Interview with ICAR's Dr. Rob Lang: THE CONCLUSION

A column article by: Park Cooper

Last time: Dr. Rob Lang, Ph.D. in cybernetics, is the creator of ICAR, a role-playing game. These are the sites to go to to learn more of him and his RPG-related deeds:

I interviewed him. Here, then, is that interview's exciting conclusion:

PC: Do you deal with many commercial RPGs these days? Or is there just no need, because you've got such a wealth of riches overflowing to choose from already? To say nothing of, like, duh, your own? And connected to this, do you keep up with the current commercial gaming industry much?

Rob: When I realised all this just over a year ago, I blathered on like an idiot to my friends (who had been playing Icar for years and so it was all very obvious that free games could be different) and I realised then I had a passion for it. I only deal with those commercial games that my friends are going to run for me! For example, I've stepped out of the GM's chair (which is a lovely red velvet piece on a plinth) and joined the ranks of players until my son gets a little older I can commit a little more. So my mate is running Corporation.

PC: So do you ever see making money out of Icar? or is that super-not the point? Related question: do a lot of people ask you that question?

Rob: I skim-read blogs like it's going out of fashion. They (and the big sites: Enworld, provide me with enough info. Frankly, not much has caught my interest. I doubt I will make money out of the Icar RPG but I am writing a novel and I do hope to become a Sci Fi writer in the future. Since about 1996 people have been ordering me to release Icar. When 3.5 came out, a friend of mine (who had worked at WoTC) told me to (excuse the language) "Stop fucking about and make it into a book". The next version will be free to download but there will be a print copy.

PC: Ah ha

Rob: The reason for the print copy was that the BIGGEST and most repetitive feedback I got from GenCon UK 2008 was that people loved it but needed it printed for the gaming table and could not be arsed to do it. There is also the sticky situation of the GM having to 'sell' the game to their players (or players selling it to a GM but I imagine that's rarer). You try and sell something that is comb bound in black and white, you're not going to get the same response as if you were holding something like Rogue Trader.

PC: So (whether by your own influence or not) do you see the world of free RPGs growing more quickly these days? at what rate? Also, how do you make people love an RPG at a con, exactly, except by playing it? Or do you mean people who were already aware of your work came up and demanded in person?

Rob: Hmmm good question... Some who played it and few who had seen the website, read the PDF and saw the advert posters I put up and sought me out.

PC: Also: tell me about what games you have played in the past AND about your previous influences. Also: speak your thoughts about computer gaming these days (I'm mostly speaking about PCs, but whatever)

Rob: Okay... I'll go back to the free rpgs growth rate... I think there is at least one RPG in every GM and player. And what's more - if that GM or player was allowed to be truly creative and free from the confines of standard roleplaying then each and every one will proffer a completely unique game. A raw idea I'm still trying to hew into a refined hypothesis is... Every GM writes a game every time they play. To my horror, 10 years or so ago, I realised that no-one would play Icar as it was written. The filth! It's obvious. But by making a campaign setting - by changing rules - by ignoring bits of the setting - they are writing a game. As much as I try to keep spouting about free RPGs, I think they have been in decline. And will continue to decline.

PC: this guy i read recently said... "when it comes down to it, players and GMs don't really NEED us. They can tell their own interactive stories. It's only a matter of convenience and practice." ("Us" being game writers and publishers etc)

Rob: He's right to a certain extent... but GMs like to have their imaginations fired up. In the same way we could all sit around the fire and tell stories but a book has always provided something new. I think free RPGs have been in decline because of the huge advances in online RPG downloads. Now any half-decent writer can sell their hard work. And good luck to them. I'm rather glad for those services - even if it does mean that there are fewer RPG authors out there. However, I think there is a place for RPGs and with enough of a push, I think there will be a come back. Free RPG blogs are starting up. The new 1km1kt archive will make a huge difference as we will be able to back-fill a load of games that were lost when Geocities went down. I've got another project I'll be working on just after this one. (sorry, I meant, I will be working on the new project after this interview). 

PC: Understood.

Rob: My next two projects (not secret but I've not discussed them a lot):
1. A guide to writing your own RPG
2. A guerilla 60 second podcast

PC: Have you encountered those two guys who are doing the YOU TOO CAN HAVE A CAREER WRITING AND SELLING YOUR OWN RPGS STUFF AND WE WILL TEACH YOU HOW!!!!!!!!!! thing quite recently? "The Gamer Lifestyle Project"?

Rob: Looking now ... one moment

PC: And if so what do you think of them ...oh, haven't encountered them, eh?

Rob: Ah, Johnn Four! Good luck to them. My guide will be a few shades wackier than that. I've never published a book, so I have no idea how easy the principles are to distill into a book. I've sat in seminars at Gencon UK - where publishers tell the harsh truth. I rather like RPGs being a hobby, actually. It might ruin it for me being a career. If I want to write a game about boils on a teenager’s face, I can! I don't have to worry about feeding my family or having a detrimental affect on the Lang brand. :) (still checking out the gamer lifestyle PDF…)

PC: Let's go back to games you've played in the past and/or your influences...

