I’m Rae, one of the Brand Managers at Steamforged Games but more relevant than that is that I am such a nerd for how board games, RPGs and minis come to life, to my friendly local game store, to my games night. I think - like a lot of people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, gaming with, chatting with, and working with in the tabletop world - I had a moment in my childhood where this love and joy of playing games set in and never left.
It’s a strong personal belief of mine that the world would be a happier place if more people remembered to play and one of the best bits about what I get to do for work - other than being surrounded by games - is the peek behind the curtain into how these incredible games came to be.
I sat down recently with Russ Charles and Richard August to talk about Animal Adventures and their roles in making Animal Adventures a reality. If you’re not familiar with Animal Adventures, hopefully this will give you a little glimpse into what’s sure to be your new favourite RPG.
Rae: Hey both, would you mind introducing yourself and what you get up to at SFG?
Russ: Hi! I am the Art Director & Lead Sculptor, so I oversee all of the visual side of our games, with a special focus on the miniatures!
Richard: And I’m Richard August, I’m the Lead RPG Designer and Developer at Steamforged Games, and I’m a dedicated geek, an owner of far too many books and games, and one of the eighteen most wanted individuals in the world. Some of the above may be a lie.
Rae: I’m really interested to know how you ended up in those roles - what did you both do before SFG?
Richard: I wrote tax reports for a financial services company (and definitely didn’t write game material on company time AT ALL).
Russ: I was (believe it or not) a school teacher for children aged 5-10 years old…quite a difference to my current role!
Rae: Woah, pretty different worlds! Do your previous roles affect what you do now?
Russ: Well, it might seem like a totally different type of role, but I was always very interested in encouraging and nurturing the creative and exploratory side of the children I taught, as well as helping them stay on task, set objectives and reflect on their work. So, surprisingly similar to what I do in my Art Direction role!
Although, these days, I don’t usually have to contact anyone’s parents about the work they do!
Richard: Hmmm… mainly through giving me time to work as a freelancer, I was able to make a lot of contacts and friends in the RPG industry, and learn the craft of writing for them. So I got a lot out of my time there, just, y’know…perhaps not in the way they might have intended.
Rae: I’m curious, how did you get into RPG in the first place?
Richard: It’s a fairly standard story for any British gamers of around my age. I loved fantasy and science fiction, from being incredibly young. And one day I walked past a Games Workshop store (and they’ll always be GW stores to me, not Warhammer), saw the miniatures and thought it was the most wonderful thing conceivable. I also soon discovered I had zero interest in painting or modelling. I liked the stories, the lore, and the games. One day, someone said: well, it sounds like roleplaying might be a good fit, let me run you through a D&D game. Third edition had just come out, with those brilliant covers where it looked as though you were handling a grand tome, stuffed with arcane knowledge. I was also the perfect age for the dungeon punk aesthetic which 3rd edition art inculcated, so I was sold. And no more minis painting!
Russ: I started RPG gaming at the tender age of 9 years old, with a very worn copy of Dungeons and Dragons given to me by my uncle. I still remember my first game, with a good friend and his even younger sister. I played a dwarf who fell down a well. Good times! It’s been an interest that immediately stuck and has been a part of my life ever since.
Rae: So! Animal Adventures? How did that start for you?
Russ: Ah, the classic tale…in short, I was trading sculpting services for art services so I could get my D&D character illustrated. The wonderful April Prime, who has gone on to be a key D&D illustrator, MTG artist and all round superstar, jumped in and wanted her drawing of a Golden Retriever in a wizard outfit sculpting…I took one look, all thoughts of getting my D&D character illustrated were forgotten and we began spinning wild ideas about dog heroes for RPG campaigns!
Richard: I came to Animal Adventures a little bit further down the line but my first day at SFG was spent editing, rewriting, and generally fixing up an Animal Adventures GenCon oneshot for Russ, so I was plunged into the milieu of awakened animals pretty much immediately.
