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Industry Insights: The RPGnet Interviews

GodLike: Dennis Detwiler and Greg Stolze

by Matt Snyder
September 14, 2001


RPG.net had a post-GenCon Q&A session with Dennis Detwiler, of Delta Green fame, and Greg Stolze, of Unknown Armies fame. The dynamic duo have teamed up to bring us Godlike, a supers game set in the gritty world of World War II. The 320-page game book will hit stores December, 2001.

For starters, tell us about Godlike. What is this game all about?

Dennis Detwiler: Well, GODLIKE is about superhumans popping up during World War II, fighting for their respective causes. It's "What if the impossible could happen in a world at war?" These superhuman "Talents" represent an unknown to society--they are not genetic mutants, quantum shifters or aliens, they are just people, who can warp reality to their own whim--Hence the name "GODLIKE."

Inspiration for the historical setting is obvious. Tell us about why you've done a WWII game, and what kind of research has gone into the creative process.

Dennis: Research into this project took me almost four months. I've assembled a huge collection of literature on WWII over the last five years (it's a favorite subject,) so it was mostly a matter of reading. Oh, and so everyone out there knows, a bibliography will be in the book!

Tell us the alternate history aspects of the game. Is this basically our own world's history with Talents in the mix, or are significant events altered?

Dennis: Significant events altered in GODLIKE--Mussolini hangs himself before British commandos can capture him, Charles Lindbergh defects to the Reich, General Montgomery is incinerated by a parahuman assassin (almost,) Reinhard Heydrich is executed in a brief coup attempt in Prague. The list goes on and on. Events shift more than change really, so that the path history takes is not necessarily new, just different. The background is a central element of the book. At nearly 150,000 words, it's bigger than most game supplements. It covers the WHOLE war, 1936-1946, throughout the world, and the impact superhumans have on it...

What about non-historical inspiration? Are there other media that have influenced your creative process? Any comic titles or graphic work? Others sources?

Dennis: Hmmm. Well I enjoy many of Alan Moore's comics, but since about 1990, I haven't really paid attention to comics. I can tell you the project began as a graphic novel though... As for other sources, many spring to mind--mostly movies: "When Trumpets Fade," "On a Midnight Clear" "A Bridge Too Far" and "Saving Private Ryan..."

Why a supers game rather than, say, a supernatural horror game?

Dennis: I don't know about Greg, but after writing almost 200,000 words for DELTA GREEN, I've had it up to my ears with supernatural horror. I chose supers because I don't think the genre has been given the proper respect it deserves--I love some supers games out there ("Superworld" springs to mind,) but many just leave me cold, either rules or background wise. I thought I'd take my shot at it. After DELTA GREEN: COUNTDOWN, everything looks easy!

Greg: Yeah, I love horror -- but lately that's been almost all the game writing I get. Adventure! was a real breath of fresh air in my schedule, for example. I'd also had ideas for running a game in the Aberrant setting: Dennis' obvious effort on GODLIKE was enough to get me working on rules. (So, as a bonus, we know the rules work in a modern setting as well.)

How are characters crafted in Godlike? How are a character's powers determined?

Dennis: Characters are constructed by the players. Almost any power imagined can be fashioned by working out the qualities it possesses. Does the power attack? Defend? Is it useful outside of combat? Robust? Costs are worked out simply, and modified by flaws or extras, to really make the powers unique.

Greg: Specifically, there's a big list of "a la carte" powers you can buy -- 31 pages worth in the ashcan edition I've got. Then, in addition, there are the guidelines for developing play-balanced powers that aren't on the list. Anyone who remembers EVERWAY will probably see the pedigree there. It's a little loose by nature, but it does allow you to craft your own power without taking two hours to do it.

What kinds of things can characters do? That is, what are some example talents, and how "super" are they?

