PAX AUS 2015 – Interview with Jason Anarchy

Creator of Drinking Quest and Haiku Warrior

PAX AUS 2015 – Interview with Jason Anarchy

Canadian Jason Anarchy packs quite the punch when it comes to independently creating and publishing tabletop games. Since beginning serious work on Drinking Quest five years ago, Jason’s  reputation has grown impressively, and he now spends his days creating (sometimes), distributing, promoting and running the business that enables him to call ‘games’ his full time job.

Jason’s slew of Twitter followers know him primarily for Drinking Quest, a light rules, light drinking, heavy comedy, GM-less, card based RPG. Originally released as three separate titles, Drinking Quest can today be purchased as the Trilogy Edition, which includes all three original games, as well as ample bonus content. More recently, Jason has released Haiku Warrior another light-RPG, but with a totally different feel and focus.

PAX Aus 2015 was Jason’s first trip to Australia, and it seemed to go splendidly, with all available copies of Drinking Quest selling out halfway through the second day of the con, leaving Jason free to chat with me about all things tabletop… as well as some things not.

Amelia: Having played a handful of tabletop role playing games (TRPGs), I can clearly see the appeal of a game like Drinking Quest. Sometimes, when playing Dungeons & Dragons, everyone inevitably starts drinking and it really changing the dynamic of the session, so I can see where your game fits in the market. This has led me to wonder, what is your best anecdote from playing Drinking Quest?

Jason: Oh, from *playing* Drinking Quest?

A: Yeah, do you still get to play it?

J: Nowhere near as much as I’d like to. I do play it every once and a while and I’m always surprised at how much I actually still like the game. I’ve been working on Drinking Quest five days, eighty hours a week (for the past five years). It’s my life, you know? It’s five percent creative, ninety-five percent running a publishing company that I started so that I could release my own stuff. Because the last thing that I wanted to do was approach an existing publisher and be like “Guys, I’ve got a great idea – it’s a drinking RPG!” Like, *I* know it’s a good idea, but it sounds goofy when you try to explain it to someone. Plus, if it was published, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it for a living anyway. I didn’t quit my day job right away, though. I wouldn’t recommend anyway doing that until they’re making more money at their hobby (than their day job) anyway.

So anyway, in terms of anecdotes, we weren’t playing Drinking Quest but the craziest con-related anecdote I have was, I think it was at PAX East 2013, in Boston, and I was doing a panel and I met the guy – you know the Scumbag Steve meme? Goodman Greg, Scumbag Steve? So, the actual Scumbag Steve lives in Boston and I tweeted at him saying “Come hang out, come to my panel,” and so he came to my panel and I was like “I’ll introduce you as Blake Boston, I’ll say you’re a really nice guy and that you’re not actually scumbag.” So we worked out that I would introduce him like that, but then he’d actually act like a real scumbag during the presentation and start trying to piss me off. Poking at me, knocking my hat off, throwing cards in the air. And it was a really good schtick. But afterwards, we went to this bar called the Whiskey Priest, there were about seven of us, and we were around this table, there was really loud music and we couldn’t talk to each other. So the gimmick of this place is Whiskey. You can get flights of Whiskey that will all have different flavours or something. So everyone was like “Yeah, let’s get plates of whiskey!” So seven of us all got a plate, three whiskeys each, then a few minutes passed and someone said “Let’s do another one!” and then, long story short, in about twenty minutes we’d had nine shots of whiskey each and we’re all still standing – and this never happens – the night just got crazier from there. We racked up this insane bill – it was nuts. And this one random person we had just met that weekend decided to pay for all of us – it was just insane! We just had the best time.

A: Hahaha, that’s awesome. Was this person a fan? Or some random person you just met?

J: Well, we’re friends now! I see them when I go to Boston every year, so it’s pretty cool. One of the best things about this (lifestyle) is just the people you meet. You know, now I’m going to have a bunch of Australian friends after this show, which is pretty cool.

A: Yeah, nothing makes friends faster than alcohol!

J: Oh yeah, it’s totally true.

A: Yeah, especially with nerds, because so many of us have our own little social anxieties or our little something (that makes us nervous), but as soon as you get a drink into most people all the interests and hobbies come out and it’s awesome.

