Spending Time As A Sea Elf With Maori Tattoos – Fred Van Lente Talks Roleplaying Games And Being A Writer

By Christopher Helton

Fred Van Lente is a multi-faceted writer of comics, including the New York Times Best-selling Incredible Hercules, Marvel Zombies, and Cowboys & Aliens, as well as The Comic Book History of Comics, Archer & Armstrong, Brain Boy, and even the play King Kirby. But he’s also an avid gamer and Bleeding Cool caught up with him to talk about his gaming history and enthusiasms.

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Christopher Helton: What was your first roleplaying game? About how old were you when you started?

Fred Van Lente: Like, I’m sure, a lot of people, I first played the red-box Basic D&D set. I couldn’t have been too much older than 10, and I covered the map to The Keep in the Borderlands with the crayon I only learned later they gave you color in the numbers on the dice, which still doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

CH: Tell me about your character. What is the one character from your games that has stuck with you the longest?

FVL: I’ve spent almost my entire RPGing life Dungeon/Game Mastering, so the character I have played with the longest is the one in the Pathfinder game I’ve been doing with some friends most recently: Rhys, a Sea Elf covered in Maori-style tattoos and carrying a Vindictive Harpoon; I basically ripped him off Queequeg from Moby Dick. He’s a 11th level Storm Shaman (Druid to you landlubbers) in the Skull & Shackles pirate campaign. I believe after a couple of years of playing through (we only get to play six or seven times a year, unfortunately) we have finally made it to the last module in the series!

CH: Has a character from a game ever made it into one of your comics?

FVL: Yes, the Stormbreakers, who are an airship fleet-owning group of post-apocalyptic technology-hoarders will be making an appearance later this year in Howtoons: (RE)Ignition, an Image series I’m doing with Tom Fowler and Jordie Bellaire. They were created for GURPS: Absolute Zero, a super awesome nuclear winter campaign setting created by my buddies and I. We rotated GM duties for years in done-in-one session adventures back in the 1990s, and it was definitely the most fun I’ve ever had being in a gaming group.

CH: What are some of your favorite games? What about them appeals to you?

FVL: As much as I love GURPS, I’d have to say that the game that I have the most affection for is Call of Cthulhu. I fell in love with it, and Lovecraft, as a teenager, and just the unique Sanity rules, the emphasis on research, and just the whole horror-genre of it was just something I fell head over heels for.

In fact, the very first book I ever wrote that got published was a Call of Cthulhu supplement called The New Orleans Guidebook. Not only did the cheap jerks at Chaosium not pay me my full fee for the book, but I discovered at the RPG Store while buying Pathfinder crap they even brought a second edition, Secrets of New Orleans, a few years later! So if you know anyone who works at Chaosium, please tell them they have a bill outstanding from 1997.

*For Van Lente Completists, you can find The New Orleans Guidebook here.

CH: What was the last game that you played?

FVL: The aforementioned Pathfinder.

CH: What is the ongoing appeal of tabletop RPGs for you?

FVL: It’s an awesome way to hang out with people, drink beer (since I turned 21) and shoot the breeze while creating a fun story together.

CH: Are you primarily a GM or a Player? Which do you prefer?

FVL: Since I became a professional writer, I had to stop GMing because coming up with scenarios and running them felt too much like work. And you can’t give that shit away for free!

CH: What is the optimal length of a gaming night for you, and how many do you like in a gaming group?

FVL: My current Pathfinder group tends to do marathon sessions of 6-8 hours at a time, which is something of a necessity since between work and kids and everything else we can only find a few times a year to do it.

CH: How is comic writing different from making up stuff for a game? How do the two processes complement each other for you?

FVL: They’re too similar, which is why I had to give it up beyond running a PC.

CH: If you could write a comic adaptation of any RPG, what would it be and why?

FVL: I’m already doing it, but I changed enough stuff so now it’s creator-owned. HA HA SUCK IT CHAOSIUM!!

CH: If one of the comics that you have worked on could be adapted to an RPG, which would it be and would you want to work on creating the game?

FVL: Seems to me that Archer & Armstrong, with its world-spanning conspiracy busting and artifact hunting, plus its plethora of insane secret societies, would really lend itself to an Illuminati/Paranoia type RPG interpretation.

CH: If you could meet and talk to one game designer, who would it be?

FVL: Jesus Christ.

CH: What game doesn’t exist that you think should?

FVL: A better Top Secret without such a crappy rules system. God, I love that game as a kid, but it has not aged well.

Christopher Helton is a blogger, podcaster and tabletop RPG publisher who talks about games and other forms of geekery at the long-running Dorkland! blog. He is also the co-publisher at the ENnie Award winning Battlefield Press, Inc.  You can find him on Twitter at @dorkland and on G+ at https://plus.google.com/+ChristopherHelton/ where he will talk your ear off about gaming and comics.

About Christopher Helton

A geek blogger and rogue game designer. Lead writer for the Dorkland! blog (http:http://dorkland.blogspot.com ) and co-publisher of the ENnie Awarding winning tabletop RPG company Battlefield Press, Inc.