Murders, Capers, and Laughter: An Interview with Craig Campbell

Most companies design an RPG and use the same rule set, with or without new editions, for everything. With NerdBurger Games, Craig Campbell created three RPGs using three very different sets of original mechanics.

Murders & Acquisitions was Campbell's first original RPG, and it toys with the concept of "cut throat" business.

"The game’s built from mundane, typical things you might see in an office," said Campbell, "but taken to an absurd level. Do you have a rival who is constantly getting the better of you? What if you made it a goal to utterly destroy that person in as overblown of a way as possible? What if the board at your company made a pact with an otherworldly entity to ensure the company’s success?"
For his follow up, Die Laughing, Campbell used his love of horror movies to inspire a different game approach.

"One of the problems with some horror games is…what do you do when your character dies?" said Campbell. "Whip up a new character? Play an NPC? Die Laughing started as a game called One of Them, which focused on horror subgenres where characters become “one of them” (turned into a vampire, whatever). That version was a more traditional RPG with a GM. As you played, players would have their characters turned and join the 'GM Team,' slowly outnumbering the remaining characters. But I couldn’t quite get it to work.

"I hit on the idea of the players making a horror movie, and when your character dies or becomes a vampire, you become a producer on the movie and continue to influence the game. Since the point was now to kill the characters, I blended it with humor so that players could shoot for giving their characters the biggest, goofiest death they could come up with. I wanted to make killing your character fun and rewarding."

Campbell's next game was the gangsters/superhero mash up, CAPERS. "With M&A, I had done a modern day game that could bring magic, monsters, etc., but I hadn’t hit on supers. I went looking for something a little more niche. A re-watch of Boardwalk Empire led me to wonder what Al Capone would be like if he had powers. What if Lucky Luciano was preternaturally lucky, and it wasn’t just a nickname? It all just blew up from there."

Campbell designed a playing card mechanic for CAPERS "partly as a challenge. I’m a big fan of the original Deadlands. I love how it integrated playing cards and poker hands into the game mechanics. Playing cards do things that dice just can’t do. Cards have a history; as you flip a card into a discard pile, that card can no longer be drawn from the deck. I’ve seen players change tactics when they know they have a lot of high cards left in their deck. Additionally, each card has multiple values: the pip value, color, suit, odd vs. even, face card. There’s a lot you can do with having one card flip mean multiple things."

Now CAPERS is moving forward to the 1940s with CAPERS Noir, bringing with it "moody, atmospheric crime noir." Campbell also has plans for CAPERS Covert, which moves the timeline to the 1960s and adds James Bond-era super[powered] spies and CAPERS Offworld, which will have a 1900s Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers flair.

In the end, though, Campbell considers RPGs to be collaborative on all levels – "When one of my games is complete and out there for you to play, it’s no longer my game. It’s your game. Make it what you want it to be for you and your friends."

This article was contributed by Beth Rimmels (brimmels) as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. If you enjoy the daily news and articles from EN World, please consider contributing to our Patreon!

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Beth Rimmels

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