J: Yeah, I totally agree. I’m actually pretty introverted, but when I’m talking about a nerdy thing, like a game that I’ve done, I can talk about that endlessly.

A: Yeah! My partner is exactly the same. If we are going somewhere, and he doesn’t know whether they are going to be any nerds there, he’ll argue with me about going. But if I can at least confirm that there’s going to be one nerd he’ll say “Right! Let’s go! Where’s your jacket??”

J: See? We’re the same person. I feel like I’d get along with him really well!

A: Yeah? He’s the GM of most of my games so you probably would get along well! Which sort of leads, really strangely, into my next question which is do you play TRPGs and, if so, which ones?

J: For the longest time I didn’t actually play any proper TRPGs. But my gateway drug came when I was eleven, and I got Milton Bradley’s Hero Quest for my birthday and – oh – it’s my favourite, my favourite of all time, I absolutely love it. And the last page of that game had a blank page, so that you could make your own quest, and I made hundreds of quests. So for years, I’d always have a game group and I was always the DM, and I’d just make my own kind of modified systems and toy around with the mechanics – just for fun. Dungeons & Dragons was always a bit too complicated for the crowd (I played with) and so I used to always make simplified versions so that the players didn’t have to memorise the book – things like that. But recently, since I came out with the first Drinking Quest five years ago, I have been really out of touch with the tabletop scene. All my influences were old games.

Screenshot - Drinking Quest - 1

A: And you mentioned you were really into punk rock as well?

J: Yeah! Tabletop Games and punk rock are my two things that I like. But lately I’ve been into the (tabletop) scene a little bit and I think Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition is great. So I made a point of trying to play the proper rules with custom quests that I’ve made and I’m going to try to play existing books that are out there (as well). So, playing by the existing rules, using custom quests, I like that a lot, that works really well, I love 5th Edition a lot. I’m still not a fan of playing an RPG (straight) out of a book. I understand that there’s totally a market for that and they’re still great books, I like owning them, it’s just that’s not the style I make. I like light-hearted funny stuff and I can’t be quite as quick when I’m trying to run something out of book.

A: I couldn’t agree with you more. The idea of having to memorise everything that is in a book and then remember, not only every part of the story, but also all of the rules – to me, that’s the most intimidating thing I can think of. But learning about a world that is really cool and then riffing off that and using a simple system to compliment the fun – that’s the best. I’m trying to run Shadowrun (cyberpunk-fantasy RPG) at the moment and I love the world of Shadowrun – it’s such a great universe but the rules are like… I want to kill myself every time I try to memorise them! It’s horrible!

J: Yeah, you know the first time I ever played Shadowrun I made a modified simple version so that my group could play.

A: *Sharp intake of breath* Do you still have it?? That would be perfect!! *laughing*

J: Nah, that was ten or fifteen years ago. But yeah, Shadowrun is great. I like the whole cyberpunk theme and everything and making yourself a cyborg and stuff like that – its super cool.

A: Yeah, it’s so good. I’m desperate to run it but I’m in the midst of modifying a system to try and get it to work (for my group). Because as it stands, the game is just so time consuming. My group sat down to do a combat test and we started playing, I started setting the scene and leading the players to the location and then (once) we got to the main combat and it took three hours for six seconds of in-game time to play out (two combat rounds), probably because we had such a mix of players – one is a technomancer, one is a magician, one is a decker, meaning they all had their own subsystems to run – but it was just hopeless. Or rather, I was hopeless at running that.

J: Yeah, it’s good because it’s complicated but it’s bad because it’s complicated.

A: Yeah, apparently it’s good if you want to play a really simulation-y style game. But coming back to Drinking Quest, how long would you usually play a game of that for and would it be possible to just keep playing for as long as you’d like?

J: It takes about two hours to play a game. It’s a light drinking game, it’s a light role-playing game, but it’s a heavy comedy game – that’s how I look at it. The moment when I knew that I was absolutely going to release a run of games was when I figured out the pacing of how the drinks worked. Because, if it was unlimited drinking, if there was no cap, it wouldn’t work. Nobody would finish a game ever. Besides, that’s nearly every drinking game that’s out there – drink as much as you can, as fast as you can. And those are games I don’t like to play. Not really. I didn’t want to release *that* game. So a big part of making Drinking Quest was figuring out how to pace the alcohol.

