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Interview Rob Baxter - September 2005

Ralph's press card expired about 10 years ago but he still managed to get past the security at the Baxter residence and hook up with Rob Baxter, author of the Liber Mechanika. All that ninja training finally paid off.

Informer: Ralph


According to the IKCG Rob's a secluded freelance game designer who lives in a dank basement, chained to his desk. Well that's the kind of person we want to interview so in return for a short walk in the park, Rob decided to share some thoughts.

1. Above you can read Privateer's description of Rob. How would you introduce yourself?

Rob Baxter, man about town, concierge to the stars, and hard core Shirley Temple drinker. Married, sorry ladies. Canadian too, sorry America .

2. What do you do to relax? Do you have a hobby / pastime we'd not suspect? Like fly-fishing in Antarctica ?

Relax? Yeah, I study martial arts (Shorin Ryu) to the point of exhaustion, and drink beer.

3. What's in your internet favorites? What websites do you visit? What books / papers / do you check? Where do you get your inspiration or detractions from?

Geeze, the list is fairly extensive so I'll just give you the good PG rated ones:

Privateerpress.com, Aintitcoolnews, Apple.com/quicktime, Gizmodo, EN World, Penny Arcade, Fortean Times, Kidrobot, Wizards/D20

I usually watch CNN to get the objective picture of world events, and then read the news posted at the BBC website for a skewed perspective.

My inspiration comes from fiction mostly, and a lot of biographies and historical books. I'm a big China Mieville fan.

4. I checked your website www.atomicrobot.net and was wondering if you could shed some light on your work. Tell us a bit about Atomic Robot.

Atomic Robot is my game design and content consultation business. In effect it is the mechanism through which I do freelance work, working for primary clients (like Privateer) and it is also my tax shelter/employer wrapped into one.

5. What does a typical working day look like?

Get up, check e-mail, look at websites, write, rinse, repeat. Sometimes I meet with clients on specific projects, hack out design specifications, talk about requirements, and do creative brainstorming. Most of the time, I'm confined to my office, working at a computer for hours long stretches, occasionally rising to gather food or liquid.
6. What projects have you worked on besides your work for Privateer Press?

The World of Warcraft RPG, Scarred Lands, Dragonmech, The 7th Seal, Fireborn, among others, and many I can't talk about right now.

7. How did you end up with Privateer Press?

The short story? Matt Wilson found out I was semi-local (I live about three hours from the Ballard offices of Privateer Press), we had lunch, talked, after a meeting or two I was asked to help write the campaign for Escalation, and the rest is history.

8. What part of your job do you like best? What part least?

I love working with the folks at Privateer. A top notch, talented and thoughtful group of fun loving individuals who all are pretty cool.

The least favorite part is having to work in relative isolation.

9. Do you have rituals to induce a good writing/working session? Superstitions? How do you handle the angst when you stare at yet another blank sheet of paper?

Two words: Heavy Metal.

10. How important is fan-based input for the RPG source material you're putting out? Do you go out and read the forums or reviews to check what everyone has to say about the books you worked on?

Fan based input is absolutely vital. I write for the readers, not for my own satisfaction. I want everyone to be happy, and to have a good connection with the material presented to them. So yeah, I lurk in the forums, occasionally pipe in when I think it's appropriate, and basically act as an advocate for the Iron Kingdoms RPG and WARMACHINE.

I'm always curious about what people have to say, and with the good reception the latest works have gotten I come away feeling pretty positive.

11. Is it hard working on different gaming worlds ? You've worked on the IK, Fireborn, Warcraft, 7 th Seal, . These are all pretty different settings. How do you cope with that?

That's easy, all I need to do is shift my mind to the current era or feel. Sometimes I might need to read some genre pertinent literature, play a game, or watch a movie to do that, but for the most part I can do it just by thinking it through.

12. People in the gaming industry tend to game a lot themselves, not necessarily their own products but still. So what (types of) games do you play?

I play lots of WARMACHINE. Bang!, Citadels, Shadows over Camelot, sometimes I'll even play a game of Dawn of War, Halo 2, or Guild Wars.
Gaming is pretty central to my existence. If I couldn't game, I'd probably just give up and become an accountant.

13. What was your first RPG character ever? Is he/she still alive?

Anariel Silvertwain, a elven warrior mage from the land of Ankur-Ar. I was big into punk rock and Michael Moorcock novels when I wrote him up, and so he was basically Elric with a Mohawk.

He's somewhere in the realm of Greyhawk, giving the fist of defiance to the forces of Iuz.

14. What's your favorite RPG character? Or the longest living?

My favorite RPG character? I tend to GM, so I usually don't have one. I have a favourite NPC right now, Bandygore Hellbellow, a trollkin Fellcaller/Barbarian. He's a major villain in my personal IK campaign.

15. When playing games (RPG or conventional or maybe even computer games): do you want to "win" at all costs? Are you more of a collaborative gamer? Do you power play? Max out? Or take the odd one out, creating midget trollkin and clumsy second-story man?

In RPG's I go for a balance of ass kicking and role playing; usually with a bit of emphasis on the ass kicking. I mean face it, we're there to kill things, take their stuff, and maybe have a nice conversation about something in the middle of all the killing things and taking their stuff.

In first person shooters, I go for the throat.

16. Which celebrities would make out your ideal IK RPG group?

Vin Diesel as the barbarian, Nathan Fillion as the seasoned mercenary, Claudia Christian as the black knight, and Evangeline Lily (Kate from Lost) as the rogue. With a guest appearance by Robin Williams as the wizard.

