In 1992 Dark Conspiracy was on a high. The core book had proven popular and under the direction of the Games Designer Workshop (GDW) team numerous new products were in development. The first of these to hit the shelves was New Orleans, a sourcebook and adventure that explored this venerable old city and the evils that now dwell within its limits. It is DCtRPG’s pleasure to have been able to recently chat with New Orleans’ author, Eric Haddock (who currently hosts the World of Warcraft podcast, 30 Minute Cooldown), and lure him to reveal some of the details about the creation of this supplement, and his time at GDW.
[DCtRPG] – Hi Eric, thanks for taking the time to have this chat! Before we get into the details about Dark Conspiracy, would you care to tell us something about yourself?
[Eric] – I grew up in west central Illinois in a depressed and depressing farming community. The thing that sums it up best is that there was no bookstore in the county until the biggest town (of 4,500) got a Wal-Mart, which sold books. It was, and I assume still is, a terribly racist, sexist, myopic, and awful place. I was lucky to escape.
[DCtRPG] – Sounds like it! So, how did you get into gaming?
[Eric] – I first heard about D&D when I was 12, via a radio spot about a LARP, while we were driving home from a vacation to the Rocky Mountains. The LARP didn’t interest me, but the game it was based on did. My dad was my first DM and he ran me and two of my friends through a dungeon he made up from scratch. He put the treasure inside a statue of a naked lady, and the trigger to open the compartment was to press her nipple. He did that because he figured we’d be too embarrassed to say something like that out loud. I was DM after that, then we went round robin.
[DCtRPG] – And that lead to into game design?
[Eric] – I’m a writer and editor who loves games, so it was inevitable! I was able to convince my dad to let me write queries to Dragon Magazine over a summer instead of get a summer job. Alas, I went unpublished. However, I did get feedback on one of my submissions. What I didn’t know then was how valuable such a thing is, for an editor to take that kind of time. I know it now because I eventually became one of the editors working on Dragon and Dungeon magazines.
[DCtRPG] – What about GDW? How did you get your start there?
[Eric] – I was going to college in Illinois and was walking down the street when I happened to notice a lonely single door with small letters “Game Designer’s Workshop” on it. I recognized the name and, despite not being very familiar with GDW product, decided on impulse walk in out of pure curiosity, naivety, and really for no great reason or purpose.
Marc Miller met me at the top of the ancient creaky stairs to the second floor, where the whole office was, when he saw me just standing there looking around like an idiot. He gave me a tour right then and there. He asked if I was interested in taking a proofreading test because they were looking for a proofreader. I took it and failed.
Then, much later, I tried again and got a job as a general text monkey. I learned how to typeset, proofread, edit, and write there. It was supremely educational.
[DCtRPG] – What about writing for Dark Conspiracy? What drew you to the game?
[Eric] – Dark Conspiracy remains my favorite horror game not because of mechanics, which as I write this I can remember not a single bit of, but because of the setting and story. It really snapped into place for me and I found it extremely easy to come up with ideas for it because the setting was so rich. It was the first horror game setting I knew of that could have any sort of horror in it. A haunted robot would be as likely, believable, and fun as a ghost, vampire, or mutant. I loved it to bits. Total horror freedom. As opposed to, say, Call of Cthulhu or Ravenloft which could be intolerant of variance.
I also liked the dystopian future a lot. The idea that you could sell your vote to a megacorporation in return for three hots and a cot was very interesting. It got me thinking about what that would mean to society if that was real, and those thoughts of course lead to yet even more ideas, which are themselves horrific. No one would want to live in that kind of society, and so that becomes yet another layer of horror to explore and play in.
[DCtRPG] – That love of the setting and game is obvious in your New Orleans supplement. How did that come about?
[Eric] – It was an open assignment and I had enough time for it and I asked to do it and Frank Chadwick let me. As I recall, there was no outline or anything beyond the title. Where the specific adventure came from is lost in memory! I haven’t read it in decades but I’m sure it’s mediocre, at best!
However, I did get recognized at conventions because of New Orleans, and that was definitely a thrill, mostly because I didn’t think there’d be any reason for anyone to remember my name. I was a nobody!
But, the adventure made an impression on a few! Yay!
[DCtRPG] – I should ask, even though it is a couple of decades ago, do you remember how you went about creating the book?
[Eric] – Oh, I don’t recall any special processes or anything. I wrote it as a freelance assignment and that was about it.
[DCtRPG] – What about your other published Dark Conspiracy work, the adventure A Grisly Harvest (which appeared in issue 53 of Challenge Magazine).
[Eric] – The who what now? The title sounds like something I’d come up with, but I honesty have no recollection of that article! I’ll take your word for it that my name’s on whatever it is!
