Amandine Labarre interviews Greg Stafford

Six years ago, this interview was scheduled for publication in a French magazine called Fantasy.rpg. The demise of the publishing company prevented this from happening. I stumbled upon it while cleaning my mailbox. Apologies to both Amandine Labarre and Greg Stafford for keeping it under wraps for so long.
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The 5th edition of Pendragon, the Arthurian RPG, is due next October. Amandine Labarre, RPG artist and student of chamanism, went into RPGs through this game. She now interviews its author, Greg Stafford, and portrays him here as an Arthurian knight. [No picture sorry.] Once you’ve destroyed your TV set as Greg suggests, please take a look at the gallery and check Amandine’s wonderful art.

Amandine Labarre - What music should the readers listen to while reading this interview in order to get in the mood?
Greg Stafford: I suggest Alan Stivel. Or The Doors.

- Pendragon: could you please quickly summarize the history of the game, from its creation to its new iteration: Chaosium, Green Knight Publishing, ArtHaus, etc.
I had always wanted to make a King Arthur rpg, and started in early 1983 or so when I was president and chief designer at Chaosium. Writing and design were not my full time job, so it took about a year of writing and test playing to make the rules section. During that time I had several players who were members of the Society for Creative Anachronisms, which is a re-enactment group for the middle ages. I realized that some of them had no idea whatsoever of the real middle ages, even about such basic things as feudal loyalty. So I decided to add a huge background section to the book to make it more complete. This took another year to compile, during which we kept testing the system. Then, in 1985, the first edition was released by Chaosium, Inc.
Well, Chaosium ran into some serious money problems at one point and we decided to use Pendragon as collateral for a loan to a guy, and when it was time to pay it off my partners said they didn’t want to. Of course, I objected, but was overruled, and so it went to the guy who started the company called Green Knight. He had grandiose plans but essentially did next to nothing with the game for years. When he took it over I had offered to keep working on it for him, as writer, editor, line developer etc., but was told in abrupt terms to go away. I was distressed about this for years. And meantime, for those years, Green Knight was floundering and failing.
Then one day Stewart Wieck called me to ask if it was possible to put some Pendragon materials onto White Wolf’s electronic web site for sale, and I explained the situation to him. He went to the Green Knight guy and offered to buy it, since Stewart was a big fan of it and recognized how innovative and revolutionary a design it was. He bought it since the Green Knight guy was desperate for some money, and then Stewart came to me and asked if I wanted to work on it.
Well, of course! Stewart has allowed me to recapture my dream, and so I am working on a new 5th edition, to be followed by a huge year-by-year guide to the entire Arthurian reign, similar to the Boy King but for the whole 75 years. And then I will be writing my GrailQuest and Le Morte scenarios as well, and a whole raft of other things after that. I am thrilled.

- Pendragon: what do you think about the King Arthur movie (if you have any thought to share)?
Well, with all due respect to my good friend John Matthews who was “historical consultant” for the movie, it was terrible. It had some nice scenes in it, like that fighting on the ice scene; and some of the background was based on historical precedents, like the Sarmatians serving at the Wall; but the story was not very good. Not as bad as some, like the truly dreadful First Knight, but not very good either. And that Guenever, urgh, awful. And they killed Lancelot off, instead of leaving him in the story to hint about what might come afterwards. Ugh.

- Pendragon: what new content will the new version bring?
The new edition is going to be stripped down from the huge 4th edition, which was rather unwieldy for new players. The huge character generation section will be published later, in its own book. Most of the new material will be in the campaign book that I mentioned earlier, the total chronology; and also in the Grail Quest book.

- Pendragon: what makes this game unique, interesting, both rule and background-wise?
Pendragon has a number of absolutely novel factors in it. First, it has a very narrow range of player options, in that everyone is a knight, just different kinds of knights. Second, it quantifies behavior to make play consistent and then rewards that consistent behavior. Third, everyone in the game is going to die, and that’s pretty novel. Everyone. It makes the game quite different to know you have no resurrection! Character motivation changes from the games without death. Fourth, it is the first game to deal with intergenerational time line. Players will start with a character and when the campaign ends, be playing with their first character’s grandson. Fifth, it has a huge epic scale as well as the individual level, so that characters will be in huge battles and so on.

- Why is it your (or one of your) favorite game?
Two reasons: the subject and my work. I have loved knights and King Arthur all my life. In many ways this is my lifetime masterpiece, putting together a lifetime of study and fascination. Secondly, it is almost entirely my own work. Most games which I have done are done as part of a team, but Pendragon is all mine. I did get a key hint to the game system from Ken St. Andre, but in general, it is all mine.

