Interview with Ewen Cluney

I’m fortunate that podcasts like Terrible Warriors and Role-Playing Public Radio have done great actual play episodes of some of my games, which gives me a fascinating window into what happens when the rubber meets the road

Today we have Ewen Cluney of Yaruki Zero Games

Q&A with Ewen Cluney of Yaruki Zero Games

How did you get into creating RPGs and generators?

In the case of RPGs I started trying to make my own stuff pretty much as soon as I got into playing them (when a friend introduced me to Palladium’s Robotech RPG in middle school), but I sort of fell into self-publishing in 2014 when I abruptly got laid off from a job I’d had for nearly 5 years and was frantically looking for ways to make ends meet. I turned a tiny thing called Schoolgirl RPG into a cheap PDF and put it up on DriveThruRPG, and just kept going from there.

In 2008 I teamed up with Andy Kitkowski to publish an English translation of a Japanese tabletop RPG called “Maid RPG” (or “Maid: The Role-Playing Game” in our English version). It’s a totally absurd anime comedy RPG that uses randomness to a ridiculous degree. When you create a character, pretty much the only thing that isn’t random is your name and age, and there are very few ways to interact with the rules that don’t involve rolling dice in some way. Maid characters have “Special Qualities” that range from wearing glasses to being a vampire, and part of the fun of the game is seeing what bonkers combinations you can roll up. I can’t blame anyone who’s a bit put off by the game’s theme, but I do genuinely think it’s brilliant as a work of game design. It became a huge influence on me as a game designer.

In 2011, the anime series Puella Magi Madoka Magica came out, and I got inspired to start on a dark magical girl RPG called Magical Burst (which I haven’t finished yet, but I’m getting close). Taking inspiration from Don’t Rest Your Head, the character creation rules include some pointed questions aimed at more fully developing characters, and I married that to the “d66” tables (i.e., a tens-and-ones roll with two six-sided dice) from Maid RPG. That combination gives players a set of 36 examples, with the option to roll dice to decide if they’re in a hurry or just feel like it, or the ability to make up something of their own if they prefer. It’s since become one of my trademarks as a designer, and appears in games like Spooktacular, Magical Fury, Angel Project, and Melancholy Kaiju.

While it’s not a huge seller, I started a series of little PDFs of random tables that I call “Ewen’s Tables” (inspired by Lee’s Lists). I’ve done about 40 or so of those PDFs, and compiled the first 36 into a POD book, the Ewen’s Tables Collection. Having done tables for most of the really obvious stuff like fantasy character names and sci-fi stuff and so on, I’ve started doing weirder tables that are almost a comedy format. I even did a tribute to Chuck Tingle called “Pounded in the Butt by My Own d66 Tables.”

Kagegami High

What are you most proud of creating and why?

My personal favorite out of my self-published games is Kagegami High. It’s a weird comedy RPG where you play as schoolgirls at a high school on a mysterious island, and it draws a lot of inspiration from the Welcome to Night Vale podcast while using a variant of the Maid RPG rules. The resulting book is 168 pages, and it’s dense with tables, jokes, and weird references, plus the occasional bit of poignant humanity. The majority of the material in the book is in the form of tables or has d66 numbering so that you can randomly pick out e.g. school clubs, classmates, strange inhabitants of the island of Kageshima, or morning announcements. I’m also really happy with Melancholy Kaiju, which really is a game about giant Japanese monsters who feel kinda sad.

What is the most fun thing about creating for RPGs?

To me the most fun thing is seeing what people do with my creations once they’re out in the world. I’m fortunate that podcasts like Terrible Warriors and Role-Playing Public Radio have done great actual play episodes of some of my games, which gives me a fascinating window into what happens when the rubber meets the road and people who I’ve never met get in and have fun with my games.

The second most fun thing is the process of taking whatever I’m using as the basis of the game—often source material of some kind but sometimes just a general concept I’ve devised more independently—and devising ways to make it translate into an RPG. The Powered by the Apocalypse framework has given me some really good tools for that with things like moves and principles, but d66 tables have become another important tool for me.

What are the most painful lessons you’ve learned from creating for RPGs?

Honestly, creating RPGs hasn’t been all that painful for me, though there’s been some trial and error in the process of learning how to public PDFs and POD books, and some lessons about what kinds of games people take notice of. (Though I’m enough of a weirdo that I still have ideas for weird, experimental games that I can’t shake.)

The most painful thing is doing taxes, just because even modestly successful independent RPG publishing makes my taxes more complicated and eats up most if not all of what would’ve been my refund.

How do you use random tables yourself?

I’ve built up enough of a supply of random tables for various topics that for most any project I might be undertaking if I have any trouble coming up with names and whatnot I usually have a table I can roll on. And if I don’t that can be a good excuse to make some new tables.

Ewen's Table Collection

What are your next big projects (RPG or otherwise) that you can talk about?

I pretty much always have way too many projects in progress, but here are the major ones on their way to coming to fruition:

  • I’m one of the two translators for the English version Kamigakari: God Hunters, a really cool modern supernatural action tabletop RPG from Japan, which is currently on Kickstarter.
  • Back in 2012 I got a party card game called Channel A published by Asmadi Games. It’s a very silly game where you create anime titles from words on cards and pitch them to the other players. Asmadi’s original print run eventually sold out, and more recently Evil Hat Productions picked up the game. They had a successful Kickstarter a few months ago, and the new, expanded “Alpha Genesis Edition” of Channel A is slated to launch some time in 2019.
  • I’ve been working on a Powered by the Apocalypse anime comedy fantasy RPG called Dragon World for a while now, and we’re gearing up to launch a final version with pretty art and everything some time in early 2019. It’s in the general vein of anime like Slayers and Dragon Half, letting you do stories about passionate weirdos flailing around a colorful fantasy world.

Where can people find you on social media?

My blog is at yarukizerogames.com, I’m on Twitter @nekoewen, on Mastodon at nekoewen@mastodon.social, and you can find me under my name on Google+ until Google shuts it down. I also have a Patreon.

Is there anything else you would like to talk about?

Along with a couple of friends, I recently started up a podcast called Backlog Buds, where each episode one of us subjects the others to some piece of media they’re familiar with. I recently posted the first half of our review of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (which is at least as bonkers as the word “Revengeance” in the title makes it sound), and after that we’ll be tackling Palladium’s Rifts RPG. We’re still finding our footing and figuring the whole thing out, but we’ve been having fun with it so far.

Finishing up

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