen-aged convention volunteer who had managed to goof something up. So we just enjoyed the Con. Then we met Scott. He pointed out his Hyborean Age miniatures rules as something he'd written, and Wilf reached into his ubiquitous briefcase, remarking, "Well, we've written something, too." Scott was no dummy and saw the potential of Chevalier. He wrote out a letter of intent on the spot, and Chivalry & Sorcery was the result.
Dom : Coming back to Space Opera, who was at the origin of the project and how did it proceed?
Ed: Scott wanted an SF RPG and gave me the job. Unfortunately, it short-circuited the needed work on supplements for C&S II - most of which I would have had to write. The result was that C&S II was largely unsupported by additional product (which the fans eagerly demanded) and soon was eclipsed by competing games in the niche we'd initially occupied as a sophisticated RPG that delivered in a way D&D couldn't. FGU had an unfortunate habit of putting out a game and then forgetting about it to chase after something new. The emphasis seemed to be on sheer quantity of titles released, rather than developing several successful product lines. Part of the problem was an unshakable prejudice on the part of the publisher that a game should be "complete" - meaning one product, not a series of supplements and support products. C&S was a clear winner that was left to wither on the vine. As for revision and correction of errors, forget it. Once a product was published, it seemed to be graven in stone, errors and all, and reprints were made using the first edition text without changes.
Strangely enough, even as C&S sales were dying from lack of product support (it was like killing the goose laying the golden eggs), Space Opera received product support from FGU in the form of the various starculture atlases and 3 starship books. Only all that ended with FGU's move to Arizona and the collapse of its entire marketing program.
The work on SO itself proceeded pretty much as usual - reasonably quickly and efficiently. We had a good overview of what the project should include. At Scott's behest, we used Mark Ratner's Space Marines as a background, though I had some reservations about that. The RPG element was designed largely by Phil McGregor and myself - a difficult but still successful collaboration despite the fact that Phil lived in Australia and I in Canada. Mark made contributions, too, but he was not a player of RPGs but a wargamer, so he was largely out of his element when it came to the role-playing component.
We suffered badly from a lack of proper blind play-testing and feedback on FGU's part so that we could make the appropriate revisions and adjustments before we went to publication. That and essentially a lack of an informed editor who understood what RPG was all about and also a strong understanding of science and technology in general, I would say accounts for many of the flaws and failings in Space Opera - and there are many. I attribute Space Opera's failings, in part, to the lack of professional support at the publishing level. FGU tried its best, but it was an amateur effort, I am sorry to say.
I do not apologise for my criticism of FGU management of the product lines I produced for them. The glaring errors in FGU policy were pointed out by me (and others) as early as 1978, and then repeatedly thereafter until I finally stopped designing for the company in 1984. Oh, I was treated well and even had a few lucrative joint ventures with FGU, in which I shared in profits as well as royalties. But, frankly, I was tired of arguing til I was blue in the face and knowing that nothing I was saying would be heard, let alone acted upon. When FGU moved to Arizona and experienced a sudden and dramatic loss of business, I had enough. I was plain wasting my time and effort. Thus began a twelve year hiatus in my game designing activities. If this sounds like I felt bitter, well, I did. I know what we COULD have done, and we frankly fell way short of the mark.
Not that I hadn't lost my enthusiasm for game designing! I had twelve years to do some serious thinking.
I returned to designing in the mid-90's, when Highlander Games acquired the publishing rights to Chivalry & Sorcery. However, I again had problems with a publisher, this time far more grievous than any I ever encountered with FGU. After that abortive (and expensive) association with Highlander Games in 1996-97, in which my work was repeatedly modified (often with "violence") to suit the dubious "taste" of the publisher, royalties were unpaid, and my loans to Highlander along with several hundred thousand dollars of sales revenues were frittered away by gross mismanagement, ineptitude, and plain irresponsibility, I decided the only way to see things done right was to do it myself instead of letting supposed "publishers" manage my work for me.
