Deep7 first distinguished itself with the 1PG RPG
line. These downloadable, fast-playing role-playing games, featuring single-page
rules and scenarios, were (and still are) a great success, providing high-quality
gaming for those of us with tight schedules or short attention spans. Deep7 has
also been experimenting with other kinds of products. They've released a
downloadable card game (Snake Oil), some enhanced CD-ROM editions of their 1PGs,
and now a full-sized, printed fantasy RPG called Arrowflight. Future
releases look interesting, thanks in part to the company's acquisition of a
license to create a game based on the cult hit British sci-fi comedy, Red Dwarf.
Todd Downing of Deep7 took a few moments to answer some questions from OgreCave's
smeghead, Demian Katz.
Tell us about your latest release, Arrowflight.
Arrowflight is an epic fantasy game set in a pseudo medieval/renaissance
world. It has a lot of elements familiar to classic fantasy settings, but
everything, both familiar and new, has a reason for existing in the world.
Magic and divinity each work the way they do, not because "they're magic,"
but due to a quantifiable, interconnected system of world physics. Elves,
dwarves, orcs, humans (et al) have evolved appropriately for the setting.
Nothing is just arbitrarily there. While there are monsters to whack and
dungeons to crawl, the real experience comes in exploration and politics.
There are wars, religious movements, all sorts of social upheaval to
experience, as well as simply having a vast geography that will be revealed
How did the Arrowflight RPG come about?
Arrowflight spawned from some short fiction I was writing back in school, in
the early '80s. At first it wasn't really a coherent world, just a bunch of
epic fantasy tales that slowly evolved into a couple screenplays and, much
later, an online comic. Back in '93, the game store I was managing began to
develop a house system, and Arrowflight was attached as the default setting,
sort of by accident. Another ten years of tweaking the setting and
developing a new system, and voila! Overnight success.
Seriously, I was always wary of releasing a fantasy game in a saturated
market, especially given the market share of D&D. However, the response has
been incredible. We picked up several global distributors within a week of
release and most folks we've heard from have been very receptive to
Arrowflight as an alternative to the fantasy status quo, which is exactly
what we were shooting for. I think it helps that it's crammed full of
really good art and has a low price point, but the two things we were most
worried about - the setting and the system - have been overwhelmingly
Are any Arrowflight supplements/modules planned?
Absolutely! In addition to the somewhat regular editions of The King's Dispatch,
our first supplement is a download called Anima, which deals with familiars,
nature magic and that sort of thing. New spell, prayer and glamor templates, and
stats for the more mundane animals we left out of the Arrowflight rulebook for
space reasons. The first printed supplement is called Island Nations, which
details the kingdoms of Seris, the republic of the Kainal Islands and Corvel's
ancient rival Kilmoor.
What would you say to devoted d20 System gamers who might wonder if they
want to learn another system in order to play Arrowflight? (other than "grow up")
I'd say our German playtesters were so impressed at the ease & flexibility of our
system that they ported over their D&D 3rd Edition campaign to it. In my opinion
part of the joy of this hobby is learning new things, challenging preconceived
notions and stagnant tastes. There's nothing wrong with playing d20 if you like
it, just like there's nothing wrong with eating McDonald's hamburgers every day
if you like them (aside from the fact that they'll eventuall kill you).
Personally, I like to seek out new gaming experiences like I seek out interesting
new ethnic food.
How did the Red Dwarf license come about?
Back in 1993, I mused aloud at how fun it would be to design an RPG set in the
Red Dwarf universe. It's got interesting characters, plenty of room for
improvisation, infinite dimensions of reality, and a very slick but comical
attitude. So six years later, in 1999, the Deep7 partners were talking about a
possible license to develop as an RPG, and I again brought it up for discussion,
but was pretty much laughed down. A year later, I brought it up at another
licensing discussion, and met with more warmth. We sent a letter of inquiry to
Grant Naylor Productions in England, and within a month we were negotiating with
the North American licensing agent, IMC. It really came as a shock that no one
(not even a British publisher) had ever approached them about a Red Dwarf RPG.
With precedent already set by Doctor Who and The Prisoner (among others), I was
surprised it had never been done. I guess the planets were aligned or something.
What can players expect from the Red Dwarf RPG in terms of tone, pacing, etc?
Expect it to play very much like the show. Expect a lot of player interaction
from the AI (in Dwarf, the game master is the ship's AI). Expect some really fun
and imaginative character concepts and some really immersive writing. We've got
an international pool of writers, including a couple of Farscape RPG veterans,
who know how to evoke a setting.
Will they be encouraged to play as Lister, Cat, and the others, or will
original characters be more strongly emphasized?