Dennis: Talents can literally do anything. Some can lift a 6-ton rock with one hand--and no leverage! Others can fly at 800 mph and not even mess up their hair, and make turns at right angles. Some can turn into paper dragons six hundred feet long and others can remove rotational inertia with a touch--flinging targets off into space. Many powers are unique, but some, like flight and hyperstrength are common. These powers reflect an "over-ride" the character's mind can perform on reality, not some actual physical phenomenon. When the 98-lb. weakling lifts the tank, it is his mind, not his body lifting it.

Greg: Actually, there are a few play-balance no-nos -- no time travel, no mind control... the kind of stuff that works ever so much better in stories than in games. Not to say you can't do a good game with time travel (Continuum, Feng Shui) or mind control -- but we felt that in this setting, allowing that kind of stuff would make those Talents the focus of the game. We wanted WWII to be the focus of the game.

Godlike is filled with interesting "celebrity" Talents. Can you give us some examples of your favorite NPC Talents?

Dennis: I love them all. But pick a few huh? There's America's Indestructible Man, he can stand ground zero at an A-Bomb explosion and walk away unscathed, but sneak up behind him with a knife, and he's dead. There's Cien, who can manipulate things telekinetically, with his shadow. There's Pevnost, the Fortress, who can link any two doorways with his mind, despite the distance between them. There's Cormorant, whose childhood imaginary friend "Mr. Mitts," (a sixty foot invisible dragon) has returned to protect him. I could go on and on. There are about sixty dossiers of Talents in the main book, with dozens more outlined in the background.

It's hard to imagine the Nazis as anything but villains. What does the game suggest as playable roles? That is, what nationality can characters be, or how does the game encourage character group structure?

Dennis: The Nazis, of course, are the natural villains of the game. The bermenschen represent the SS ideal, and therefore are wholly evil. They are interesting targets, nothing more--groups are encouraged to play the Allies. (But I suppose some out there will choose poorly.) The campaign presented in the book outlines the "Talent Operations Groups" of the U.S. Army. These TOG squads operate behind enemy lines, detecting and eliminating enemy Talents, while wreaking havoc. Tools to construct your own campaign are presented in the book as well, along with rules for Four-Color, Cinematic or Realistic play. There's something in here for everyone.

Greg: Yeah, it's actually one surprisingly simple tweak that changes the tone. Alter one fundamental principle of the mechanics a little, and suddenly you're Indiana Jones instead of Private Ryan. Alter it a lot and you're Batman or Sgt. Rock.

The preview information for the game has a European bent, particularly with the first Talent being German. How does Godlike address the rest of the world, like Africa, Southeast Asia or the Pacific Theater? What about other locales?

Dennis: Like I said before the war is covered in detail, all over. North Africa, the Pacific and the European theater, along with Russia, are covered in day by day descriptions of what is going on.

What was the most rewarding thing about creating the game?

Dennis: The positive response we've had so far. It's hard working in a vacuum.

Greg: I'll second that. I personally thought I'd done a kick-ass set of rules, but I'm always rather blind to any weaknesses in my work. It's great to see it hit the table and exceed my expectations.

What was the biggest challenge?

Dennis: Making the background believable and historically solid. It took almost a year of writing to get it up to speed.

Greg: Going through the big list of powers and making them all balance.

How does the game handle some of the very difficult issues of WWII, particularly Nazism and the Holocaust?

Dennis: Unflinchingly. These things were very real, and not many people know enough about them. There seems to be a "don't talk about it" policy among the "politically correct" society of today. I for one, find that a shame. The atrocities that the Nazis committed were terrible, but so were the ones the Japanese committed, and the Russians, and the Chetniks, and the Slavs. The list goes on and on. Learning about these things, and seeing the madness behind them, is one step in the right direction of never letting them happen again. Did you ever notice it's the survivors of these terrible things who want to talk about what they saw, and suffered through, and everyday people who don't? I think it has to do with guilt.

What has been the reaction to those who've viewed previews or heard scuttlebutt around the Net?

Dennis: We've had nothing but ecstatic responses, including offers to eliminate any threats which may get in the way of the book's production. It's been great.

