Please introduce yourself to us Cave dwellers. It isn't often we get
to talk with a single-name person, after all.
Howdy, Cave dwellers! I'm Stan! ... yes exclamation point, no last name.
Well, that's a little misleading because in some cases, when I'm forced
to use a more conventional nom-du-plume, I you can see my name in the
credits as Stan Brown.
Anyway, I'm kind of a journeyman in the hobby games industry, having
bopped around from company to company and job to job, trying to make
good games wherever I land.
Just for completeness, could you give us the list? Where have you worked?
I've been freelancing doing writing and cartooning since the early 80s,
but my "big time" work started when I joined West End Games in 1994 as
an assistant art director doing layout and graphics for TORG, the d6
version of Star Wars, and various Masterbook games. Then in '95 I got
hired on at TSR as an editor on the Ravenloft and Dark Sun lines, but I
almost immediately started showing my design skills working on the
Dragonlance: Fifth Age line.
After Wizards of the Coast bought out TSR, I moved to Renton, WA, and
became a game designer/assistant creative director. My role at WotC
morphed significantly over the next few years. At various times I was a
senior game designer, personnel manager, and creative director ... and I
worked on a lot of different products and product lines. At some point
in that stretch I was creative director for just about ALL of the former
WotC and I parted ways in 2002, and I immediately joined up with a bunch
of other ex-staffers to create The Game Mechanics. We designed some d20
materials and made a print distribution deal with Green Ronin. But after
a few years I decided that I missed being part of full-time team (and
getting a regular paycheck), so I joined the staff at Upper Deck
Entertainment as a staff writer. Through a set of bizarre circumstances,
only a few months later I found myself as their creative content manager
(which is basically what they call a creative director .... because the
bureaucracy there doesn't want mid-level workers to have the word
"director" in their job titles).
Since fall of 2007, though, I've been back doing freelance work again.
And I've also co-started another development company called Super Genius
*whew* Let me just sit back for a second while you process all that. It's a lot
to take in all at once. If it didn't HAPPEN to me, I'd find it all hard
So we've established that you've had your fair share of game industry
experience - what pies do you currently have your fingers in?
Currently I'm doing a fair bit of freelancing outside the hobby games
industry and producing products for Super Genius Games.
At Super Genius we've gotten a license to produce official Call of
Cthulhu products, and that's a game I've wanted to work on for ages. Our
products are currently available in both PDF and print format, and we're
hoping that more and more stores will carry our line as it grows. (So go
to your local game store and tell them to keep an eye out for us!)
My outside work involves re-writing manga scripts for Viz Entertainment.
The get literal translations of the Japanese comics and then I take that
and turn it into an entertaining script that is more culturally aimed at
a western, English-speaking audience. It's a lot of fun and good
challenge as a writer. I have to fit my script into the existing word
balloons, but still make it read naturally for the new audience.
I also wrote a two-part story that appeared in recent issues of the
Devil's Due Press comic book "Worlds of Dungeons & Dragons." That was a
big thrill because comics were really my first nerd love, and I still
dream of making my living writing and drawing them. While I've done
quite a few comic strips and small press publications, this was the
first time I've gotten to see my work interpreted by a professional
comics artist and seen it sold on the shelves of the local comic stores.
I'm still a bit giddy over that.
You write game materials and draw cartoons as well. In the next
Kobold Quarterly (issue #7 - see other KQ #7 links below), you do both. Do you find you prefer one
over the other?
Since I'm lucky enough to have an in with the Chief Kobold, I got the
opportunity to start doing cartoons with issue #1. Wolfgang asked if I'd
be interested in bringing back Bolt & Quiver, my strip that ran in
Dungeon Magazine for a couple of years, or creating a new single-panel
cartoon ... and I said I'd love to do BOTH. So each issue of KQ has
features both a B&Q strip and a "10x10 Toon" ... and I hope it stays
that way for a long time to come.
I want to say that it's a tough call whether I prefer game design or
drawing, but the truth is that I love cartooning more than anything
Don't get me wrong, I love game design and writing fiction. I really do.
But they don't capture my mind and spirit the way drawing does. When I'm
working on cartoons, I get up earlier and full of energy, I get right to
work, and I work all day through ... sometimes even forgetting to stop
for meals. I LOVE drawing.
The difficult part for me is that I have a VERY idiosyncratic style. And
there just isn't a whole lot of room for my stuff in the game industry.
That niche is already being filled by wildly talented (and super nice)
people like John Kovalic, Phil Foglio, and Aaron Williams. I wish they
weren't so nice so I could hate them a little. But I can't. And I'm a
BIG fan of their work, too. It'd make me sad if I didn't get to see it.
Have you managed to get any synergy going between cartooning and
other game projects?
Occasionally I have. And even when no one gets to see it, I usually do
drawings to help me sort out the ideas I'm going to write about. Many of
those have wound up on my sketch-blog, Doodle-a-Day.com.
Then a few years back I got the chance to do some online coloring albums
for D&D. They're still available for free on the WotC web site
somewhere, but you can also buy a dead-tree version I had printed in
small quantities a few years ago. It's for sale at the Paizo.com online
store, and I hope to get my OWN online store up and running sometime
soon. (But then, I've been saying THAT for several years now.)