- Have you read the first novels about King Arthur (Malory, Monmouth, Chrétien de Troyes)?
Yes, many times, in translation of course. And others, as well, like the French Vulgate, Wolfram von Eschenbach, the “Green Knight poet”, and so on. Heck, I have read just about all the original medieval sources for King Arthur. Malory le morte is my favorite, and then Wolfram’s Parzifal.

- Have you got some favourites pieces of art (novels/ paintings, movies) on this subject?
Well, my favorite movie is Excalibur, of all the movies made. And I have tried to see them all. As for art, the pre-Raphaelites are always charming. Kind of like your own art, really.

- If you could reincarnate in an Arthurian legend character, which one would it be?
Well, if I was going to be younger and stronger I would want to be myself! But of the many characters in Arthurian legend, I find myself drawn to Ywaine, the Knight of the Lion; and to Percival, the Grailquester.

- HeroQuest/Glorantha: what can we hope for 2005/2006?
Lots. We are moving nicely along. In 2005 we expect to have at least four items out, hopefully more. I’m no sure which will be first, because it depends in part on the authors’ schedules and how much they need work after submission, but we have, in the process of being completed at this time:
- Under the Red Moon, the Lunar Player’s book. This is the first extensive and deep look at the Lunar Empire from the inside. We will show it is not just an evil empire, but also a place of variety and freedom. It is by me, Mark Galeotti, Wesley Quadros, Martin Laurie, Roderick Robertson and smaller bits by others.
- Trader Princes, Blood over Gold, by Jeff Kyer. Background and cool scenarios set in Wenelia.
- Beast Riders, Players Book for Prax, by Chris Lemens. At last, the nomads of Prax done for HeroQuest. Lots of new information, like the Giant Spirits and so on.
- Resurrection of Genert. This is a set of scenarios set in the Greatlands, written for Praxians or others, by Paul May.
- Dragonrise, the next book in the Sartar Rising! series. Several authors.
- Heroes of Malkion, introductory Players’ book for the Malkioni cultures. Written by Jamie Revell, me, and others.
- Son Sun City. These are Lunar adventures, set entirely in the magnificent city of Raibanth.
- Oak and Thorn, which is the Players Book for Aldryami, which is looking very, very cool. By Shannon Applecline.
And another item, which we are VERY excited about, even though it is not Glorantha at all but certainly is HeroQuest:
- QuestWorlds (though the title may change) which presents the core HeroQuest rules, and then several alternate settings, including super heroes, movie style martial arts, something horror, and some sort of historical setting.
Plus some other items, which really are not close to being finished enough to put on this list.

- Could you tell us why you think roleplaying is a form of mythical interaction, cf. your blog: “9.5 Mythic Journeys; I was also on the Mythic Gaming panel. (...) We talked about how roleplaying (and some other gaming) is a form of mythical interaction.
Everyone has a kind of perceptive organ that is used to discern the world of mythology. By this I mean the realm of the non-ordinary, the realm of the ancient spiritual provinces. This “organ” perceives what I call the Ten Gods, which are things that all people have some kind of response to, even though they are not physically real in and of themselves. The Ten Gods include Sex, Death, Belonging, Rhythm, Lead/follow, Trance, Awe, Beauty, Terror and the other one, which everyone argues about. So we all have a fascination with these ancient, pre-human “powers”, and these are the sources of mythology. The original human understandings of these things are cloaked in mythology by everyone. So everyone has a fascination with these, even if they are denied to us by the modern world, and we perceive them and seek to interact with them to understand the meaning of life, and this is the “mythological urge”. Well, simply put, the playing of roleplaying games is one of the ways that people seek to fulfill that urge, and so it is a form of mythical interaction.

- Up to a certain extent, are you trying to convey a message linked to your personal beliefs by the way of role playing games? If the answer is yes, could you explain it more precisely?
Well, mainly that life is bigger than it seems, and that if we are willing to stick our necks out a little and take a few chances we might be pleasantly surprised to discover the potential that we each have within ourselves. Life is short, and our job is to use the little time we have to make the world a better place by expanding our spirits into the world in a positive way. It is scary, perhaps risky, but well worth the effort.

- In your opinion, what is the future of roleplaying?
I think it will continue to be a form of entertainment for many discerning, sensitive people who have escaped the bondage of modernity, like the slavery of materialism and the vassalage of television and electronic forms of diversion. I had once, twenty-five years ago, imagined it would find an even greater popularity in our Western culture, but now I am afraid that such opportunity has been usurped by computer games and other forms of unsociable entertainment.

- Do you think RPGs can bring something deep or constructive to the players life, (more than simple entertainment), if we talk about personal blossoming, individual peak?
Yes, it is possible. Not mandatory or guaranteed. But first, let us look at the simple entertainment. This is a wonderful and important benefit which it grants to us. This entertainment is an expression of our deep, inner selves. Simply because roleplaying causes us to imagine and to express this imagination it is a good thing which many people lack, and which is very important in the lives of people. We gamers have the ability to entertain and be entertained, and we need to do it to be balanced, human beings. So even just having fun is a good thing, an important thing.
Furthermore, it can offer us an opening to greater things, to the mythological world. Mythology is the place where poetry and psychology meet, and is one of the steps towards understanding our places in the universe, to understanding the meaning of life and what it is all about.