Greg: I ran some demos at GenCon, and the players were almost as happy as I was.

What future Godlike releases can we look forward to?

Dennis: Currently completed is "Will to Power: A look at the Nazi Parahuman Program 1936 to 1945" a 128 page supplement full of NPCs to shoot, facilities to blow up, and organizations to disorganize. It should be right in the chute after the core rulebook. In the works is "The Reality of the Impossible: American and British Parahuman Programs 1938 to 1945." After that is Soviet Special Directive One, and then the Partisans book. After that, who knows?

Will the Godlike universe move beyond WWII? Will there be other releases set in different historical, or even future, periods? Dennis: Right now, there are two other spin-offs planned: GHOSTS (cold-war era Talents,) and TEENAGERS+ (modern day Talents.) The future history of GODLIKE is already written, but it may be a year or more before I move onto GHOSTS.

You've created a very unique rules set for the game. Tell us about it.

Greg: Warning. What follows is rather gear-headed, and if you don't really really love examining rules, it may bore you. You've been warned.

I don't know if "very unique" is an accurate assessment. Like a lot of games, it's a d10 die pool. The difference is that success, and degree of success, are determined by the rolled numbers' relationship to one another, rather than their relationship to some exterior target number. (Oooh, sounds fancy, huh?)

What that really means is that you roll your pool and, instead of picking out everything that's seven or above, you pick out matches -- if I roll five dice and get 2,2,3,7,9, I've got a set -- a pair of twos. If I roll and get 5,5,5,9,10, I've got a 3x5 match.

I'd been kicking around ideas for a matching system for a couple years because -- odd as it may sound, coming from a rules designer -- I hate math. I particularly hate having to add, subtract or multiply in the middle of a game. It totally breaks me out of "enjoyment mode" and into "dry problem crunching" mode. I'm willing to count, but not add. So I was thinking that a system where you rolled dice and see which ones matched would be a way to get a wide variety of results without having to add a lot of numbers together.

I had that idea, but it wasn't really going anywhere until I had ANOTHER thought while I was designing some rule or other for the Storyteller system. I asked myself "Really, what's the difference between raising the target number, and asking for more successes?" That made me realize that Storyteller really has two gauges of success -- the number of dice that come up and the high number itself. They're there -- they just don't get used in any organized fashion. So I thought, "What if the number of successes means one thing, and the degree of successes means another?"

When I combined that with the matching idea, it worked. It worked even better than I thought it would.

What do you think the rules' greatest strength is?

Greg: Two axes of success -- width and height. Most games have only one, which is why you have to roll so many times. Look at D&D: You roll for your initiative at the beginning of the combat, and then you roll to hit, and if you hit you roll damage. If you want to make more than one attack, you roll each one separately and roll the damage separately -- because every roll only gives you a single degree of answer.

With GODLIKE, I've been able to cram initiative, success or failure, hit location and damage into a single roll. A combat round is this: Everyone says what they're doing and rolls. The dice tell you what order things go in, how well everyone did -- the works! You don't have to roll again until the next round. Want to make multiple attacks? Still the same roll -- instead of giving you a penalty for splitting your attention, you just hope your dice pool is big enough to yield two matches.

How do the rules handle the vast scale of WWII and also of talents?

Greg: It operates on an individual scale. We never meant for this to be a system for doing the entire Battle of the Bulge. It's a system for handling small unit actions -- five talents against a couple tanks, say. And, while Talents are powerful, they also tend to be either narrow or rather weak. You don't get someone with an extremely powerful, extremely versatile power doing 90% of the action while the Strong Guy and the Invisible Guy sit around wishing they'd bought more complicated powers.

With these great game mechanics, you've also included an appendix with D20 rules for the game. What was the decision behind that, and what can you tell us about the D20 rules?

