Interview Rich Baker One

Interviews » Interview Rich Baker One

Interview with Rich Baker
The following is a relatively free form interview I was able to have with Rich Baker, Lead Designer for the Birthright Boxed set. The format was easy, I sent him the questions, and he sent me back the answers. While this might not be a very ?organic? interview, it does address some questions I felt would be of common interest, and raised a few I hoped would be helpful.
Before you get to reading the questions and answers, give a moment of thanks to Rich for actually going through with this. He didn?t have to and I appreciate what he did greatly.
Also, hat?s off to Morg. He knows 3 reasons why
Craig T. Dalrymple

Birthright Advocate

Question 1
I want to get this one done and over with, because it's something people are going to be asking until the changes get made: Is Birthright going to see some form of a "reissue" or update for the Third Edition rules? I have seen a few variants on this idea from a few sources. Some would dream that BR will be the first "expansion" setting that the company takes on after a successful shift to the core. Others hope for a short run of products that update the setting to the new rules and move the calender along a few years. The other popular version of what I have seen is that people are wagering that Birthright itself won't come back, but the rules for Regency and Domains will come back, in some form, along with a new Battlesystem set of rules, all cast in "generic" format that can be used in other worlds, while updating us Cerilians who are stuck in the 2nd Edition rules. I'm asking this in a large and vague way so you can put down some solid information that makes the TSR standpoint clear, and your own personal hopes evident. (the fact that you are tells volumes on your part).
The short answer is that there are currently no plans to produce any Birthright game material in our 2000 schedule. To expand on this somewhat, I think it?s possible that we might do a 3E sourcebook or campaign option (a stand-alone book like the Council of Wyrms set) inspired by the world of Cerilia. But it won?t be in 2000, and it?s unlikely for 2001. Obviously, a single sourcebook or campaign adventure isn?t exactly a full revival of the line, but unless the RPG marketplace changes dramatically, that?s probably the best business decision for us.
Question 2
When the line was officially discontinued, there was some product under development: The Book of Regency, and the Shadow World Modules (a set of 3 in a story arc) are the most noteable. Also, an updated hardcover book of rules, ala what was done with the Ravenloft setting. It's common knowledge that the Book of Regency is essentially finished, only a final edit was missing before it went to print. The other products were at various stages of completion when the line was canceled according to popular speculation. Is there any hope for these books to be released in some online format, such as was done for the unpublished works of Carl Sergeant in the Greyhawk setting?
The Book of Regency is essentially complete, although we would have to do some small amount of work on it to prepare it for an electronic release. The other products you?re asking about are not as far along and the process and would take more time and effort. The hardbound update never even entered design, to tell the truth. Again, we do not have any plans to make The Book of Regency available for sale, but I?ll ask our business managers about it and see what we can do. I can?t see a good reason why we wouldn?t make it available, but it might not fit into the overall RPG business plan for Wizards of the Coast, and that?s their call.
Question 3
In standard AD&D terms, the majority of Clerical magic?s are not overly offensive or damaging, yet it is described as the key reason why the Humans were able to defeat the Elves and eventually come to dominate Cerilia. What aspect of clerical magic was it that gave the Humans such a decisive advantage and how was it able to be used in a war situation?
Okay, that?s a fun one. There are a number of possible explanations. The simple one is that the elves simply possessed a ?blind spot? to clerical magic for some period of time after humans came into Cerilia. They didn?t understand the full capabilities of human forces, and underestimated them accordingly. This one doesn?t really hold up, though, when you consider the fact that the elves frequently fought goblins who probably had clerics (or clerical magic, at least) long before humans came to Cerilia. Then there?s the issue of numbers? all of the sudden, humans effectively had two or three or four times as many spell-casters as the elves did. Finally, it?s also an issue of training. If it takes a hundred years to make an elven wizard but only twenty years to make a human cleric, the humans are going to continue to outnumber the elves at an increasing rate.
Question 4
Since the fall of the Empire, many regents have laid claim to the Iron Throne. Now that centuries have passed since the death of Michael Roele, and the lineage of the bloodline is not so strong a concern, what would you consider to be the most valuable assets a regent would need in order to become the next Emperor, and who, in your opinion, might this be? (assuming only the information given in Ruins of Empire as a benchmark for speculation)
Assets? First and foremost, a tremendous record of success as an adventuring ruler. Clearly, the next guy to get the job isn?t going to be a stay-at-home ruler mired in the conventional politics and administration of a realm. It?s going to take a hero of mythic proportions, a King Arthur or Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar, the kind of person whose exploits will be the stuff of legends for centuries to come. In the context of the game, that implies a brilliant administrator and leader who is able to ?break the rules?, winning wars single-handedly and bending entire nations to his will through sheer personal magnetism. Who is it likely to be? It?s going to be the regent played by the most determined, visionary, and daring player in your own campaign.
