The Gamer's Codex

The Gamer's Codex

Interview with RPG Legend, Lester Smith, creator of d6xd6 CORE

Thank you for taking the time out to interview with us.  It is an honor and a privilege.

The privilege is mine! Thanks!

For those that might have been living under a rock, tell us about yourself and your proudest accomplishments in the gaming industry.

Most long-term gamers know me as the designer of Dragon Dice–an Origins award winner–and of the Dark Conspiracy role-playing game. I worked on staff at both GDW and TSR in the late 80s and 90s, and have done freelance work for Shadowrun, Mechwarrior, Star Wars, Deadlands, and many other properties, participating in three other Origins winning products. I was also a reviewer of small-press games for Dragon Magazine for several years. Beyond that, the publication list is pretty long.

For the past decade, I’ve been publishing poets and fiction writers via Popcorn Press–including an annual Halloween anthology for the past five years. Last year I added a half dozen card games to the catalog, and this year I’m tackling a role-playing game. I’ve also contracted a couple of dice games with SFR, Inc.: Daemon Dice last year, and SuperPower SmackDown! this year.

What is d6xd6 CORE Role-Playing Game?  What drove you to create it?

A relatively full answer is published on my blog ( under the title “Serendipity is the Kindly Grandma of Invention.”

In a nutshell, a few people over the past several years have commented on my old Zero role-playing game design, saying they wish it were still in print. While I don’t own the rights to that world, I’ve always been happy with the unique central dice mechanic–d6xd6–based on a single stat–Focus.

In July of 2013, I started adapting that mechanic to other settings, and ran a ghost-based adventure at Quincon that year, with very positive responses. So I set out to draft a full set of rules online, planning to write a plethora of different genres for it.

Then in the fall of 2013, Douglas Niles asked if I’d like to publish an ebook of his New York Times bestselling Watershed trilogy. While laying out and proofing that work, I suddenly thought, “Why am I planning a new fantasy setting when there’s an amazing one right here?” Doug agreed to let me include Watershed as the default fantasy setting, and something clicked in my head: “Why write new settings for any genre, when there are amazing novels out there to draw from, if the novelists agree?”

Suddenly a multi-genre project switched from something I’d have to devote lots of time to for each setting, to something that would serve fans better by providing a few specific rules for entering a novelist’s world, and using those novels as source books. It became a perfect cross-promotional vehicle for everyone involved.

So I invited several novelist and film-making friends to join, and nervously wrote to some absolute strangers whose work I simply loved. Andrea K Höst, Adrian Howell, Matthew Bryan Laube, and Hanna Peach were the first four strangers, and they all said yes! Things snowballed from there, to the thirty-four authors currently involved, representing thirty-eight different worlds.

You have an extensive and distinguished resume in the gaming industry.   In the time you have been involved with it, what has surprised you the most about the changing and evolving environment of the RPG market?

To my mind, quality print-on-demand and PDF publishing has been the happiest change in not just games, but also books and films. Add crowdfunding to the mix, and an explosion of creativity has breached the temple walls, allowing anyone, anywhere, with vision and drive, to reach a viable market. It used to be that a few big publishing houses decided what would be available to read, and a few fanzines dared to survive outside those environs. Now those fan efforts are in the majority, and the big houses are struggling to survive. I mentioned earlier having been a small-press reviewer for Dragon magazine. That term doesn’t really apply any longer; everything is small press.

Yes, it does mean some poorly executed work runs wild, decreasing the “signal to noise” ratio. But readers are pretty adept at tuning in to the best, and social media lets us all share those recommendations. Viral is the new marketing. The days of Madison Avenue convincing us to buy things we don’t need are fading.

I’m a huge fan of the Information Age.

In the world of today’s RPG market, what does d6xd6 CORE Role-Playing Game bring to it that sets it apart?

Five-minute character creation that allows any conceivable occupation. A unique number curve that handles “initiative,” success, and amount of success in one roll. A fast and easy combat system based on my three decades of writing and reviewing rules. An unlimited number of possible worlds that can be added on pretty much “on the fly.” And the experience system is unique, too.

Has any of your previous work influenced d6xd6 CORE Role-Playing Game?

Zero was the first place I experimented with a single-stat “Focus” concept. My years at GDW produced a healthy respect for clean combat rules. Work with Dragon Dice at TSR taught me a certain poetry of game mechanics–drama without structure is chaos; structure without drama is death. Writing sonnets, haiku, and Web code revealed the ways magic blossoms from the right framework. As WordPress says, “Code is poetry.” See also Wordsworth’s “Nuns Fret Not at Their Convent’s Narrow Room” sonnet. Game design is poetry, too.

Would a setting like Dark Conspiracy work well in  d6Xd6 CORE?

Abso-tively! We’re currently just a couple hundred dollars away from demonstrating that with Colin F. Barnes’ twisted cyperpunk Techxorcist series, and just a Secret Goal or two from adding J. Robert King’s surreal Nightmare Tours and Jason Daniel Myers’ mythic Big Trouble in Little Canton. The d6xd6 CORE RPG could easily adapt Dark Conspiracy itself.

What is in your plans for the future of d6Xd6 CORE Role-Playing Game?

Unsurprisingly, the current Kickstarter is having a big say in that. Besides the creators currently engaged, we’ve been approached by other authors and artists interested in the engine. We’ve also been approached about distribution, which would certainly help. And we’ve been asked about licensing the engine to other publishers; I’m working a draft of that now.

I’m certain we’ll be adding new worlds as standalone ebooks in the future, with print books of those if the page count justifies it. In short, the system is a platform upon which we can build countless things. And the more successful it grows, the more time I can devote to expanding its multi-verse, and to working on other games.

Thanks for your time.  Good luck with the d6Xd6 CORE Role-Playing Game and all your future projects!

Thank you! And keep up the good work promoting this wonderful hobby.

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