Steve Turner and his partners in Britain obtained the rights to C&S from the almost defunct Highlander Games, and we started our own joint-venture. The lessons I learned from my past experiences I have put to good use today. The companies currently developing my products make sure to do more than just publish my manuscripts. (It's nice to own one's own R&D company and be closely associated with a publishing company that attends to detail and works with an author.) We extensively blind play-test with groups in the Americas, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. We subject the manuscripts to extensive editorial review and revision by people who know what good RPG rules must contain and how they must be presented - and the people on the job have that knowledge down pat, inside out and backwards. We take into account the critiques made by a team of our most loyal (and most demanding) fans, who review the (still unpublished) materials with careful scrutiny from the viewpoint of gamers and Gamemasters who must apply the rules. They have a delightfully salutary habit of calling us on the slightest discrepancies. Even after all that, some problems still slip through but, fortunately, they tend to be small ones rather than glaring errors.
Game publishing is not a haphazard business. The wrong slip at a key location can render a game almost unplayable, especially in the hands of beginning or unknowledgeable players. Failure to support a good product is tatamount to killing it off faster than any competitor can. Abusing or ignoring game designers is a stupid way to run a business depending on their creative talent and very real knowledge of the gaming hobby. All that and more I have had demonstrated to me by others in the past, and that I and my business associates are determined not to let happen now.
Dom : Have you heard anything about the other authors : Mark Ratner and Phil Mc Gregor ?
Ed: Nothing from Mark for years, but Phil is still an active game designer and is currently designing C&S supplements for us - SPQR (C&S in Ancient Rome) and Byzantium (C&S in the Byzantine Empire, essential to the Middle Eastern theatre of a C&S campaign). I suspect you'll be seeing quite a bit of work from Phil over the next few years.
Dom : Rpg’s have evolved since D&D was released in '70, how did you intend or imagine, Space Opera would be played, and how would you play it differently today?
Ed: Lord above! Give me a question I can answer briefly!
Space Opera was an experiment, actually. We still didn't know very much about how to write comprehensive RPG rules in the early 80's. SO was a good try for its time. Today, I'd approach the problem differently. I've learned a lot over the years, and the lessons would be applied to a new SF game. As to how, just you wait and see. I suspect that Brittannia Games and Maple Leaf Games will have an answer to your question on the market within several years.
Dom : Can we still hope to that the ‘missing’ supplements will one day see the light of day, "Clash of Empires", "The GPR" or "SCS4" ?
Ed: The chance of that happening. . . well, let us just say that I have parted company from Fantasy Games Unlimited and will do no work for FGU ever again. I have my own game publishing company now and I have good, reliable partners in Brittannia Game Designs. The next SF rules I write will be for MLG and BGD, and those rules will be written in collaboration with a number of very talented people I have come to respect for their design talents, knowledge, and good judgement. Of course, we will not trespass on FGU property, so the titles you mention won't be written. Not by me, anyway, and not by any of my current associates. We have more productive (and profitable) fields to plant, tend, and harvest.
Dom : What are your professional projects at the moment and for the years to come. Can you imagine writing a new version of Space Opera ? With which rules system?
Ed: At this very moment (Dec 1, 2000), we are releasing our latest edition of Chivalry & Sorcery - The Rebirth, we call it - and it's the C&S I always wanted to write.
I have almost a dozen C&S projects on various burners, slated for release over the next several years - that's projects I personally will have a hand in designing, often with co-authors. In addition, MLG and BGD have another dozen C&S projects in development. By the summer of 2001, for Chivalry & Sorcery we should have Lee Gold's Land of the Rising Sun and then S. John Ross' Rus - A Time of Troubles on the market, along with a number of other supplemental products. We currently aim at six or seven releases a year, but I think the rate will increase over time.