[DCtRPG] – I’m tell the truth, honest :P. Oh well, never mind, but please tell me you have some gem or two of a discarded Dark Conspiracy martial somewhere in your collection?
[Eric] – I don’t have anything hidden away or whatnot, alas. What I didn’t use for the magazine I probably jettisoned to make the load lighter when we moved to Wisconsin to work at/for TSR.
[DCtRPG] – Shame, but I know how that is. While we are on the subject of writing, however, what was it like working at GDW?
[Eric] – Frenetic. I was working at GDW so anything and everything there was frenetic. I probably wrote A Grisly Harvest as rapidly as possible to fill a gap in the magazine, if I had to guess (which I am), which is likely why I don’t remember it. Probably written in an afternoon!
Everything was pretty much as you can imagine with a very small publishing company in the Midwest: people wearing multiple hats, a bit of desperation in the background because there was never a lot of cash, and the joy of working in games.
Seeing a product in print was good, but by the time it showed up in our hands we were already well underway onto the next product. It was easy to see something come back from the printer and go “oh yeah, that!” Dark Conspiracy was different though because it was a big deal. We were all very happy and proud when we saw physical copies.
[DCtRPG] – I’m glad to hear. As I’ve been told, working in the RPG industry is often a hard, but fulfilling career choice. I must ask, how was Dark Conspiracy seen at GDW? I always got the impression it was a bit of the ‘ugly step son’ amongst their lines.
[Eric] – Oh my no, it wasn’t a stepchild by any means, but it was very important. A lot of effort by everyone went into it and I recall everyone being very proud of the result. I remember there was a desire to have a unified framework of rules for all the RPG product, using Twilight 2000 rules. But I didn’t pay much attention to the mechanics so I don’t know what came of that effort, to be honest (I never played Twilight 2000 so I wouldn’t know how it compares anyway).
I ran playtests of DC for everyone at the office and I remember pointing out to Frank Chadwick that the worst possible thing that could happen in the game was for a car to drive over a land mine—it would be a nightmare to adjudicate. I’ve always favored lighter rules when it comes to horror as a result of that observation.
[DCtRPG] – And all good things must come to an end. What lead you to leave GDW?
[Eric] – Julia Martin, my (now) wife, was hired at TSR and I left for Wisconsin with her. We left just as some very super top top secret deal was just made or just about to be made with Gary Gygax, to give you a timeframe of reference.
[DCtRPG] – If what I’ve heard about the fallout from that arrangement, it sounds like it was a good time to go. I know it’s been a while (okay more than twenty years), but what do you think came from your time at GDW?
[Eric] – I’ve been a writer and/or editor and/or something else in games ever since, working at or freelancing for GDW, TSR, Wizards of the Coast, Microsoft, Bungie, Nintendo, and The Pokémon Company International, where I am now. Except for a year, I’ve been in games in one capacity or another my whole professional life.
I still play tabletop a lot. I host a weekly fantasy game using (as yet unnamed) rules of my own design. It’s a classless system with a narrative rules structure. The setup is the PCs live on an isolated chain of islands and are sent to a distant mainland to discover why there’s been no contact from it for years. I thought this premise, where the players had no idea at all what they were heading into and would have to depend on themselves once they got there, was like going to another planet, combined with freedom to make just the kind of characters they wanted, would yield interesting results.
What I’ve found interesting is that when left completely to their own devices, this group tends to eschew combat if they can manage it. For example, instead of clearing a mine of orcs, the PCs hired the orcs to mine it. The threat of the orcs to the nearby village was nullified and the PCs now have an ongoing source of income and a concern, investment, and connection with the world.
So, instead of trying to find a way to merely survive in a strange land, they’ve taken an unexpected tack of transforming the world into something they’re comfortable with. This effort is now the focus of the campaign. They’ve hatched a plot to rule the world they’ve found. Quite exciting!
Other than that, I play a horrific amount of World of Warcraft, and have been for seven or eight years now. In terms of hours spent, I’m sure I’ve spent more on WoW than any other game including all genres. I’m so enthused that I started a podcast for it: 30 Minute Cooldown, which you can get from iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS at 30minutecooldown.com.
And other than that, I’m usually playing whatever game(s) I’m working on. Lately I’ve been playing a lot of Pokémon Black 2 because I’ve discovered what a staggeringly complex game it is, far far more than I initially thought. It’s _easy_ to play it for eight hours straight and hardly notice.
[DCtRPG] – Well, thank you Eric for taking the time to chat. It is always good to hear from those who worked so hard to bring our favourite RPG to life. Before I let you go, however, I let you have the floor. Anything you’d like to say?
[Eric] – The only thing I have to plug is my World of Warcraft podcast, 30 Minute Cooldown 🙂
[DCtRPG] – Thanks again, Eric. And for those readers interested in keeping up with Eric, he can be followed via Twitter (@Abashima).