So, each game is divided into four quests and the eureka moment was “Okay, if you have to chug more than once in the same quest (that’s going to be too much so) you just do three swigs (the second time)” and that way everybody can finish the game and nobody’s going to go to the hospital or anything like that. And the game is full of disclaimers that aren’t even there for lawyer-y reasons, just stuff like “Hey, make sure you drink within your limits” just because if someone hurts themselves, well, that’s no fun. It’s a game first. So I really wanted to make sure it was a light drinking game as far as they go and I think I’ve succeeded in that a little bit.

A: I’d say you certainly have. You seem to have quite the fan base, especially on Twitter.

J: Yeah, yeah, thank you. Yeah, Twitter is… people always ask me “How do you do social media right?” and I’m like well first of all the thing that you *don’t* do is plan to come out with a game and then your main business strategy is “I’m going to tell my friends on Facebook about it and it’ll get popular!” Don’t do that. You’ll fail and it will feel bad.

Screenshot - Drinking Quest - 2

A: And all your family will come to hate you and your spam.

J: Yeah, you’ll annoy everyone you know, exactly. So with Twitter, Twitter is good if you offer content. So basically just try to be funny on there but its daily work. You’ve really got to put in the effort.

A: I’ve found the same thing. I only started using Twitter seriously maybe six months ago and it is an investment. I follow a lot of role playing groups, stuff in that kind of area and also writing, but it’s really up to you to be producing content in the way of DM tips or ‘Word of the Day’ or those sorts of things, something beyond yourself. If it’s just you talking about people likely won’t stay interested.

J: That’s true, but Twitter is also great for meeting people! You legitimately make friends. You make great connections and, like, I’m in Australia and meeting people and they keep saying “Oh! I know you from Twitter!” and I’m like “What kind of a feeling is that?” It’s great. It’s super cool. And that’s how I met Scumbag Steve as well, over Twitter. And when you have a celebrity interaction too, it’s like “Oh man!” when they respond – its butterflies.

A: Yeah, I think people underestimate how different it is from Facebook because it’s just a totally different space. That’s something I was hesitant about with getting into Twitter – I assumed it was the same kind of space as Facebook. But because you’re constantly being exposed to so many new people and new things it doesn’t feel the same at all. I mean, people even collaborate over Twitter, or find people with similar interests to start projects with.

J: Yeah, I mean, I’ve met artists over Twitter and I’ve found places to stay for the weekend over Twitter. It’s pretty crazy.

A: So I’ve heard there’s a comic as well that goes alongside Drinking Quest?

J: Yeah, we did a comic for a while there.

A: So who is ‘we’? Who’s your artist?

Screenshot - Drinking Quest - 3

J: I worked with a guy named Stuart Paterson from the UK, who I met over Twitter and the colouring was done by Anique Zimmer, who I met over Twitter and it was great! I wanted to make something that was good on its own, but kind of set up a world as well. I have lots of ideas, and I plan to get around to publishing them, but I just haven’t been active in approaching publishers, basically because I’ve been too busy with games series. And you know how there isn’t a lot of money in tabletop games? Well, there’s even less in comics. So I just haven’t had the time to devote to it. But it’s something I feel like I’ll come back to, Kickstart six issues in a trade (paperback) or something like that and just plan to break even sort of thing. It was more of a vanity project, something I really wanted to do because I had a huge comic book phase when I was a kid and another one as an adult and I like the writing structure. I like how it works and how you collaborate with an artist and writing a comic book script it a lot of fun, explaining why things should be funny and stuff like that. So yeah, it was a fun project for me and the reason I haven’t put more effort into is because shipping comics is really difficult and expensive. So I bring them to cons that I can drive to when I have, you know, unlimited storage space. But other than that I haven’t been pushing it too far. It’s just been more of a fun thing. And there’s a deluxe version (of Drinking Quest) that you can order online where you get the digital version of the comic as well as a bunch of other things as extras.