Greg: I can't tell you anything about the D20 rules, other than "Mike Mearls did 'em, I trust him and Dennis is happy with them." It wasn't my idea to include a D20 conversion, but I think it's a good idea. I think it'll convince some people who never would have otherwise touched GODLIKE to buy the book. I mean, I love my rules set, but sales MATTER. _________________________________________________________________ Get your FREE download of MSN Explorer at http://explorer.msn.com/intl.asp TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

What do you think?

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All Industry Insights

  • Gareth-Michael Skarka interviews China Mieville, April 24, 2002
  • lizard's Condensation of All Game Fiction, April 18, 2002
  • Sandy's "God or Whore?" GTS'02, March 26, 2002
  • Allan Sugarbaker with GAMA Trade Show '02: An Inside Report, March 22, 2002
  • Aldo of Impressions on the GamePlay CD, January 3, 2002
  • Gareth-Michael Skarka interviews Ken Hite, February 8, 2002
  • Gareth-Michael Skarka interviews Tim Powers, January 18, 2002
  • Aldo Ghoizzi on Inside the Making of GamePlay, January 3, 2002
  • The RPGnet Awards Cabal presents the RPGnet 2001 Awards Results!, December 5, 2001
  • Ken Whitman teaches us with A Note About Creating a Good Promotional Campaign, October 12, 2001
  • Sean Jaffe on The Fallout, September 27, 2001 [about 9/11]
  • Sean Jaffe on Interesting Times, September 21, 2001 [about 9/11]
  • GodLike: Dennis Detwiler and Greg Stolze, September 14, 2001
  • Jared Nielsen on Tribe Gamer, August 31, 2001
  • Mark Bruno teaches about Copy Editing, August 16, 2001
  • Ratings not just kid's stuff for RPG industry, reported by Matt Snyder, August 9, 2001
  • GenCon '01 News, reported by Matt Snyder, August 3, 2001
  • Origins Report: Would you send your mother to buy from them?, part 4 of 4
  • Origins Report: Booth Babes, part 3 of 4
  • Origins Report: Overview, part 2 of 4
  • The Origins Awards, part 1 of 4, reported by Jason Paul McCartan
  • Gary Gygax Interview, part 1 of 3, by Scott Lynch
  • Why I Write Gaming Materials by Greg Stolze, November 16, 1999
  • Blowing out the Nostalgia Candle by John Wick, October 19, 1999
  • Interview with Sean Pat Fannon, Shards October 5, 1999
  • Portuguese is not Spanish! by Thad Blanchette, September 14, 1999
  • Intuition and Surprise by M. J. Young, July 27, 1999
  • Fear and Loathing in the Wizards of the Coast Game Center by John Tynes, January 26, 1999
  • Breaking In,, on how to break into writing for RPGs, by Steve Kenson, December 22, 1998
  • ALT.RPG, first of a series looking deeply at what gaming is all about, by Matt Miller, September 1, 1998
  • The Night They Tore Old Mecca Down, GenCon report by Randy Porter, August 20, 1998
  • GenCon Fun: con, city, and even housing tips from Randy Porter, June 30, 1998
  • GenCon Lore Vol 3: Program Books, update on GenCon 98 attendance, by Randy Porter, June 23, 1998
  • The Missing and the Dead, update on GenCon 98 attendance, by Randy Porter, June 2, 1998
  • The Definitive Count on who is and isn't attending GenCon 98, by Randy Porter, April 28, 1998
  • How to Scam Games Part II by Steve Johnson, March 24, 1998
  • The Perils of Penniless Publishing by Aaron Rosenberg, February 3, 1998
  • Polyhedral Dice & Mirror Shades, by Greg Costikyan (or, the death of paper).
  • Ken Whitman: A Love Hate Relationship by (of course) Ken Whitman
  • Interview with Sean Punch, GURPS line editor, by Bob Portnell, October 1997
  • YOU DID WHAT? Perspectives On Becoming A Full-Time Writer In The RPG Industry, by Steven Long, September 1997
  • A Resurgence of Role Playing, by Gary Gygax, August 1997

    Other columns at RPGnet

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