In 1998, after a brief discussion on a chat forum, three strangers decided to start a Dark Conspiracy fanzine. One of these like-minded souls was Geoff Skellams, the man who would become the heart of the zine, and in turn the inspiration for my continuing support of Dark Conspiracy (from the abortive 3rd edition through to the survival of this site and forum).
[DCtRPG] – Hi Geoff, good to talk to you again! While you and I go way back, would you care to tell the readers a little about yourself?
[Geoff] – Right now, I’m 42, live in Canberra, Australia, am married with three kids. I work in IT during the day (and have a Masters degree in it). I’ve done some freelance game writing in my spare time, but not a whole lot of that in recent years. Other than that, more recent addictions are World of Warcraft, geocaching and munzees.
[DCtRPG] – You know, I don’t think I’ve ever asked – how exactly did you get into roleplaying? And while you are at it, any favourite characters or stories you’d like to share?
[Geoff] – Some friends at high school got me into it. I first heard about D&D back in 1982 and wanted a set for Christmas, but my mother took one look at the box cover and flatly refused. It wasn’t until early 1984 that I got a chance to try it, when the same guys offered me a seat at an AD&D game. My first gaming experience was one session of “Tomb of Horrors”, before we switched to playing Traveller, and from there did gaming forever control my destiny (as Obi Wan was wont to say).
Lots of good memories of gaming, probably too many to name. I do think that perhaps one of my favourites was being roped into playing a cowardly Martian NPC in a Space: 1889 game at a con, and had a BLAST playing it. I even won an award for it, which made it even better.
[DCtRPG] – And what about Dark Conspiracy? What was its appeal?
[Geoff] – I bought the DC 1st ed book at the end of 1991, with the gift voucher I won from said 1889 game. I was a big fan of GDW’s games back then (we loved playing Twilight: 2000 and Space: 1889), so it wasn’t a big leap to DC. I loved the game background, with the collapse into the Greater Depression and how the horrors had snuck in the back door to control things behind the scenes.
[DCtRPG] – I suppose our friendship goes back to the creation of Demonground, in what? 1998? At the time, I know I had my own interests in getting involved in the zine, but what would you say was your goals in joining the project?
[Geoff] – I got into DG for two main reasons. The first was I loved DC and wanted to see it supported. The second, and perhaps far more mercenary reason, was that I saw it as a way to get noticed by the industry, so I could get a foot in the door, and move onto writing Shadowrun novels (something I still haven’t done, to tell the truth 🙂
[DCtRPG] – Well I always saw you as the soul of the zine, and it was your drive to create something meaningful and visually appealing that made me realise we were onto something good. Of course, working on Demonground opened other doors as well, such as the Sin City series of supplements. how did you get involved in those?
[Geoff] – I got involved in writing for it from issue one of DEMONGROUND, albeit in an unofficial capacity. I got into officially [writing for the line – ed.] after Ken Whitman asked you, Mike Marchi and I if we wanted to write the new adventure series.
As for what I wanted to achieve with it, that’s a good question. I guess I wanted to write something that had more emotional depth than the stuff that had been published before for DC. I’m still not a fan of most of the published DC adventures from 1st ed, I have to say, despite owning all of them. So, I wanted SC3 to be about more than just shooting up monsters – I wanted to show the more human side of minion hunting and how people took different approaches to it.
Whether I was successful at that or not I leave as an exercise for the reader 🙂
[DCtRPG] – Yes indeed, writing for the DC line was an interesting experience. Amongst all those memories, what do you think was stands out? What about any trials or tribulations?
[Geoff] – I think the highlight for me was meeting all the DC people at Gencon 99. You guys were so much fun to hang out with 🙂 I still smirk when I think how drunk we got at the Safehouse.
The low point would have to be my disappointment with how Sin City 3 turned out in print. I’d busted a gut to write the best adventure I knew how. But there was a few screwups in production, the main one being things like the entire credits page being left blank, including the dedication. I was heartbroken to say the least. I remember picking it up with a great deal of excitement when I first saw it, then putting it down a minute later without saying a word and walking off in sheer disgust.
