Back in the summer of 1982 (and for you young whippersnappers out there, yes, life was better then, the air was cleaner, the video games more playable and the fizzy drinks still a fun treat, rather than a death sentence) there was a gang of us, all expat kids, all living in Hong Kong. We were like all other 11 or 12 year old boys of the time, we loved Star Wars, were aware of The Lord of the Rings and had just seen Conan at the cinema; we were ripe for the picking, if that picker was Gary Gygax and the basket he would place our wholesome fruits into was the famous red box of the great Frank Mentzer!
In other words, we were ready to get into Dungeons and Dragons. I might choose to say we were ready to get into role-playing, but at that time, especially isolated as we were in our colonial outpost, there was only one option for role-play and that was D&D.
So, when the box arrived, via Ireland (a friend who had been packed off to boarding school in Castleknock, Dublin brought it home that summer holiday) it was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. That summer we played hours the like of which wouldn't be logged again until the advent of smart-phones! We killed skeletons, we collected treasure, killed goblins, collected more treasure and eventuajjy, after collecting more treasure, slayed a dragon. It was glorious, and for me, it was the start of an addiction.
At about the same time as the introduction to role-playing happened my brother stopped getting The Dandy comic sent out to him from our Liverpool based Grandfather and replaced it with something quite revelatory, 2000AD. It is safe to say that, if D&D with its lack of board and counters had challenged my 12 years old's preconceptions of what constituted a game, then 2000AD did the same for my understanding of what comics could do. Raised on a steady diet of The Dandy, The Beano, Twinkle and Jackie (we had a sister, thankfully) I was not prepared for Tharg, Dredd, Strontium Dog or Slaine. Nor was I ready for the ridiculously deep and brilliant story writing that went alongside the greatest art I had ever seen. The whole thing was a pivotal moment. I knew then that I wanted to be a comic writing, art drawing, game designing superstar.
So I did what everyone who wants to follow their childhood passions does, messed about at school, failed to get the qualifications I needed and ended up training to be a Librarian, then a teacher. The dream was over ...
Or was it?
About five years ago I rediscovered the world of role-playing games (comics had been a constant in my life) and found something so different to my earlier experience that I was inspired to create Nine Dragons RPG Ltd and design the Urban Fantasy RPG, Honour, which was published in 2015.
I learned a lot in that, and one of the things that I discovered was that there was a wealth of material out there in independent comics that was almost tailor made for using as a base for role-playing games. I was determined to find the perfect comic to inspire the creation of a great new RPG. It had to be accessible but original, have a strong vision, but enough scope that player and GMs could start making it their own. It had to be special.
When I found myself alone and with time on my hands at MCM Comic Con in Manchester, England,
it seemed like a great opportunity to make a start on the comic RPG idea. I wandered up and down the Comics Village section of the show and allowed the art to wash over me, waiting for something remarkable to grab me.
Several things did and I spoke to the creators of a few genuinely interesting comics, but the spark was not there. I knew I needed something that would excite me and get my creativity going, but i also knew that I needed that something to come from someone who I could feel comfortable with, get to know and, basically, like.
Then I saw issue one of Flintlock, I saw Lady Jane Flintlock's eyes staring out at me over her highwayman's mask, I saw her beautiful pistols, I saw Shanti the pirate princess holding her mappila sword and I was hooked. Thankfully when I spoke to the man behind the book, Steve Tanner, he was exactly the sort of guy I knew I would get on with. Steve is a gentle, calm, thoughtful, kind and clever man; almost the opposite of myself (I too am kind, or try to be, and I have moments of not being completely stupid).
I explained to Steve what I was hoping to do, create a new RPG based on a unique comic, and that I thought Flintlock might be that comic, and he got it, right there and then, he got it. Fifteen minutes later we had agreed that this was going to happen.
That was summer 2016. The licensing agreement was finally signed by both parties in October 2017, more than a year on from that initial meeting.
Designing and refining and testing The Flintlock Role-playing Game has been nothing but a pleasure. The world of Flintlock, the 17th Century of England, The Indian Ocean and the wider world, grabed player and game masters alike and within a couple of weeks of putting a call out for groups to play test there were 6 groups playing a nascent system. The feeling that I had that this game was going to appeal to a wide audience was backed up by the fact that the groups hailed from far-and-wide, Kentucky (USA), Montreal (Canada), Shenzhen (China), Hong Kong, Sheffield (UK) and Singapore.
Why has Flintlock found a wide and varied audience so successfully, even before it has been completed? I honestly think that it is the core concept of the antihero. The protagonists in the comics various stories are not your average comic heroes; in fact Flintlock "heroes" subvert the idea of who we see as good and evil, who we see as perpetrator and victim. In Flintlock the main personas are, just like you and me, flawed, real, human and not stereotypes. So, Flintlock offers player the chance to be someone different, while at the same time exploring what it is to be us, regular messed up folks with complex, everyday, unexpected lives.
Oh, and let's not forget, highwaymen, pirates and robots are cool, no matter where your story is set!