Interview: Calvin Johns and Travis Rinehart of Anthropos Games

A column article by: Park Cooper

Today: It's time for another interview, and again, it involves the world of role-playing games, subsection: tabletop, pen-and-paper type.

Whom: Calvin Johns and Travis Rinehart of Anthropos Games.

This is the site to go to to learn more of them and their RPG-related deeds:

Anthropos Games

Here, then, is that interview:

Park Cooper: So where do you teach? 

Calvin Johns: Anthropology department at UT. Just a PhD student doing his intro classes 

PC: My, my. PhD Literature, here. Texas Tech/Texas Tech and then Kent State 

CJ: I figured that your "Dr." was from Literature 

PC: You were right. 

CJ: I was at Ohio State before coming here 

PC: Between you, me, and my pal Dr. Rob Lang (cybernetics, England) of my last interview, RPGs are starting to feel like the new What To Do With A PhD Besides Teach... So... Playtesting, eh?

CJ: Yeah, we're expanding to get the blind testers trying out the mechanics and testing a couple of the chapters for clarity, inspirational qualities, usefulness, evocative wordage, etc. There were already about 4 groups trying out the game across the country and UK, but they know the writers and have an insider angle on the game. That doesn't help for testing how the material works with total newbs to Early Dark. 

Now we have 12 groups. After three months and a few surveys, we will be ready to hit the next phase of releasing the game. 

PC: Then let's back up. Anthropos Games, eh? Sounds a little like anthropology major named it or something 

CJ: Haha. Honestly, I taught my first Anthropology class here at the University of Texas at Austin before I ever took one. I always went for philosophy as an undergrad. But, yeah, I am a student at the Anthropology department now, focusing on public culture and cultural studies. That means I talk about rather serious, political issues alongside popular culture and everyday life. 

The company was in the works since 1993 or so, however. I think my friends and I made our first RPG about that time. We started out with Palladium's TMNT and had to write our own rules to start up a fantasy campaign. I count that as the symbolic founding date, though things didn't get filed with the federal government until just a couple years ago. Anthropos is a way to continue what started much earlier in my life. 

And why not name a company after the subject of the games, human beings? 

PC: Did you also read TMNT back in the old old pre-archie days? Or maybe you weren't alive then? Cuz I was... 

CJ: My younger brother, Andrew, had quite a few Eastman and Laird books that I've probably stolen. 

PC: How did you decide it was time to file with the Federal Government? 

CJ: I just knew I'd be spending time and money on the games, and knew that in the US you have to give the Man his cut. If we are selling games, we need to be a registered company and vendor. If it weren't for the legal/tax issues, I wouldn't have opted for bringing a new institution into the world. 

But, the name is fitting for our focus on gritty, human-centered (though intentionally not _humanist_) settings. 

PC: What about things like, say, (i think i've got that right)? does one need to be official for that sort of transaction? 

For that matter, what DO we mean in this case by "Selling"? I don't even know if this will be paper and ink or digital or what 

CJ: Maybe not with DriveThru. They have a great site, and I'm sure our stuff will be up there, but I wanted to establish a personality for all our games, and a brand/company is good for that. Having a company/studio/brand/family behind all our games will help communicate the feel of what we're trying to do and act as a touchstone for people looking for something a little different from their role-playing games. 

Early Dark will be out in print and PDF. Print books are necessary. You need to toss them around the table, poor over them in the car on the way home from the hobby shop, and mark up your favorite passages or most often missed rules. PDFs can be printed, I know, but we always wanted to produce the book as an object as well. 

Maybe it's the craftsman in me, but just sending out PDFs into the void wouldn't make me feel gratified as a producer, I guess. Though, like I said, we understand some people prefer the lower cost and easy of portabiltiy, so we'll have the book in both. 

PC: How are you getting that printed? 

How are you getting that distributed, or are you just doing it yourself? 

How are you AFFORDING that? 

How many pages will this book be? 

Who's doing the art and how did you find that person or persons? 

CJ: Haha. How _am_ I? We're using a printer we met at an indie media expo here in Austin. We got quotes from all the POD favorites, but I didn't like working without a real printer. I'm not some old-fashioned guy or anything, but I did like the idea of building a relationship with the printer and actually conversing over issues. Plus, using a real printer gives you more options as far as spot gloss on the cover, guarantees over cropping, fixing misprints, asking about the machines they'll be using, etc. 

Now, one at a time... Distribution: We're doing it ourselves as of now, but I'm open for working with an official distributor. In the UK that would be easier than here in the US. We're more into relating with gamers out there and selling through our site (obviously retail sales make very little money for the producers), doing conventions, shelling out small expansions and having a tight "living campaign" turnaround. Great to have your game in unknown stores across the globe, but we'd like to be able to keep track of where players are and give them support/supplements according to their need. I guess that philosophy isn't unique, but we're members of it. 

Money: It's out of my pocket at the moment. We might have some investors pay for printing the first runs out, but that's still up in the air. We’re also toying around with the possibility, which has been successful for some. 

Page count: The Early Dark corebook page count is still up for debate. Sometimes we have 240 pages ready, sometimes we think 150 will do. We have discussed which adventures to include or if they'd be better served as supplements. The playtest packets we're sending out shortly will be under 100 pages and just give the testers what they need to jump in. 