I won't write another version of Space Opera. Scott Bizar owns that property, hasn't done anything much to promote it, hasn't paid royalties that offer any hope that an author will be compensated for his considerable effort, and won't release it back to the authors. I know of the many persona; reverses he's experienced, and I doubt that FGU would ever become a viable publishing company in the future. Any revision work on my part would be a waste of time. Similarly, the expense of legally recovering the right to publish Space Opera isn't worth it. Apart from a highly inflated value placed by FGU on the game (actually on the NAME), why would I wish to purchase several thousand copies of a recent reprint that just won't sell in the curent market? It makes no sense. I could better put the money into publishing a new product myself - and maybe that's exactly what I'll do.
So WHEN any writing of an SF RPG occurs on my part, it will be a new title published by MLG and BGD. As to the nature of the rules we would use, a hint is provided by our new version of Chivalry & Sorcery.
Dom : What would your position be if people wanted to participate in the creation of a ‘new’ Space Opera? Would you like to have feedback from the fans, and would you take it into account?
Ed: I've already mentioned part of the answer to this. The policy of MLG and BGD has been to encourage fan feedback. We have repeatedly invited our devoted players to pass on suggestions, make criticisms, etc., and they have responded wonderfully, giving us many useful ideas and directions on the course we should take in revising C&S for the new millenium. I suspect that we would do exactly the same for an SF RPG. The desires and needs of our fans we always take into account. Incidentally, a number of them we now regard ourselves as fortunate to number among our steadily growing team of designers, collaborators, and playtesters. The best way to serve one's market is to listen to what the customers really want - then give it to them.
Dom : After all these years, are you surprised by the continuing popularity of Space Opera?
Ed: Not really. Like Chivalry & Sorcery, Space Opera has attracted a core of loyal fans who appreciate a serious attempt at authentic simulation in RPG. They tend to be highly knowledgeable individuals to begin with. They are typically experienced gamers who have played a wide variety of FRP games over the years and have developed their preferences to a fine edge. They have acquired over those years a short list of favourite games, and they are also far steadier in their commitments to such hobby activities than are players who want to play quick and dirty beer-and-skittles kinds of games just to wile away a few hours. Once such commitments are made, they are not easily discarded for the newest gaming fad to come over the horizon. Gaming takes time, and in this very frenetic age any spare time found for recreation is indeed precious and not to be wasted.
Also, I think that SF RPGs have tended to lack something. There have been some good ones, yet the viewpoint is narrowed down to a specific story line - for example, games committed to Star Wars or Star Trek. Nothing is wrong with that, so long as one is a fan of Star Wars or Star Trek. But such games are designed so that they are not very adaptable to any other SF environment. Also, the hard tech is generally sketchy or even lacking, and some of the storyline science and technology is as fanciful as magick in fantasy role playing. Even more so, sometimes.
I guess I'd say that the SCIENCE in SF is only superficially present in SF RPGs in general. To a gamer who wants the hard tech and science aspects present, this really narrows the field.
Dom : Do you get a lot of messages from fans around the world, particularly concerning Space Opera?
Ed: Not really. I think it is because many of my fans don't know where to contact me. I could have my own website, I suppose, now that the Internet Age is here. However, I am a rather private person, even if I do enjoy the company of others, and I also have so many other things to do that answering lots of e-mail would seriously cut into the time I do have. (The problem is that I would feel obligated to answer every e-mail and every question.) All that is not to say that I don't hear from fans because I do. Many who subscribe to the LOCS - that's the Loyal Order of Chivalry & Sorcery website - I have heard from. And many of them also played Space Opera and regard it highly.
Dom : Have you seen the web site? What would you like to find there?
Ed: I have. As to what I would like to find there, I would need some time to consider before I answered. Web sites of this type tend to evolve according to the interests of those who contribute to them and those who visit them. I am also at cross-purposes on this one because I regard Space Opera as long past. Looking to the future. . . but, then, that's the answer to your next question. . .
Dom : Finally, what message would you like to give to all the Space Opera fans?
Ed: Just be patient, guys. To paraphrase a news commentator in Robo Cop, in a couple of years, THERE'LL BE A NEW GAME IN TOWN!
Dom : Thanks again for having taken the time to answer our questions..
Ed: My pleasure. I always appreciate a chance to talk with my fans.
Edmonton, Canada, 04/12/00