Craig Campbell is the founder and lead designer for Nerdburger Games, a professional RPG author for nearly two decades who just recently published his first game Murders & Acquisitions. Now that Craig’s starting his second Kickstarter he graciously agreed to answer some questions about the new game: CAPERS!
I wrote about CAPERS before when I sought out a preview copy and with the launch of his new Kickstarter I wrote to Craig and asked if he’d like to do a quick interview. I’m loving the episode of CAPERS given on the One Shot Podcast and if you’re similarly intrigued then read on!
Mephit James: So, you’ve worked on a few different games, eh Craig?
Craig Campbell: I’ve done a bunch of freelancing and published one game of my own. The biggest opportunity now, I think, is that I have a bit of “cred” in the industry. If people do a little research, they’ll find my name on various D&D, Pathfinder, and Iron Kingdoms products and they’ll see I created a game of my own and delivered it seven months after the Kickstarter ended.
MJ: What opportunities as a game designer do you have with CAPERS that you haven’t had in the past?
CC: Having just a little recognition brings people to the game, reinforces with potential players that this is a game that is DONE and will become a reality. When I was freelancing quite a lot, I was mostly invisible. My first game did okay on Kickstarter and people have found it and enjoy it. CAPERS is going even better for a number of reasons.
I feel I’m taking a big step forward with CAPERS as a more complete, well-rounded, nuanced game with a mechanical system that is different from darn near everything out there.
MJ: If someone was interested in CAPERS, what would be your elevator pitch to them?
CC: CAPERS is a superpowered game of gangsters in the Roaring Twenties. You play gangsters looking to make their fortunes in an age of illegal alcohol, gambling, prostitution, and racketeering…and you have superpowers. The game uses a playing card based press-your-luck mechanic where every trait check is a little bit of a gamble.
MJ: The relationship between mechanics and setting is always important. Why did you decide to do a card-based system for CAPERS instead of a dice-based one?
CC: While the world of CAPERS is built around Prohibition, illegal gambling is certainly a prominent aspect in the organized crime of the era. I had worked on dice systems before and designed one of my own for my first game, Murders & Acquisitions. I was intrigued by doing something different and playing cards fit the world nicely with all the illegal gambling going on.
Plus, the characters are taking risks living that life. They’re gambling with their lives every day. So it seemed fitting to create a playing card based system that incorporated a gambling, risk-taking aspect. After I tried it out a bit, I felt it had some traction, so I went forward with it. Players have really been enjoying it, so I feel I made a good choice.
MJ: There are lots of different directions to go with superpowered campaigns. Why set your game in the 1920s and why focus on criminals?
CC: I wanted to do a game about supers. Not superheroes. There are plenty of those. But, supers, characters with superpowered abilities that aren’t necessarily heroic. (Though, you can play members of law enforcement in the game if upholding justice is your thing.)
There are piles of supers games set in the modern day, so I went searching for an historical time period I find interesting and would enjoy researching. A binge-watch of Boardwalk Empire sealed the deal and I dove into the Prohibition Era.
As the game developed, I came to realize I wasn’t making a supers game, not really. I was making a gangster game where the gangsters just happen to have superpowers. That shift in thinking made the game into what it is now.
MJ: Besides Boardwalk Empire, what else do you recommend as inspiration for running CAPERS?
CC: You can glean something useful from pretty much any gangster movie or TV show. The Dick Tracy comics share some things in common with CAPERS. You can also look at RPGs that feature supers in other time periods or who aren’t specifically superHEROES, such as Adventure!, Godlike, Necessary Evil, and Rotted Capes to help you break out of the mold of modern day, capes and cowls superheroes. If you dig the historic stuff about the Prohibition Era, the internet is full of information. I also highly recommend Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent.
MJ: Do you have different goals for the CAPERS Kickstarter from the Murders & Acquisitions one? For instance, how did you pick your stretch goals and reward levels for your second Kickstarter?
CC: For stretch goals, I handled things for CAPERS pretty much exactly as I did for Murders & Acquisitions. The base funding goal allows me to create the thinnest version of the game that I feel comfortable releasing as a complete game. Stretch goals add more content to the book, providing funds for more artwork, layout, and final proofreading, making the game bigger and better.
For backer levels, mostly it’s been a matter of examining trends. I’ve seen some Kickstarters that included a backer level where you got four copies of the game for you and your friends plus you all get to play an online game GMed by the creator. I thought that’d be fun, so I included it.
Murders & Acquisitions had a backer level where you could get your likeness in an illustration and that was very popular, so I included it again for CAPERS.
Given that the playing cards will have NPCs on the face cards, there was a unique opportunity to include a “character plus illustration” backer level for four backers. Four backers at the Jacks and Jill level get to help create an important NPC for the game and have their likeness be in the book for that NPC as well as on one of the Jacks in the playing card deck.
MJ: The One Shot Network recently published the start of an actual play of CAPERS and you’ve had a preview edition out for a while. How much is left to finish the game?
CC: CAPERS is completely written, playtested, and edited. Some graphic work and artwork has been completed. We just need to get the rest of the artwork and a bit of graphic work, and lay it all out. Then comes a proofreading round. Most of that is handled by others on the team with me coordinating. I’ll be able to also spend time tidying up the PDF support material that comes with the game, like GM cheat sheets and adventures.
Well, that sounds like an awesome game! I’m really excited to see how CAPERS turns out and I’m especially thankful to Craig for taking the time to answer my questions. Check out Nerdburger Games and let me know if there are other game designers out there you’d like to hear from!