Art: We put up an ad on craigslist and did very poorly on average, though Christopher Heath and Ian Kazimer turned out to be really committed guys. A few months later we put an ad on and got hundreds of responses. Lots of VERY talented artists out there, and we worked with about a dozen of them for a good amount of art. 

PC: "Indie media expo?" what Indie media expo? 

CJ: The expo was the STAPLES media expo that just happened a couple weeks ago. 

PC: Ah HA I knew it would be STAPLE. What a euphemism! 

PC: So, playtesting will help establish the page count? 

CJ: Yeah, whatever the testers want. Within reason, I guess. We're rewriting the setting chapter now, just trying a new approach to give GMs more immediately relevant stuff. That's actually where things like Twitter become useful. I've found so many great bloggers and things to bounce ideas off of and chat about design with. Writing RPGs was a lonely hobby for the last decade, but now it's cool to see how many people are in the same boat, trying to get things out there, make some babies. 

PC: Who built/is building your site for ya? Or is that in-house, if the site says, I don't recall 

CJ: The site: Right now, the site is just something I put together in iWeb. Is that bad? I guess it is. Haha. Our in-house artist, Chris Heath, is in the process of making a great new site in Flash for us. He's also doing our forums and all the graphics for the layout, character sheets, etc. He's pretty much a great guy with great ideas. 
But there are other members of the team, too. Travis has been working with me for over a year now (damn, too long for one game!). We met in an office job downtown, and he has been a great idea man and editor so far. Most of his background is in video game RPGs, so he had his first tabletop experience just last year. I have to say, he's been a quick study. 

And, if we ever get around to meeting, there are other writers eager to help out. Not big names in the industry, but not newbs either. That's all still in the works, though. 

PC: Oh, look, in fact, Travis is here now. So now let’s get into the geeky past with a little game I call MATCHGAMER 2010! (Because you aren’t allowed to compare notes on the answers until later.) What other RPGs have each of you enjoyed playing (besides TMNT and your fantasy homebrewing thereof)? 

Travis Rinehart: No table-tops for me, as calvin may have told you. I am very new to the table-top genre of rpgs. When I was a kid, I had a few friends’ older brothers that played D&D and a few others, but my opinion of such games was very low. Not because they were geeky tho, not at all…I think I just felt like if my buddy’s older brother was the DM, the balance of the game and the fairness and consistency of the rules was definitely in jeopardy. It seemed an inherently flawed system to me. But I think if I had played with people that went about their rpg buisness honestly and fairly, I might have been a bigger fan. I’ve played tons of video game rpgs though, and grew up on PC adventure games and rpgs.

CJ: I really liked the Champions effect-based system, though I only played a few sessions. I played AD&D in junior high. I also got into the original Vampire for a summer. It's hard to get gaming together after high school. People move, friendships in college have to start from scratch. I think my story isn't too far from all the other RPG writers out there. We play as kids. We stop in college. We come back and start looking for adult gamers all over, making quiet d20 references until we see someone nod, exposing their interest. You get together for a session or two, and then schedules tear people apart. All that same stuff has been going on for the last ten years or so. 

PC: Which edition of D&D? What class did you play? or classes... Or are you more of a DM than player as such? 

CJ: I played the 1980 and 1983 editions, so probably 2e, I guess. I'm not into the edition wars or anything, so I have no idea really. I've got the 1980 and '83 books, so that's what we must have played. 
I was an Elf, back when Elf was a class. I made my first character over the phone. It was quite the experience. 

PC: Hm... Yeah probably 2e. The Red books? White crayon on the dice? 

CJ: Never DMed any D&D. It was foreign soil. The home group always played our own creations. The Red books were '83. I have the green and red Basic and Expert books too. Again, not sure what that would be considered. 

CJ: I'd love to be a player, but no one will DM a game I'm interested in anymore. So, I always end up GMing and supplying the food. 

PC: Okay, Matchgaming question: How did you each come to be in Austin? 

TR: I’m actually from San Antonio, but after attending a few colleges there I came to UT to finish up my degree. From what I can tell, and I'm not the MOST well travelled person in the world, but I've been fortunate enough to see a bit of the country and go abroad a few times, Austin is a really awesome place to live. I love it here. 

CJ: I was doing a grad program at Ohio State in cultural studies. My friends and I were looking to move somewhere together, a great mid-twenties migration. They were in Columbus just for fun or odd reasons. I just said, "pick a place with a good graduate school," and they did. After looking into UT though, you can't help but fall in love with the place. I moved here before applying, just figuring I'd get in. I can see what an ignorant move that was now. Somehow I ended up in one of the best Anthro programs in the country, have amazing advisors, and am on my way to fieldwork. Not sure how I make time to run a company, let alone play a game. 

PC: Yeah, I'm not sure how you have the time, either 

CJ: I do get to study RPGs, so at least there is some overlap. Really, Anthropos is more of an outlet than an aspiring career. There are just certain things that upset me about traditional RPGs, and I wanted to do something that was different, maybe progressive. Something I could feel solid about. I'd consider Anthropos as the "Postal Service" to my "Death Cab" or the like. Some will like my games more than my scholarship, some won't. Just a different way to explore and inhabit something I really love and feel passionate about. So, yeah, Early Dark is the attempt at something different. Something for everyone but probably not for everyone. 

PC: …You get to study RPGs? ...We’ll come back to that in a minute. 

NEXT TIME: We come back to it.


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