Interview with Dominic McDowall-Thomas of Cubicle 7 Entertainment

At Gen Con 2011, I had the opportunity to sit down with Dominic McDowall-Thomas; Director of RPGs, Production & The Creative Studio, from Cubicle 7 Entertainment. We talked about The One Ring, Abney Park, and winning an Ennie for best new game amongst other things.

Matt Faul: I am here with Dominic McDowall-Thomas; Director of RPGs, Production & The Creative Studio for Cubicle 7 Entertainment. This year at Gen Con you have a big release in The One Ring: Adventures Over The Edge of the Wilds. What is it like being able to work on such an iconic property?

Dominic McDowall-Thomas: It’s fantastic. I think the dream come true phrase is bandied around a lot, but it is absolutely true. I suppose our six or seven year old selves would be absolutely delighted.

MF: You’re going from reading about the characters to being able to play in their own world with them. The One Ring is focused in the time period after The Hobbit. What made you decide to work that era oppose to some of the more well-known or established periods of time in Middle Earth?

DMT: We wanted a starting point that had a good amount of blank space. There are certain things that we know: what happens in Dol Guldur and Southern Mirkwood. We know about Beorn gathering the outcast and the wildmen. There are loads of really fascinating points like that but there are also big blanks to fill in. For example, one of the first campaign packs we will be doing will be about the reoccupation of Dol Guldur and what happens around that. That will be very interesting, but it also gives the characters something they can actually do that really makes a difference in the world and they can have an epic story line without treading on the toes of The Fellowship.

MF: They can impact the world without destroying continuity.

DMT: With the game, if people want to interfere with the story that’s perfectly fine as well, if that’s what they want to do. For a lot of people, it’s…sacred. (laughs)

MF: How much freedom do you have in creating timelines and events, and how much has to go through an approval process with the Tolkien Estate?

DMT: Everything has to go through the approval process. It’s treading that fine line really. It’s reading an inference or a one line statement in The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, and taking that to its logical conclusion. It’s all subject to approval. I think it’s about being respectful of Tolkien’s work and staying true to that.

MF: You also have another property coming out, Abney Park: Airships & Pirates, based on the songs of the steampunk band, Abney Park. What brought this about?

DMT: The designers of the game, Ken Walton and Peter Cakebread, were big fans and thought this would make a great game. They approved Captain Robert of Abney Park, and he was excited by the idea. We were already publishing Cakebread and Walton’s Clockwork and Chivalry line for Runequest 2, so they got in touch with us and we said that sounds like a fun game. That’s the genesis of it.

MF: That will be released in September?

DMT: Yes, it’s on press at the moment.

MF: Right now there is a free preview up on Drivethru RPG.

DMT: Yes there is. We had the first fifty of the line at Gen Con and that’s gone down very well.

MF: You also have a wide variety of games as well, you have Victoriana, Qin, Starblazers, Cthulhu Britannica and they run the gammit of systems. Some use the Hersey engine, some use the Fate system. What’s it like working with the different game systems? Normally a company will have a game system and use it for the majority of their games.

DMT: I think our philosophy is that the system does affect the feel of a game, so we are always keen to make sure the system compliments to the flavor of the game rather than trying to make the system fit the game.

MF: Instead of shoehorning the content, the flavor of a game, into a system, you chose the system that best fits the flavor of the game.

DMT: For us that works the best. There is no one true way to approach these things, but for us that’s what fits best. We like having different game systems because I think it helps keep things fresh. Most people in Cubicle 7 have been used to running and playing in a wide variety of game systems, so it comes naturally to us.

MF: Anytime you buy a Cubicle 7 game, the graphics and artwork seems top notch. In Victoriana you blend CG with old photographs and illustrations from the Victorian era, with modern art with a Victorian influence. With Dr. Who, you used the photographs from the show. Now with Middle Earth you have the art and the maps with the Tolkien-esque flavor. What is the process like when deciding what art and art style to use?

DMT: It’s part of the process we enjoy immensely, and we aim to make the most beautiful artifacts we can really. As for choice, it’s really comes down to what fits the particular line. What we tried to do with Victoriana is really recreate the authentic feeling of a real Victorian world, really trying to give GM and players a real feel for the era and all its nasty glory. That said there are magic and fantasy races, so we’re keen to use many illustrations from the time period, but we may have to get some pointy ears in there.