Rob: Sure... Icar was the first game I ever played and it stayed that way for about 3 years. I played in a Star Wars d6 campaign for two months. Loved rolling massive handfuls of dice but they group was too frivolous for the GM. I played Champions for a few sessions but I'm not massively keen on supers. Errr... I played about 4 sessions of Mage. Which was fun. A friend tried to run GURPS fantasy for me and another friend but we crucified him. I feel sorry for him even now. I ran Paranoia a bit and Cyberpunk 2020. We played a little Pendragon - perhaps 3 or 4 sessions. The GM was great, he was a medieval history major. I bought Palladium fantasy because I liked the book cover. Never played it. Also bought Ninjas and Superspies. This was all years ago, though. I've played nothing but Icar since about 1997. ...There is one thing glaringly missing in this list. I've only played Dungeons and Dragons about 3 times, for about 4 hours each. It's quite funny really. I've really not played that much of any other game! I am the antithesis of most roleplayers - 99.9% of my roleplaying has been NOT D&D!

PC: For a while there I wondered if the White Wolf stuff would swamp and sink D&D. Then it made a comeback. 

Rob: Nothing can swamp Icar!

PC: Okay, so ICAR was the first game you played, but there must have been influences in making that world... right?

Rob: I've played over 1000 sessions of Icar and about 40 of other games!!! Sorry for labouring the point, I've only really just realised the stats myself. 

PC: You mean, just now realized, or just kinda recently?

Rob: Just now. Literally. While we were talking. Christ! That makes me the last person on earth who should review games! I might as well get my wife to do it. Anyway, let's see, Icar influences: Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, Iain M Banks, Star Wars, Star Trek (the first and next gen), Battlestar Galactica (orig series), William Gibson. Now for the slightly more strange ones: Charles Dickens, Monty Python, John Mill (the philosopher who wrote On Liberty), Homer... And the lecturers at the Cybernetics Department... The odd teacher or two at school...

PC: ...So your wife does not game?

Rob: No. Not even slightly. If I break out the Wii - she'll kick my arse. Or guitar hero - she's extraordinary at that. If I ran the right sort of RPG, I think she would be keen.

PC: ...Good heavens, what would the right sort be?

Rob: Something more Storygamish - like primetime adventures. Avoiding combat per se.

PC: Do you see a day when people will LARP Icar?

Rob: Blimey. There's an idea. It's ideas like that that cause riots. Let me just take that in. I've done a fair bit of fantasy LARPing. How would that work in Icar...? Crikey. Errrr. I can't actually imagine it. I can't see it running as a LARP but then I know people who do play Sci Fi LARPs and get on very well. So it must be possible, I just can't imagine it! :) Good question, you've stumped me there.

PC: What does she [the wife] think of all this Icar/RPG stuff?

Rob: I'll ask the Mrs—and about that last question, too...She says: "Icar/RPGs is a good thing because if you weren't doing it, you'd just find ways of annoying me. It deflects your insane energy." She's glad it's creative and that I don't take it too seriously. She would have a problem with it if I treated it as real life. I've never asked her that!

PC: Tell me about the level of feedback/response you get from people as a result of your sites. Is it increasing as time goes on? You either have a low, medium, or large amount of readers of those. but what does it FEEL like? Forget reality... does it feel like you're a voice in the wilderness, or like a million people bless you every time you blow your nose, or inbetween?

Rob: Feedback is directly proportional to the quality and relevance of what you do. It's always a tiny fraction of effort. I know precisely how many people download Icar, view the blog and visit the forums and it a stark minority that actually leave feedback. It was disheartening at first but when you do something that is truly worth responding too, the few comments you do get lift you up.

PC: Ooh i thought of one more question... other geekiness. 2000 AD? Doctor Who? Buffy? Firefly? Farscape? Anything else in the Geek universe appeal to you past or present?

Rob: I casually watch Sci Fi series. BSG was good, as was Firefly. I'm not a fanboy. I am a keen PC Gamer. If they made a TV series out of Fallout 3 - I'd probably watch it back to back on a loop.

PC: Do you think RPGs as a whole are increasing in recognized appeal as we move deeper into the 21st century?

Rob: I think RPGs need a champion - a TV series or film that highlights what a laugh it is.

PC: Yeah, even our geek ambassador show we have over here, Big Bang Theory, doesn't convey that. Okay... any final thoughts? or plugs?

Rob: Thanks - I'd like to thank all those who have supported free RPGs (not me). Every time you link, tweet or blog a free RPG, you become a philanthropist. Keep supporting free RPGs! And, finally, thanks to the authors and their philanthropic generosity - without them there would not be any free RPGs!


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