As in other licensed RPGs, it is *possible* to play or interact with characters
from the show, the Red Dwarf RPG really urges players to be creative and make
their own characters. Our game's whole premise is based on the existence of
infinite dimensions, as portrayed in the show. In your game's dimension, it may
have been a completely different crewmember who went into stasis, and not Dave
Lister. In your game, it may have been the ship's rats who evolved into a
sentient lifeform, or dogs, or ferrets, or perhaps the rabbits on the Oregon (as
mentioned in the series pilot). The real fun, just as in any other license, is
exploring the periphery, not playing within the established canon.
What made you decide to take the jump from screen to press?
Well, we certainly knew it would be a challenge, but we also knew the show
has huge crossover potential. What I mean by that is, it has the potential
to bring a lot of Red Dwarf fans into the roleplaying hobby, as well as
exposing roleplayers to the quirky setting and characters of the show.
Is there any kind of threshold you felt you had to cross to make it
We knew we'd have to make it appealing to play, and we'd have to make it a
generally funny read. By opening up the canon setting to make fringe
elements more common in the game, I think it handles the first issue
splendidly. And by tapping the right writing talent, we've handled number
two, hands down.
We knew from the start that XPG was the right system for the game, so we
didn't have to spend a lot of time in development, as the ruleset had
already been 90% complete for Star Legion XPG.
Aside from the creative threshold above, the only real technical one was
getting the license deal, which happened in October of last year. And
finally, there's just a really basic "understanding" threshold we need to
pass, in regard to educating the licensors about what a roleplaying game is,
what the development process is, and why we need to approach things a little
differently than a licensee who stamps out an action figure or a T-shirt.
So far, they've been receptive to what we've had to say, and our licensing
agent with IMC in the States has taken it upon herself to go to RPG cons and
hobby stores to get up to speed on what kind of product we're really making
What distinguishes the successes in online game distribution from the
failures at it?
I can only address that in relation to our own experience. When we first
started, we were one of an extremely small number of RPG publishers offering
downloadable game content, especially in the "economy" segment of the
market. There weren't a lot of rules to follow, not a lot of precedent set,
especially in determining a pricing schedule. Within a couple years,
everyone and their brother was producing and distributing Acrobat PDF files,
much of it disappointing (although there were a few standouts). And most of
these operations just laid the thing out like a standard book and didn't
take advantage of the simplest benefits Acrobat offers (like hyperlinks, for
crying out loud).
Three years later, we're still producing digital content, so there's
evidently a market for it. And our digital content is paying for itself,
from production to site upkeep and merchant fees (we went with secure credit
card processing as opposed to PayPal - it's a bit more expensive, but has
worked marvelously). Since that's all we ever wanted for our downloadables,
to be self-sufficient, I'd say that's successful.
What are the secrets to getting a free game noticed online?
Depends on how much you want to pay to advertise it. Seriously? Time. You
can alert every online community and link-swap 'til the cows come home, all
of which helps, but the best way to have people notice you in the RPG market
at all is to still be there a year, two years, three years down the line.
So many games and publishers come and go in this hobby that longevity equals
a certain amount of respect. Of course, it helps if your games are good,
free or not.
How's the Bloode Island XPG coming along? (One of the people in my
gaming group asks me this question practically every week!)
Ah. The age old question. Well, I may have some good news for you on that. Last
year, when we originally commissioned the manuscript from John Sullivan,
budgetary constraints and other issues forced us to shelve the project. Since
we'd already paid John for his work, it really seemed a shame, because it's a
very entertaining read! Now that we've entered the production agreement with
Mark Bruno's Three-Sixty
Publishing, Return to Bloode Island (working title) is back on the roster.
After Mean Streets is released in June, Mark is diving into a top secret project
for us, slated for a fall release (just after Dwarf ships). Then RtBI is slated
for Q1 next year!
Are any more 1PGs in the works? How about other card/board games like Snake Oil?
As you may know, we have a line producer on the 1PGs, James Stubbs. He's been
really cranking on finishing off Full Clip, our newest Hong Kong action film 1PG.
After that, he's assembling A Fist Full of Six Gun expansion, and the 1PG
Companion. Expect more to come, albeit slowly. He's not doing this full time.
As for card games and such, I think we've come to the conclusion that, as novel
as a downloadable card game may be, the amount of labor involved on the end-user
side can be unattractive, no matter how well-designed or fun the game. We will
continue to sell Snake-Oil in its current digital form, and when funds allow, do
a printed run for the mass market. It's a good family game. I play it with my 7
year old son.
That's it for now! Thanks for your time!
No problem. Anything for an old flame. I never meant to leave you standing on
the airstrip in Algiers, but enemy agents were all around me and I couldn't wait
...was that out loud?