MF: Right. You can’t find a lot of line art gnomes from 1880.

DMT: That’s actually a challenge for Victoriana players, to see if they can spot The Lord of The Rings in the smoke in one of the images…(laughs)

MF: I’ll have to go back through my copy of the book then. (laughs)

DMT: If anyone finds that, then e-mail us the info at cubicle7.co.uk and I’m sure we can come up with a special prize for that.

MF: Also something unique with Cubicle 7, you offer PDF copys with the purchase of a hardcopy.

DMT: Yes. For our core stuff. It’s not for a 100 percent of print product. We’re part of the Bits and Mortar program, trying to get that into retail. As many retailors we get to sign up, the better I think. It’s a good cross promotion.

MF: So if your local game store is not a part of it, go to www.bits-and-motar.com and get them to sign up and you can get a free PDF with your hardcopies.

Now for something specific I noticed about Victoriana. With Victoriana there is a lot of backstory; some of it coming from the first edition version of the game. In the second edition version of the game, it references first edition books. For a player that comes in at the second edition are they able to still get the first edition product for storytelling purposes?

DTM: At the moment we are finishing up the second edition reprints of all of those.

MF: So all the first edition references will be in the second edition?

DTM: Yeah, the adventures I think are what you are referring to. There is a book called Streets of Shadow coming out soon. It’s the reprints tweaked versions of the first edition adventures ,with some new linking adventures to turn them into a campaign.

MF: We know about The One Ring. We know about Abney Park. What other new releases can expect from Cubicle 7?

DTM: Well we had, at Gen Con, an advanced copy of Shadows over Scotland for Cthulhu Britannica. That’s a 1920s, 288 page Cthulhu sourcebook for Scotland and there is some fantastic stuff in there. We’re really excited about that. It’s a very big chunky hardback Cthulhu book, so what’s not to love? There are some fantastic details in there. We got the rebranded Dr. Who, with the 11th Doctor, the Matt Smith coming out later this year. Following hot on the heels of that is the supplements we’ve had planned for a while, which we have to wait till we have the rebranded core set out before we could put the supplements out. There’s the unit sourcebook, all the soldiers desperately trying to fight off all these alien invaders. Ye,s the immortal quote from the brigadier: “Chap with the wings. Five rounds rapid.”

MF: You also won the Silver Ennie for Best New Game with the book, The Laundry. Tell us about that.

DTM: I was delighted. The Laundry is a modern day Cthulhu meets James Bond via the British Civil Service. H.P. Lovecraft is an in-world character and it is based on The Laundry novels by Charles Stross. H.P. Lovecraft got a lot of things right but got confused, so actually the picture is worse than H.P. Lovecraft wrote. You take the part of the occult counter intelligence teams going out and fighting all the nasty things coming from other dimensions. There is a fantastic magic system in there and it uses the basic Call of Cthulhu rules which have been modified for the game. Rather than using the magic points, you cobble together technology to give you a power level of spell you can cast. You got your laptop that gives you a certain amount of power. You can add in your peripherals to try to boost the power and cast more powerful magic. Down to the lower tech, you can load up your iPhone with magical applications. So if you’re going into a dangerous situation, you can power up your ward app. There are some lovely touches with that. And it was great to win the Silver Ennie for Best New Game. Everyone involved put a lot of love in the game, so it was really nice.

MF: So to close out the interview is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?

DTM: Watch out for the Primeval Game, which uses the Dr. Who system as a base. Basically you are a team of people that run into these anomalies that have been opening up around the world and dinosaurs come through them. So you have the dinosaurs, the time travel, and it is up to you to find out what’s behind these anomalies, what’s causing them. Then you get future predators coming through from the future. It’s time travel and dinosaurs.

MF: Dominic, thank you for taking time out of your busy Gen Con. It’s been a pleasure.

DTM: Thanks.

For more information on The One Ring: Adventures Over the Edge of The Wilds, Abney Park: Airships & Pirates, Victoriana, or anything else Cubicle 7 related visit their website at www.cubicle7.co.uk. For PDF version of their products, you can purchase those at DriveThru RPG.

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