Given that no such rule-breaking ruler actually exists in the ?common? Cerilia that serves as the default model of all Birthright campaigns (i.e., the Cerilia we showed you in the campaign box), I would say that you?d need a trace of Roele blood without the age-old entanglements of the Boeruine-Avan rivalry. No one wants to sign on for that deal anymore. But Mhoried or Aerenwe (I think the queen there has Roele blood) might be able to pull it off in the hands of a strong, charismatic ruler who could gain the sanction of a major Haelynite temple.
Question 5
In the module "Warlock of the Stone Crowns", it briefly discusses the presence of an Underdark, and in the Roesone Player Secrets book, the general impression of the Tarkal Deeps is also one of a rather vast cavern complex. Additionally, the Orogs are described as existing mainly underground, thus their wars with the Dwarves. The general opinion of the Birthright Mailing list seems to be that there is no Underdark, at least not in the Forgotten Realms sense of the term; how would you view this? Is there an Underdark? If so, how expansive is it? Are there any large dungeons ala "Undermountain" from the FR in Cerilia?
It depends if a DM wants one. We haven't published any product that makes a definitive statement one way or the other. I think there are a number of 'partial' Underdarks, maybe three or four, each possibly hundreds of miles in extent but not necessarily linking all of Cerilia together underground. Certainly there are major underground systems in parts of Cerilia such as the Gorgon's Crown and the lands of the Iron Hand Tribes.
Question 6
The Human cultures of Cerilia are a real part of what makes it distinctive. Even without ability score modifications, they seem to ooze of a specific feel and attitude. They also seem to emulate specific real world cultures. Can you expand on this and touch on each Cerilian culture and any real world influences you had when designing them, and why you chose these specific influences?
Well, there aren?t many secrets here. The Anuireans are more or less based on medieval France, with a strong resemblance to the political patchwork of the Holy Roman Empire (or German Empire) of the 13th to 15th century. They?re actually the most fictional of the human nationalities, since the Anuirean language and names are basically made up from material I developed a very long time ago in one of my first attempts at world-building.
The Brechtür are inspired by the Hanseatic League, the Dutch, and the mercantile city-states of the Italian peninsula. (The Hanseatic League is a pretty interesting piece of European history that most Americans have never heard of, by the way; it?s worth reading up on.) Call it northern Europe of the 14th to 16th century.
The Khinasi resemble Moorish Spain of the 12th to 14th century, with a dash of Ottoman Turkey in places like Khourane and Aftane. (The great sea-battle won by El-Arrasi against the Anuirean fleet is Lepanto in reverse.) There?s a sense of tolerance, learning, and civilization present in Khinasi that is unknown in the other lands. The Khinasi place-names generally come from north and west Africa, changed by a letter or two.
The Rjurik have a sort of strange Viking-highland Scot-native American mix, with a strong emphasis on the Viking part. Some of the more densely settled and long-established kingdoms (Halskapa, for instance) bear a strong resemblance to Denmark of the 12th to 13th century. I borrowed place-names from Norway, Sweden, and Finland for the Rjurik, changing a letter here and a syllable there to give them new twists.
The Vos are based on Russia and eastern Europe of the Dark Ages (say, the 9th to 11th centuries), with a patchwork of nomadic tribes, some Slavic, some Turkic. Peoples like the Pechegi and Polovtsians (forgive my spelling if I got ?em wrong) are very Vos, as are races like the Bulgars and the Serbians. The language is very Russian, derived in much the same manner as the Khinasi and Rjurik names. You?ll notice that the Alexander Nevsky story is one of the first things we tell you about the Vos, although we changed the names to protect the innocent.
Why?d we do this? The short answer, I guess, is to increase the ?realism? of the setting. One common tongue and culture for all humans everywhere feels kind of odd in a fantasy world, so we looked for a good example of many cultures in close proximity. Europe?s real history gave us all the inspiration we needed.
Question 7
Not to be outdone, the Demihumans are also quite distinctive, and in some ways so alien from the "core" that people have trouble with them. Especially the Elves. I have seen many people go over the pros and cons of the Elves being immortal and raised some valid and interesting points. Personally, I find the Halflings to be the most fascinating, their "darker" side and mysterious origins take them far from the "Kenderish" (from Dragonlance) aspect that they seem to have in most settings. As you crafted the "Cerilian" versions of these races, what apsects of their cultures/essences were you trying to draw out and bring to Cerilia? What aspects, that are common on other worlds, were you trying to abandon for BR?
