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.
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.