Interview – Kirin Robinson (Old School Hack)

Kirin Robinson is the ENnie Award Winning creator of Old School Hack.

First off, let me thank you for taking the time to be interviewed for the ENnies. I truly appreciate you taking the time to talk about the ENnies.

No problem!

Starting off with a more personal question, Old School Hack was released in January of 2011 as a love letter to the Red Box version of D&D. So what keeps you going? What keeps you enthusiastic about working in the RPG industry?

“Working in the RPG Industry” is something I’m still wrapping my head around. Old School Hack basically started out as a bunch of custom character sheets I made for my players at one point, and while it did eventually turn into a game, that’s still pretty much the basis of how I think of it. I never published a book, or requisitioned art, charged anyone money or put any money on the line beyond putting together a website and throwing what I’d done up on it for anyone to use.

When I got the ENnie, I had this embarrassed fumbling speech where I confessed to this; to just seeing myself as some random RPG fan made good, not worthy of being recognized amongst clearly far more passionate creators . Some gamer guy whose home-brew stuff caught on a little.

I’m not alone in feeling that – getting to talk to some of the more professional publishers was very enlightening! The line between RPG fan and RPG creator has always been pretty fuzzy, and that’s actually an awesome thing. Playing RPGs is an act of creation, and ideally, creating RPGs is an act of play! I guess that’s why I do it, and it was right under my nose the whole time.

In 2011, Old School Hack was nominated for Best Free Product and won the Gold. What did you think of the ENnies when you found out that you were nominated?

I’ve always been a fan of the ENnies, but I’ll admit I’ve had a pre-existing bias, because I like the ENnies people. They put up with a metric fuckton of crap (as anyone tasked with the difficult job of evaluating and ranking passionately-loved pieces of work has to do), and they do it cheerfully and enthusiastically. Good people, awesome gaming fans, and excellent gamers.

Going to the ENnies is a pretty cool experience, too. The RPG industry is as much a labor of love as a commercial industry and the RPG audience – at least online – can be quite argumentative and volatile, which I think sometimes can make creating an RPG a challenging emotional process, with a success or lack thereof feeling pretty arbitrary. The ENnies’ publicized selection can certainly feel like it adds to that contention, but going to the actual show is the opposite: it’s a salve to the negativity, everyone’s so excited to be there and so excited to see all the hard work, anyone’s hard work, get recognized.

Did your nomination and win increase the number of downloads of OSH?

The nomination alone just exploded my hits. People became aware of my game from corners I never would have expected. The win gave me a small bump, but was largely outweighed by notes of congratulation. I don’t want to say that the nomination is the real honor, because that’s where you know you’ve actually been rather thoroughly compared to all the other great stuff that came out – scratch that, I’ll just say it: in a way, just being nominated is the real honor.

What projects do you have on the schedule; anything you can talk about?

The Old School Hack that’s out there is still just the Beta – there’s a “Full” Basic game I’m about halfway done with. There’s a mass of notes that make up the next tier of the Game – the Heroic Tier – that I’m itching to start playtesting.

Now that we’ve been around for over a decade, what do the ENnies mean to you both personally and professionally?

Well, as I said before, I’ve always been a fan of the ENnies folks – I probably wouldn’t have submitted OSH at all if one of them hadn’t strongly encouraged me to give it a shot. So personally I’m just glad to have gotten to know, and even game with, that particular community.

On a professional level I think the ENnies represents an important bridge, I think, between the tabletop fans and the game creators. The ENnies Judges are badly needed as a way to represent the kind of positivity and game interest, openness, curiosity and love among the fans – you know, the quieter voices – that you don’t always see, unfortunately.

Now that I’ve got a bit more of a recognized voice, I’m trying hard to encourage as many other game creators – especially the home-brew, DiY side of the scene, the ones who often think of the ENnies as the big companies’ playground – to submit their work as much as possible. We’re in a real gaming renaissance right now with a lot of cool stuff going on and I love seeing some of our paradigms shaken up a bit. I’m hopeful in turn that the ENnies will continue to re-examine the growth of e-publishing or on-demand publishing (tabletop RPGs actually being somewhat far ahead of the rest of the world in this regard) as a legitimate format.

Last question; if someone who had never heard of the ENnie Awards walked up to you today and asked, “So what are these ‘ENnies’ you keep talking about,” how would you answer them?

People who love table-top games telling people who make the games how much they love them, followed by people complaining about it on the internet.

For more information on, and to download, Old School Hack, visit www.oldschoolhack.net.

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