It didn?t seem good enough to Colin and I for the central feature of a demihuman race to be simply ?they?re not human.? In other words, many fantasy settings spend a lot of time talking about what elves and dwarves and all the rest aren?t in relation to humans. We wanted to instill a more unique character, a real cultural flavor or feel for these races. It worked well for elves and halflings; dwarves, not quite so much. For elves, we wanted to explain exactly why they?re cautious about humans. For dwarves, we wanted to explain exactly why they love to work in stone and have a feel for the ?bones of the earth?. Simply saying to the audience, ?Here are elves and you know what they?re like?, didn?t seem like a good piece of world-building to us.
Question 8
When I read the entry for the "Apocalypse" in Blood Enemies for the first time, a very interesting track of thought about Azrai's influence on the Awnsheghlien came to me. I'm going to quote some text that spawned this idea and then ask the question:
"A heinous wind plauges the land -- the last dying breath of Azrai, the withering mist of the Shadowland, the waning scream of the dead gods. Azrai cannot enter this world as long as he is in want of his breath. Take heed; the putrid mist prowls the land in search of it's master, hoping to once again be united with him. Do not allow the breath to enter Azrai's lungs, for the land is doomed if he should breathe once again..."
I took this entry and ran with it. If the Apocalypse is the "breath" of Azrai, then the Cold Rider must be his pure "malevolence" and hatred trapped in the Shadow World, sentient, but not aware of who or what he was a part of. Belinik inherited Azrai's bloodlust, Kriesha, his cunning. The Gorgon his patient and diabolical intellect... etc. In essence I could see how specific "parts" of Azrai's being were distributed or scattered. This lead to a very obvious plotline of their union; perhaps what the modules were going to take on. This would imply that the Old Gods were not so successful in their final sacrifice, and it would also setup a great End of the World campaign, as the Young Gods (even Belinik and Kriesha) would fight this tooth and nail were it to come into play).
Am I crazy here? Or was this an intentional laying of a plotline?
If you were going to run a game in which you allowed your PCs to put Anuire back together again (or unite any of the nationalities, for that matter), a counter-plot in which the divided strength of Azrai collected again to oppose the rise of the hero-king might be a great development for a campaign. We had some vague long-term plans kind of along these lines, but nothing was ever put down on paper.
Question 9
I've danced around the edges of this one already, but it needs direct attention: If I came over to your house and joined in YOUR Cerilian campaign (assuming you have one running at the moment ;) and my party fumbled its way into the Shadow World, what would it be like? Right now we have whispy comments and nothing solid to work on as far as its appearance and day to day operations. I really think a product should have tackled this important part of a Cerilian campaign in the first year, and miss having any "official" commentary that would set us on a path (there has been great speculations from Cerilian's on the net, but little "core" material to develop this from).
My take on the Shadow World was always kind of boring. I know Ed Stark had some different ideas for the Shadow World sourcebooks he was working on. If you want to see exactly what I had in mind, read ?The Shadow Stone?, the Forgotten Realms novel I wrote a couple of years ago. Basically, I saw it as a bleak or sere landscape that was simply empty. Not necessarily chock-full of undead or extra-dimensional stuff, just cold and lonely and dead. It?s just not a place for the living to spend any time in if they can help it, and your odds of running across something dangerous and deadly are certainly higher in the Shadow World than they would be in the corresponding spot in the real world.
Question 10
As an extension of 9, what exactly were the halflings doing in what is now the Shadow World prior to Deismaar? What was it like? Was it a happy mirror of Cerilia? Or did it take on the Cerilian shape after Azrai washed over it, perverting it with his essence? I think their pre-Deismaar origins will speak volumes about the halflings as a people, and why they are so different from the standard portrayal.
The short answer: I don?t know. I think that a long time ago the Shadow World was the realm of faerie, both wondrous and terrifying. Fay, in other words. Something beautiful would be miraculously beautiful in the fay realm; something dark would be horribly dark in the fay realm. It was a place of extremes, a place where mortal limitations could be exceeded. Then Azrai?s taint poisoned the place, so that the glimmers of beauty died and the place was nothing but the perils and dangers of the very darkest and most disturbing faerie realm imaginable.
Question 11
He's the most powerful Awnsheghlien out there. He "grows" and then "harvests" bloodlines for the sheer thrill of it. He hungers for the Iron Throne. In truth, with the current political environment, there is very little to stop him from taking it. I'm talking about good old Rock Butt; the Gorgon. Can you give us an inside peek into his motives? Why hasn't he taken the Throne and the Empire and subjugated Anuire? While the regents will "unify" to fight him, they'll likely stab each other in the back to end up the next Emperor after the battle, and most likely cause their own downfall because of this. What is the Gorgon after?