Right now, though, I've just finished work on a new Cthulhu-related
project. It's sort of a kids book with a creepy edge. I like to say that
it's one part Dr. Seuss, one part H.P. Lovecraft, with a dash of Edward
Gorey, and a whole lot of Stan!
The book is called The Littlest Shoggoth, and it's an endearing holiday
tale of the Cthulhu Mythos (if you can imagine that). It should be
available in stores in late November or early December, so again PLEASE
go ask your local retailer to carry it. Please? *lol*
Actually, if you want a sort of sneak preview, we just put up a bit of
animation to promote the book. (It's my first animation ... EVER ... so
be kind). You can see it on YouTube
Is there a story from your days at WotC or TSR that you find yourself
telling over and over? If so, can we get it out of you, or will that
require a few drinks at the next convention?
LOTS of them. I'm a natural born storyteller (though many of my best
stories still start out with "One time in Japan ..."). I'm happy to dish
the dirt, though. I've occasionally thought I should work up an hour or
so of this material and do a "story time" event at Gen Con one year. Is
there a particular phase of the WotC/TSR experience you'd like to hear
You witnessed the TSR/Wizards of the Coast changeover firsthand. What
differences did you notice between the two companies as an employee?
THAT could fill a book, let alone an interview.
They really were two completely different companies. TSR was an older
company that had years of ingrained behavior and emotional baggage
attached to EVERYTHING. Plus, it was being run by an established
business person with strong mid-western philosophies on life, work, and
everything else. WotC, on the other hand, was a very young company where
almost EVERYTHING they did, they were doing for the first time. The
people were young, too, and for the most part did not have strong
I try not to compare them DIRECTLY. They really are two separate cases.
But, I think on the whole I had more FUN at WotC. (But then, I was there
for a longer period of time.)
A few of us Ogres are fans of d6 Star Wars, and TORG in
particular. What can you tell us about your days at WEG? They seemed to
be licensed game specialists for a while, but that may have been after
you were there.
I really liked the d6 system, too. It's a lot of fun (something that
sometimes gets lost in bigger designs that struggle to achieve "perfect
balance"). TORG was a really cool setting, but I never could get into
the game as much as I would have liked. In fact, the FIRST time I tried
to do work for WEG it was as a freelancer ... but I gave up because I
couldn't get through the TORG Rulebook. It LITERALLY put me to sleep
every time I tried to read it.
After doing some freelance (ironically enough, a bit of fiction for
TORG), I got into the company as an Assistant Art Director ... which was
the fancy name they had for "graphic art monkey." I did layout and
created maps for all of the lines, and wrote a few books on the side. It
was a GREAT way to get my foot in the industry's door, and I worked with
people who are STILL very close friends to this day. There were some
weirdnesses, too ... but I don't think there's enough room in this
interview to do them justice.
Still, I'm happy to talk about them if anyone wants to ask me at a
convention. Maybe I really SHOULD do that "story time" event. *lol*
Have you ever had a sense that a given product you were working on
would be well received, or even award winning?
It is nearly impossible to know how the audience is going to react to a
given product. And, really, the feedback loop for game design is HEAVILY
weighted to the negative. That is, if people like or even love a book,
they usually don't take time to send a thank you note ... they just get
on with PLAYING it. You won't really have a good idea of how the
audience at large feels about a product for at least a year or more
after its release. However, you can ALWAYS count on a handful of
disgruntled readers to tell you all about the things they disliked about
a given product ... in excruciating detail. *lol*
Really, that's how it is with MOST publishing ventures. Unless you have
a run-away mega-hit, you don't hear about it until people start feeling
nostalgic or using your product as a point of comparison to newer
That said, I've certainly had good feelings about products. I knew that
the Dragonlance Bestiary I did for the DL:5A line was a special book. I
had a GREAT time writing it, and even the artists really got into their
assignments to a deeper degree than usual. It was exciting to work on
something that my co-workers were so taken by. I felt the same way about
the Pokemon Jr. Adventure Game, which turned out to sell almost 800,000
copies in less than a year. (By some measures it's the best selling RPG
ever.) Those both were well received by the audience and the critics.
On the other hand, I've had that same feeling about products that at
best could be called "sleepers." Things like the Marvel Super Heroes
Adventure Game (the OTHER SAGA System game) or The Odyssey of
Gilthanas, both of which I thought were terrific products that got
widely ignored ... and drew the intense ire of people with particular
axes to grind (like those who wanted WotC to bring back the original
Marvel Super Heroes game).
So, in the end, I've really tried to avoid letting audience reaction be
a major factor in determining what I think about the products I work on.
Good reviews and the occasional award are GREAT ... and I'm honored when
I receive them. But they aren't my measure for good work.
What industry personalities have you had encounters with that stand out in your memory?
I've MET just about everyone I think I could want to ... except Sandy
Peterson. I still haven't met him, and I sure would like to.
