Interview- Dave McAlister.
On the tenth anniversary of UKRoleplayers.com I thought who better to have as my first interviewee than the owner and founder of UKRoleplayers, Dave McAlister? So I asked him if he would be willing to answer a few questions about UKRP, and roleplaying in general, and he very kindly agreed. Here are his responses.
ih: what made you set up UKRP, and what was your vision for it initially?
DPM: The beginnings of UK Role Players starts, in some ways, from the implosion of the UK branch of the RPGA at Gen Con Europe 1999. It was there that the Steering Committee resigned, on-masse, in front of Peter Adkison. I wasn’t privy to the behind-the-scenes discussions that followed but all seemed well when changes were made/promised and almost all returned to their, volunteer, positions. Things did appear to look up for a short while but then the UK office was down-sized (almost to nothing really). The majority of those who were part of the UK team (again, remember these were volunteers for the most part) formed a similar organisation called Raven.
The problems for Raven started almost immediately though as it had set itself up as an organisation that required its members to vote on any changes (good intentions). Unfortunately, when they wanted to change something important (I forget what) they couldn’t get a quorum. Likewise, when they wanted to change the number required for a quorum, they couldn’t get a quorum. This was around late 2002/early 2003. When it was obvious that Raven was itself about to die, I offered people a space on another website I ran (and still run – that one celebrates 15 years in 2014). I set up a forum and gave the site the catchy name it has today. Not long after that, Tony Hyams (who is one of the guys behind UK Games Expo) offered a free domain name and hosting which I grabbed.
That’s the not-so-short story as to why it was set-up. As to my “vision”, I didn’t have one. I was just used to a forum for UK role players and didn’t want there to be a time without one. Not everyone agreed with me unfortunately as not many people from the RPGA/Raven organisations came across but we’re still going strong and that’s all that matters.
ih: what do you think about the way it’s developed over the last ten years, and how do you see its development over the next ten years?
DPM: At first, UK Role Players was just a set of forums but I always wanted it to be more than that. It took 5 years before I felt there was enough of a following to move the forums beneath the top-level of the domain and create the news section that still exists today (albeit not in exactly the same format). In 2011 I was able to persuade some people to write monthly columns which were a partial success and early in 2012 the clubs and shops listings were overhauled.
For the future I’m hoping that some more writers will come forward with columns. An increase in reviews would be nice – Jonathan Hicks has been kind enough to post his reviews on the site and I hope it continues (although more reviews are always welcome). Other than that, I’m not sure. I’ve never been one to look too far into the future, preferring instead to take things as they come.
ih: UKRP does a good job of catering to and representing the UK roleplaying community. Do you think the UK roleplaying scene is pretty healthy currently?
DPM: Thanks, although I’m not sure UK Role Players is a true reflection of the UK roleplaying community. I know, for example, of a large number of players who don’t visit because of the, at times, venomous anti-D&D feelings that appear with alarming regularity. If I could change one thing it would be that. The UK scene is pretty healthy – the increase in the number of conventions (from one-day events to “traditional” residential events) is testament to that – but it is still very small in the grand scheme of hobbies. We can’t afford to keep these divisions between us.
ih: when and how did you come to roleplaying, and have your tastes in RPGs changed over the years?
DPM: My first RPG was the Red Box D&D Basic Set in 1984 but I came to the hobby through the Fighting Fantasy books that Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson wrote from 1982. Even then, as a young teenager, I was an organiser and set up a club that was still going strong when I left to join the RAF in 1990 (but is no more alas). In the first couple of years there was no one system we played over all others but that changed when Warhammer Fantasy Role Play was released. I loved the rules and the setting and have many fond memories of the 4-year campaign I played in. My tastes haven’t changed too much – I’m still very much a traditionalist at heart (although I have tried, and liked, a few “indie” games) – but I have found that, with a few exceptions, I now prefer rules-light systems. That way I can spend more time on planning and preparation :).
ih: do you currently favour any particular settings, systems, games or companies etc., or does your gameplaying cover a fairly broad range?
DPM: I’ve always been a fan of espionage RPGs (as proven by my other website: Modus Operandi (www.modus-operandi.co.uk). In the last 5 years though I found Savage Worlds and that quickly became my go-to system. Company-wise, I have a soft-spot for Triple Ace Games (and have been part of their demo team at UK Games Expo for the last 3 years). Aside from that, I’m happy to play most things at least once and have recently been introduced to the Angel RPG which is fast becoming a favourite.
ih: some systems- Savage Worlds and Gurps spring to mind- seem to divide people. Why do you think this is? And do you think there’s anything publishers/game designers could do to limit potential polarising?
DPM: People will always have favourites – and systems they detest – and I doubt there is anything that anyone (publisher or designer) could do to change their mind. Instead we should embrace the differences rather than fighting amongst each other – after all, roleplaying would be very boring if we all liked the same thing.
ih: there’s been a big increase in the last ten years or so in small press games, and a shift in general from a market dominated by big companies to a proliferation of independent publishers. Without getting into the trad vs hippy debate, how do you think this has affected the hobby?
DPM: I still think the market is dominated by the big companies (although who those big companies are is constantly evolving) but, overall, the introduction of newer, smaller press games is good. After all, who’s to say that one of those won’t be up there with the big guys soon enough? You just have to look at the likes of Evil Hat and Fate – who’s to say where they will go in the future (my guess is up :)). The roleplaying hobby in terms of companies always ebbs and flows.
ih: there has been some discussion recently about ‘growing the hobby’, and the difficulties involved in attracting new members. What do you personsally see as the possible barriers to entry, and what do think might be the solution?
DPM: We are the biggest barrier. We need to change our outlook and not look down on games because of what they are or how they are played (and I can be as guilty of this as anyone else). Combine that with the new “Starter Sets” that the likes of Paizo (Pathfinder) and Fantasy Flight (Star Wars) are producing and we could do well.
ih: what impact do you think the Internet has had on the hobby?
DPM: For me personally, it’s had a huge impact. Without it, of course, we wouldn’t have UK Role Players! Beyond that publishers and designers are now easier to get hold of (for better or worse) but the biggest impact has to be electronic publishing.
ih: what game are you currently playing/running and what do you like about it?
DPM: I’m currently playing in a D&D 3.5 campaign set in the Forgotten Realms. The Realms is my favourite D&D campaign setting and it’s always good to go adventuring there.
ih: do you prefer GMing or playing?
DPM: If you’d asked me this question a few years ago, the answer would have been GMing. Recently though I’ve played in a few really good campaigns and it’s reminded me of the fun to be had on the other side of the screen. I still really like GMing though so I’d say my split is 50/50 now.
ih: can you tell us about any particularly awesome gaming experiences?
DPM: There have been a few over the years but, just like the “let me tell you about my character” conversations, they don’t translate well when retold – they’re more “you had to be there” stories.
ih: what other hobbies do you have?
DPM: I enjoy coding websites – so, yes, I’m a complete geek!Sports-wise I’m a big Formula 1 racing fan (although I can’t afford to get to any of the races) and support both Dundee and Crystal Palace when it comes to football. I also play computer games a little bit (mainly simulations like the Civilization and Football Manager series, but also console games like Grand Theft Auto and F1 racing games).
ih: any final comments on RPGs and roleplaying?
DPM: I think we’ve covered most things. I would say though that I don’t think the hobby is doing too badly for itself. Sure, it’s not near the heights it’s reached in the past, but I think it’s still doing well – and it will only get better.
ih: Dave, thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions, and very many thanks for all you’ve done for us in the UK roleplaying community. May the next ten years bring even more exciting developments, in both UKRP and the hobby in general.