The Gorgon wants what his brothers have: the love, honor, respect, and glory that he feels should have been his. And he missed his chance more than fifteen hundred years ago. Roele?s dead, the founder of an empire that still remains powerful even in its decay, and Haelyn is a god, forever beyond Raesene?s reach. Think of the worst mistake, the most painful missed opportunity you ever had in your life, and magnify it tenfold. Then imagine that you?ve got centuries to brood about what you could have had.
So where does he go from here? I?m not sure. I can see three tactics:
One, bring to ruin all that Roele built. Not very satisfying, but better than nothing. Raesene took a shot at this five hundred years ago by luring Michael Roele to his death.
Two, become a god so that he might finally settle his age-old quarrel with Haelyn and take his rightful place as the King of All. Not very practical, but that might not stop a megalomaniac like Raesene. Harvesting bloodlines might be the means to that end, and who knows how close he might be now? Maybe he wants Anuire to be gathered under one great king again so that he can bridge the final gap with one more slaying.
Three, realize that it?s all beyond his reach now and explode in a rage of godlike proportions. Plunge into a pit of terror, self-despite, violence, and brutality the likes of which the world has never seen. Take out your frustrations by beating the stuffing out of anything that crosses his path and break little children?s toys just to be mean. When Raesene determines that option two is not going to work (it may or may not, that?s the DM?s call) this might be the result.
Question 12
Now for the final question: Birthright has a great following on the internet. The Birthright Mailing list is, hands down, the best list I have ever been on (related to gaming) as far as the general maturity of the participants, and their passion for what they are discussing. We all want to see a resurgence of the game, and have tried to take on actions as individuals and as a group to show TSR that we want BR to be the NEXT setting that is looked at after 3E is released and the training wheels are taken off of it. We even have a web page ( that is houses the remnant's of the Birthright Netbook, and Morg's Adytum, in addition to anything else BR related that can be found and either hosted or linked to. All in all, I'd say the Cerilians on the Internet are a very passionate people and are doing a lot to try to show that passion, fervor, and potential for new product.
Flattery aside, do you think we have a chance? Is there anything we are doing that is NOT helping, though we think it is? Is there anything we are not doing that we should be? Or, put simply: How best can we represent our desire to have Birthright back in print , and who needs to see this desire, and willingness to spend money?
Is there a chance? Of course there is. An intellectual property never really dies. TSR/WotC has brought back games that I was sure that I?d never see again. BIRTHRIGHT is too valuable a property to vanish completely into the night, never to be seen again. That value is comprised of the world?s quality and unique characteristics, the number of fans who want to see it again, and the number of new fans who would love to see it for the first time even if they don?t know that?s what they want yet.
That said, I don?t think it would be realistic to look for a new issue of the BIRTHRIGHT set in the 2000 or 2001 product years. There are simply more attractive opportunities ahead of Cerilia, at least from a business standpoint. After that, well, who knows? We don?t know what we?re doing for 2002 or 2003, and by the time we decide what those years will look like, the entire industry could look very different.
The worst-case scenario: You?ve seen the last of BIRTHRIGHT.
The best-case scenario that I could reasonably imagine: BIRTHRIGHT comes out as a Campaign Option book, kind of like the Council of Wyrms. It would be a one-shot sourcebook, setting, and adventure, not the beginning of a whole new product line. We support it with DUNGEON adventures, and we support a group of fans in maintaining a top-notch website where BR fans can find new source material and a community of fellow BR enthusiasts.
The best way to convince our business managers that this is a good idea is to show them that there is a real, live audience for this game. Talk it up, run convention events, keep the list alive and busy, post on message boards, submit DRAGON and DUNGEON articles. And, on occasion, pester guys like Jim Butler, Ryan Dancey, Keith Strohm, and Peter Adkison, telling them how much you want to see BIRTHRIGHT again.
In any event, I would encourage anyone waiting for more BIRTHRIGHT to take the material we?ve given you so far and make it your own. Decide for your own game what the Gorgon?s up to and what the Shadow World is like. Use the existing material as a skeleton or guide and drive the setting any way you want to go. Ultimately, that?s what we want you to do with any game we publish: Have fun and use it as a springboard for your imagination.
Well kids, there you have it. The words and glory of Rich Baker! I hope that my questions and especially his answers were of some use to you, and your campaigns. I would ask that all of you take his last comments to heart and make this setting their own. As you develop more, share it with the rest of us.
Interview done by Grimwell, Cerilian Sage aka Craig T. Dalrymple

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