Ed Greenwood is always trip to see. He's so full of energy and mischief
... and it's infectious. Plus, he wraps his manuscripts like nothing
I've ever seen. Whenever he sends in a turn-over, each part is wrapped
in paper, then wrapped in foil, then wrapped in plastic ... then the
whole thing is bundled and the process is repeated ... then it's wrapped
in bubble wrap. It really is a little crazy ... but in a totally Ed kind
Actually, I'm MUCH better at meeting people as colleagues than as a fan.
I'm very friendly when dealing with co-workers, but I've got a tendency
to get tongue-tied and act like a drooling fan-boy if I'm just meeting
someone who's work I admire. I get very awkward ... or, oddly enough, I
can sometimes come off as cocky and self-important. Neither one of these
are ways that most people would describe me. I hope.
You've surely been to the big conventions a number of times. Do you have a favorite?
Well, Gen Con is THE place to be. And I've come to LOVE San Diego Comic
Con. But my personal favorite is usually the GAMA Trade Show because
it's not a "game convention" so it's easier to find time to get together
with people. Between WEG, TSR, WotC, Upper Deck, and all my freelance
work, there are DOZENS of people I want to see and spend time with at
these shows ... but if we all have to do booth duty and sit on seminars
and run demos, then it's quite a challenge to actually spend more than
half-a-minute or so with any person.
I haven't been to Origins in a while, and I always did like that show a
lot. And, believe it or not, I've NEVER been to Dragon Con.
Still, I LOVE going to conventions, and I'm always happy to do seminars
and signings and run events. So if any con out there would like to pay
for my travel and lodging, I'm HAPPY to accept (as long as I don't have
any conflict in my schedule).
What's on your design wishlist now that you've taken the Cthulhu
plunge? Any other game system you want to get your hands on?
Hmmm ... that's a toughie. I've TALKED about doing a "d20 Modern version
2-point-Stan!" I spent A LOT of time writing for and running that game,
and I've got some very distinct things I'd like to do with it. Though
I'm not sure the audience would like it as much as I would. *lol*
I ALSO have a whole file full of notes that I made back when we were
working on Dragonlance: Fifth Age and the Marvel Super Heroes Adventure
Game ... they're ideas for what I would want to do with a new version of
the SAGA System. If you couple those together with some of the things
I've learned in the meanwhile, I think it'd be a lot of fun to make a
new card-based RPG.
Beyond that, I'd like to take the lead on designing a new campaign world
that was going to get lots of support (games, fiction, etc.). I've got
what I think are some very GOOD ideas about how to handle both the
setting and the interaction between the media. That's really where I
think my strongest skills lie ... but the RPG industry isn't doing that
sort of thing anymore. Not now, anyway. These things are cyclical,
though, so I don't rule out the possibility that I'll get my chance yet.
Have you had time to play anything lately? Or perhaps something's
caught your eye, and will see some play soon?
I've played pretty steadily for the past decade or so, finding new
groups when I've moved to new cities. For the past couple of years we've
been playing some D&D sprinkled with Call of Cthulhu, Pendragon, d20
Modern, and a lot of board games.
There are a TON of games I'd like to try either for the first time or to
get a more in depth feeling of. Things like Dogs In The Vineyard, Spirit
of the Century, and The Burning Wheel pop immediately to mind, but there
are a ton more. One of the really ironic things for me is that although
I'm mostly known for working on big-name products, my heart really
belongs to the indy games.
Right now, though, my gaming group is just breaking up because three of
the five of us have left the area. Very sad. But we're trying to rebound
and put a new group together. And it's looking like I'll be relocating
again in the coming months, so I'll have to find a new group wherever I
Do you indulge in any PC or console games? You can tell us - we won't judge.
Not as often as I'd like ... and mainly because whenever I do, I get SO
lost in them that I forget to do my work. And NO ONE wants THAT! *lol*
Mostly, I play sports games on consoles. I'm a big video hockey fan! I
won a few competitive tournaments of the old NHL 92 game back in Japan
... and I still have the trophies.
I'm spending more and more time playing casual games online, though.
Y'know, FLASH-based games that you can find on sites like GameHouse and
MonkeyGames and stuff like that. I think that is an area that is just
going to keep on growing, and I wouldn't mind getting involved somehow
if I could.
Where do you see the tabletop game industry going in the next few years?
That's the million dollar question, isn't it?
I don't have a strong feeling for what the "next big thing" is going to
be. I know that we're fighting a battle that we ultimately can't win
against computer and console games. They are just more flexible. But I
think that there will be a place for tabletop games for a LONG time to
come. The trick, as a professional, is to find a niche that has a
devoted audience and make a business plan that suits those
circumstances. You can still make a decent amount of money in a "cottage
industry," and it brings a real satisfaction to be working on something
I think more than ever, the real KEY to both game makers and game
players is to keep in mind that these are GAMES and they're supposed to
If we succeed in that, then we're doing pretty well, I think.
Visit the Home of All Things Stan! at Stannex.com
or Scribblings from the Ballpoint Pen of Stan! at Doodle-a-Day.com
Also visit Super Genius Games
Want to learn more about Kobold Quarterly Issue 7? Read on...
Drop by Kobold Quarterly.com to pick up your copy today!