17. You mentioned earlier that you worked on the campaign for Escalation. Do you often play Warmachine? And if so, which faction do you play?

I play Warmachine about two or three times a week.
I tend to play Cygnar, just because that's what I've got painted up. Plus I'm leaning towards a warjack heavy Cryx army with plenty of pistol wraiths and revenants as a beef shield.

18. You're also employed as a rules developer/editor (for example for Escalation). Do you possess a very analytical mind? Do you immediately see the combo's which might overpower some rules?

Analytical? Somewhat, Jason and Rob Stoddard are far more analytical than I am, but I can immediately see the benefits of the use of specific abilities, and I have a good command of the rules of WARMACHINE which is enough for me to see the metagame.

19. Were you also involved in Apotheosis?

I was involved with Apotheosis. I did the basic designs for the campaign system, which then fell into the nefarious hands of Rob Stoddard and Jason Soles who customized it further to match new design values. I also wrote a lot of the epic and new warcaster entries. The ones I'm particularly proud of writing are Darius and Siege. Yay Cygnar!

20. Do you like the direction Privateer is taking with this release?

Absolutlely, with a broad base of Warmachine units and models, having these massive warcasters like Karchev, and epics warcasters as well, will add a new level of dimension to the game.

21. Alright, let's switch back to the RPG for a moment. How were you introduced to the Iron Kingdoms? How did Matt, Brian and Joe among others share their vision on the world?

I was introduced through a little book called the Monsternomicon. I e-mailed a Matt Staroscik with a writing sample, and got some work on the book. That turned into a lot of work, and led to the creation of some of the signature creations of the Iron Kingdoms.

22. What's your influence on the IK? Where do we get to see your handiwork most noticeably? Were you allowed to put your own stamp on the IK?

I think my influence is largely in bringing the Iron Kingdoms forth as a world that has a myriad of social and economic complexities and in many ways resembles everyday life.

You could say I put my boot print on the Iron Kingdoms with creatures like the Deathjack, the Cephalyx, and the Satyxis.

23. How did the interaction with Privateer take place? You write a couple of pages and send it in for approval?

I work with an editor and project manager, I try to hit milestones set by him, and we work together on the process of creating a fully realized written work.

24. Which of the IK projects you've worked on was the most fun/satisfying for you?

All of them.

25. If you were playing a character in the IK, what would it be? What stats would you have?

I dunno, whoever gets the most chicks, liquor, and money.

26. Any tips for players in the IK?

Just be nice to Khadorans, and don't talk about religion or politics anywhere outside of your country.

27. Are you involved in the novels? Will you be writing any of them?

There are novels?

28. Privateer Press has also recently released No Quarter magazine to cover their range of products. Will you also be writing for the magazine?

Yes, I'll be writing content for No Quarter, and you'll see it on a regular basis.

29. Are you familiar with the Buccaneer Bass website? What do you think of it?

Buccaneer Bass is great! It's an awesome site that provides all kinds of fan support for the Iron Kingdom . I love you guys!

Aaawwww, that's so sweat . Wait a second . Are you trying to maneuver your way around answering questions about the Liber Mechanika ?? You, devil you. It's up next.

30. What can we expect from this book? It's time for your sales pitch.

You can expect 128 pages chock-full of iron, arcane machines, and potent possibilities for characters and GM's.

31. Did you get to go wild with all sorts of mechanikal inventions or were the contents already pretty much fixed beforehand?

I got to go wild, but the book itself is less mechanical inventions, and more options and powers, plus revisions of material that needed to be reintroduced due to specific rules changes. It's a book of gear.

32. Did you get some inspiration from modern day technology? For example, have you studied the inner workings of a real world steam engine, have you taken a short course on magnetism or electricity?

I've always been a science nerd, and some inspiration was drawn from tesla coils and vandergraff generators, prosthetics, and other lines of mechanical science that intermesh with the technological paradigms of the Iron Kingdoms.

 

33. I've read on your blog that you 'squeezed your brain dry' during the writing of this book. How did you cope with that?

I retreated to recharge my creative juices, watched some inspirational movies, and read some inspirational books.

34. Is the Liber Mechanika also influenced by the current going-on in the IK? For example, will Llael's mechanikal research suffer under the occupation? Are things like this also covered?

Nope. The Liber Mechanika is about mechanika, and it's not so much influenced by the setting as an underlying product to fulfill the needs of the setting.

35. How do you see the technology level in the IK evolve within the next few years (in game)? Will we witness some major mechanical breakthroughs in the Liber Mechanika or other upcoming books?

That's up to the future.

37. What will be the next IK book you will be working on? Has this been established yet?

I'm working on the next book right now. I'll be revealing the details of it possibly at Gencon, and there will be more to come.

38. Alrightie, then comes everyone's favourite part of the interview: The shoot out round: where we get to ask silly questions and your explanation can be short or non-existent, or lead us into a five-page essay on Death and the Afterlife - as you wish.

· Rules Editing or Writing?

Writing. Editing is for people who like to poke holes, writing is for people who like to dig holes.

· Cooking or Eating?

Both, I cook (I'm a damn good cook) and then I eat what I cooked (I'm a damn good eater).

· Good or Evil? (or true-neutral?)
Lawful Indecisive

· Wizard or Warrior? (or Arcane Mechanic?)

Monk

· WM or IK?

IKWM

· Matt's job or Rob's job?

Rob's Job.

· Miss Universe or Miss Bambi (very famous Belgian transvestite)?

Miss Demeanor

· Truth or Dare? (caution, we might take you up on this :)

Truth, Dare, it's all just a game.

Ralph