- What did you find in it, in your own life?
The meaning of life of course. That is, it helped me to understand why we are here: to love and to be loved.

- What is your opinion about the others White Wolf games dealing with environment and his mythical aspect (Werewolf, Changeling)?
I have to confess not being familiar enough with these games to have a comment.

- In which way are you linking your interest for shamanism with your works in RPG worlds (If there's a link, of course:)?
The world is a place with more than rationality can explain. We must not discard rationality, but Cartesian mentality is not the answer to everything. Imagination and enjoyment are essential to us as well, and these are both additional ways to explore the ultimate nature of the world. We need to find ways to explore the world, and both shamanism and roleplaying games afford us ways to do this.
But let me be clear, experience is orders of magnitude more important and instructive than gaming, which is a surrogate for the real thing. I encourage everyone to follow their hearts and spirits and to destroy your television, get outside and seek the adventure that life offers.

- If you have a Celtic totem animal, which one should elect you, in your opinion?
In my 25 years of shamanic work I have managed to meet many of the spirits of my life. My earliest spirit guardian was a huge spider, the one tattooed on my arm. The next one was a deer spirit. Neither of those is particularly Celtic. Nonetheless, over the years of my work with the sweat lodge various spirits have identified themselves with powers of some of the Celtic gods, and so I work with them there. These include Percival, Bran and Merlin. I do not say that these spirits are those entities, but that those spirits wear masks which are the same as those mythological beings.

- Could you make a little and absolutely subjective summary of the important events of your life?
I was born in 1948 and spent much time moving around when I was young. I was a hippie in the 60’s, in the time of free love and psychedelic drug use, until I contracted hepatitis. The doctors said I was going to die, but instead I experienced a transformative vision which reformed my life. I began to explore various spiritual practices to understand my vision, and during this time met my first wife and got married. We moved to California and I began my game career and founded Chaosium. We had three children, and I kept trying to find out the mystical way. I found a shamanic instructor who showed me the processes which I needed to discover my potential, and I began leading sweat lodge ceremonies as well. My first wife and I divorced and I lived many years as a single father and kept on my game career and shamanic practices. I met my second wife at a Stormbringer game, and after a while we got married and have had many, many adventures together. I now have one grandchild, still play and design games, and continue my spiritual practices.

- Can you tell us something about this extract from your blog written while you lived in Mexico?
Yes, a great experience. Jorge is a curandero, a mestizo healer I met while I was living in Mexico. I had gone to a ceremony which he offered, and was impressed, so went and asked if I could study with him. He took my wife and I out to Yagul, which is the remains of a pre-Columbian city near the city of Oaxaca, where we lived. My experience was the start of my studying with Jorge.
We went to Yagul. The city of the Frogs.
This city was ruled by three kings”, he told us.
Jorge took us first to overlook the tomb area and explained to us the ceremony of the frogs. When they prayed to the frog the frog would leap to the sky and carry their souls there. But if you want to return you need the return ticket. This is the water you leave to them. If you have the ticket you can return. But when people die the frog leaps to the sky and there is a new star.
And when it returns it carries a soul back to the world. It is the rain returning to the world.
We went from the tombs to a place higher than the ruins, in the back.
Do you hear the birds? They are welcoming us, telling the spirits we are coming. They don’t sing for the tourists.” He whistled back, and told us to. We did.
We went to the top of the overlook. “Don’t go there”, he pointed to some low ruins behind us, “there are red insects that will sting you so we need to respect them and they will respect us”. Wasps. I saw them.
There are three impressions in the rock. I had thought before they were maybe grinding pits, like all over the west, where people used to grind acorns in the rocks. But nope, they are the offering places where you put the water, for the return ticket. You ask to go to the sky, and he showed us how to raise our arms and look upward and for a moment you will be taken up to the sky then, boom, back in your body.
... To know what happens next, go to www.weareallus.com!

- To finish, thanks again for all the beauty you gave to us thanks to the splendid Pendragon.
You are welcome. Thank you for enjoying it!

- To close the interview, please say a few words to our French readers in whatever language you want, those won’t be translated.
Dear friends, the world is more than we can ever know it is, and in the short time that we have to be here it is our duty to experience its wonder and joy. Please, enjoy the world of gaming, but also be as courageous and adventurous as your characters and take a risk to be more than ordinary. Seek wonder and love, and the world will be a better place for you and those in your life.

Greg Stafford’s blog
Amandine Labarre’s page

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