[DCtRPG] – I remember that vividly. Also, as I recall, the line shut down shortly afterwards, is that why you stopped contributing to DC?
[Geoff] – I burnt out on it, to be honest. I was deeply disheartened by the screwup with the publication of Sin City 3 and it took a lot of the wind out of my sails. After that, it wasn’t too long before I wanted to try other things, and other freelance opportunities started presenting themselves, which took my creative energies in different directions.
Looking back from a position over ten years later, it’s hard to actually remember WHY I found it so hard to deal with, but I needed a change of scenery.
[DCtRPG] – But you would go on to write for other games and companies?
[Geoff] – I’ve done quite a bit since the DC days in the late nineties. Shortly after my Sin City stuff was submitted, I got a chance to write a Crimson Skies novella for Microsoft. A few years later, I did some D20 Fantasy work for Fast Forward Entertainment, Gamma World D20 for Sword and Sorcery Studios (White Wolf’s D20 imprint), then some Exalted for White Wolf. I took a break for a few years for personal reasons, and tried again about five years ago. I managed to get material in books for White Wolf’s Changeling: the Lost and Mage: the Awakening. Most recently, I’ve written a PDF supplement for Cubicle 7’s Laundry RPG (which is still to be published).
I’m proudest of the community rules I wrote for Gamma World, even if they weren’t perfect. That concept still chews at my subconscious and I find myself poking with the idea for using communities and groups in games to this day.
I think the one I enjoyed the most was the Crimson Skies novella. I loved Crimson Skies since the moment I first saw the aircraft renderings. I was given a story to write about Loyle Crawford, a character that most people loved to hate (including me, initially). By the time I’d finished writing the story, I’d grown to really like him and, as it turns out, I found a lot of other people had the same reaction as well, which is neat 🙂
I had been approved to write a second Loyle Crawford novella (“The Black Zeppelin”), but the project never got funding and was ultimately cancelled 🙁
[DCtRPG] – Good to know that one bad experience didn’t see you leave the hobby entirely. Looking back on your time as a player, Referee and writer for Dark Conspiracy, what are your thoughts on the games, setting and system?
[Geoff] – DC’s background is great. I rediscovered it earlier this year when I wrote a Savage Worlds conversion of the DC background as a thought experiment (cornily dubbed “Savage Conspiracy”). I love the ideas of the Greater Depression, the megacorporations taking over and all that sort of thing. It’s scary how predictive the background has become some twenty years later.
For me though, the system and its emphasis on combat and tactics are a MAJOR turnoff. I know it grew out of the GDW house system, which in turn is a thin RPG veneer over wargaming rules, but it kinda ruins a good game for me now.
[DCtRPG] – Well thanks Geoff, it’s been great to catch up and hear your thoughts about this period of Dark Conspiracy’s development. I’m sure the readers and fans alike will appreciate this insight into our favourite game…
Before I wrap this up, however, I have to ask; if you had the Dark Conspiracy licence (and unlimited resources of course), what would you be interested in doing with the game?
[Geoff] – If I had the resources, I don’t think I would take on the licence, to be honest. As much as I still enjoy the background (as I rediscovered earlier this year), it’s not really the sort of game I’d work heavily on now. My tastes have definitely changed since the DEMONGROUND days, and it’s hard to go back to DC (Savage Conspiracy not withstanding).
That said, for the sake of the argument, I’d take the GDW house system out the back and shoot it in the head to put it out of its misery. Once upon a time, I liked it. Nowadays, it’s FAR too heavy for my tastes and I couldn’t write for it any more. I’d make the game focus more on the emotional aspects of why the characters are minion hunters and what it costs them. For me, THAT’S the most interesting aspect of the game, but one that was barely touched on, if at all.
[DCtRPG] – Cheers Geoff! Here’s to old friendships and future endeavours!