Rae: What’s something nobody knows about Animal Adventures that you’re allowed to share now?
Russ: Ummm… that’s a tricky one because we have always been pretty open about the whole creative process with our community over the years! I guess I can admit that when we first discussed The Faraway Sea, I needed convincing that animals other than dogs and cats could work. It was the heroic efforts of the creative team who persuaded me, with concept drawings, character descriptions and sheer force of enthusiasm! I think I have never been so happy to have my mind changed, as I was wrong and they were absolutely right!
Interviewer’s note: Richard August - Master of Secrets - declined to answer.
Rae: The ultimate question, who’s your favourite Awakened Animal sculpt?
Richard: The orangutan from our latest Kickstarter for the Faraway Sea. I’m a big Terry Pratchett fan, and he’s a very deliberate tribute to the Librarian. Ook!
Russ: Oof, such a hard question! Truth be told, so many of them mean different things to myself and the whole team, as some are family and friends’ pets, some are community members’ pets or memorials to pets, some are nods to favorite characters or even jokey film references…for this reason, I kind of love them all!
(Mine’s the Baby Kraken from Animal Adventures: The Faraway Sea)
Rae: What’s your favourite fan moment you’ve had with Animal Adventures?
Richard: AA is such a family friendly game, and it’s always lovely to see kids picking it up and poring over the Gullet Cove book, or examining the minis in minute detail. I think my favourite moment was at GenCon earlier this year, when I conducted a sales pitch to a young boy who was too shy to talk to me, but happy to relay questions through his dad. When I mentioned the Rataclysm, he buried his face in his dad’s neck for several seconds, before whispering something into his dad’s ear. His dad looked at me and said: ‘he says he prefers the dogs.’
Russ: One of my favourite experiences is going to shows because the reaction to the range is always joyous! It has meant a lot over the years when people come and tell us how certain miniatures remind them or a family member of a beloved pet, or how this was the range that got a friend or relative to try RPG! I recently ran a series of games (at the UKGE) for 8-12 year old RPG newbies, and it was glorious and chaotic! So much laughter, such inventiveness from the players, and everything RPG can and should be, all happening thanks to the Animal Adventures Starter Set contents and a lovely adventure written by the mighty Richard August.
Rae: I know lot’s of people that would love to be doing what you guys get to do for work, could you give one top tip for getting into your line of work?
Richard: Write. Don’t wait for an opportunity to present itself, write stuff to show you can do the job, and then you’ll have samples to show how good you are. Also, be shameless. Email companies asking if there are writing gigs going. There’s lots of work out there, make sure you’re at the front of the queue.
Russ: Try! Make things! Reach out! Honestly, there has never been a better time for people to pursue their passion and create. As well as multiple ways to publish and distribute written work, there are more easily accessed, often free, art and 3d modelling/ sculpting programmes now than ever. Grab a copy of Blender, or Clip Studio Pro, or the tool of your choice and remember that everyone working as a ‘gaming industry professional’ started as a gamer with a passion and the drive to create!
Rae: And how about RPG? What tip do you wish you’d had when you started playing?
Richard: Embrace the embarrassment. Pretending to be an elf, or a talking dog, or a CIA agent, in front of a load of other people might feel difficult at first, but it soon becomes the most fun you can have round a table. Play, allowing ourselves to detach from societal expectations of adulthood, is incredibly freeing but it can feel tough to do initially, but it’s worth it. Embrace being silly!
Russ: Play with good people! Friends, family members, trusted community groups such as gaming cafes, there are many ways to get started. Your early experiences will be shaped by the stories you tell at the table with the other people there, so seek fellow-minded folks and promote and encourage supportive and collaborative play, and you’ll have a great time. Some of my best memories are of events at the table, and the stories our characters played out; it’s a kind of magic…
Rae: Thanks so much guys!
Ready to dive into Gullet Cove?
You can watch Rich & Russ and some of the SFG team playing Animal Adventures: Gullet Cove here!