A: Yeah, digital versions are a lifesaver when it comes to international shipping.

J: Absolutely. So yeah, that’s more of a fun thing. I have other writing projects planned for Drinking Quest, but nothing officially announced yet, don’t want to get anyone too excited.

A: Of course. But you’re definitely still invested in Drinking Quest and bringing more content to it

J: Oh absolutely. I’ve been doing a game a year for the last five years and starting next year I’m going to be doing two games a year, so I’ll either burn out or have to hire a person. So we’ll see how that goes! It’ll be good.

A: Sounds awesome. And Drinking Quest is a Trilogy, right? So you released the different adventures separately at first?

J: Yeah, so Drinking Quest 1, 2 and 3 came out in consecutive years. The year after that (I released) the compilation game called Trilogy Edition, which also contains a fourth game worth of new content.

Screenshot - Drinking Quest - 4

A: And that’s the version that you’re selling here at PAX?

J: Yeah, that’s the one that has actually sold out at PAX. I guess it’s just the value overkill (that did it) – four games for the price of two and there are all these new re-playability options and things like that.

A: So each game has four quests in each and then there’s re-playability on top of that as well?

J: Yep, so now you can combine the games and everything and the Trilogy Edition contains all these new options. There’s a new game that I’m coming out with soon as well. It’s called Haiku Warrior and my booth (at PAX) is actually right across from my printing company, just by chance which is funny. Haiku Warrior is actually the opposite of Drinking Quest. Instead of being funny because it’s loud and obnoxious (like Drinking Quest), Haiku Warrior is fun because it’s quiet and introspective – and told entirely through Haiku. It can also be played with just one player. Its one to four players.

A: And did you Kickstart that?

J: I did.

A: Yeah, I think I remember seeing it on Kickstarter.

Screenshot - Drinking Quest - 5

J: Yeah, the Kickstarter went really well. I had about fifteen different celebrity guests writing Haikus for it as a bonus expansion. So the first run will have this extra adventure in it, basically. So that’s coming out soon. It’s got a similar card based DM gameplay system. It’s a casual RPG, so it’s similar to Drinking Quest in that regard, but it’s the total opposite in terms of style and comedy content. My tradename is Jason Anarchy and if someone’s getting a Jason Anarchy game then they know it’s going to be funny. That’s my comfort zone.

A: So your genre is Light RPG – that’s what you call it – do you think that genre is going to expand over the coming years? Where do you think it’s at?

J: I think its popularity is still on the way up. But, you know, it’ll peak and it’ll go down eventually, but I don’t really think about that stuff too much. From my end I just thing “What games do I want to make?” and then “Which ones do I want to make that people would reasonably buy?”

A: I think that’s a great attitude.

J: Yeah, so those are the ones I generally release.

A: Yeah, I think that people who over-analyse the market and make a game to suit the market, their heart probably isn’t as ‘in it’ as, someone who feels really driven to make something and share it with the world.

J: Yeah, I think another thing that works for me, is that typically most designers don’t have a heap of business management experience, but I actually studied business management and had a tonne of experience before I did this. So that helped me self publish. But typically, if you go to school for game design or something, you know nothing about business.

A: Yeah, that’s certainly something a lot of people I’ve spoken to have encountered.

J: So yeah, it’s like I did the un-fun thing first and now I do the fun things and I think that helped me quite a bit.

A: Cool, well that sounds like an excellent background to have before coming into this. Thanks so much for the chat, it was lovely to meet you and I’m looking forward to playing Drinking Quest!

J: Thanks, great to meet you too.

Both Drinking Quest: Trilogy Edition and Haiku Warrior can be purchased here, through Jason’s website, using the drop-down menu.

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Since first travelling to Japan at the age of fifteen, most of my life has revolved around trying to learn Japanese, and unravel the mysteries of the country’s culture. Gaming ranks just behind this obsession. I enjoy video games – particularly RPGs and Strategy – but my main interest is in tabletop role playing games and board games. Writing ranks third – luckily I get plenty of opportunities to write about Japan and games, so it all works out.

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