Fantasy Setting Search Closes In on Finalists

(l-r): Anthony Valterra, Category Manager for Tabletop Roleplaying Games; Liz Shue, Marketing Director for Publishing; Bill Slavicsek, Director of RPG Research & Development; Peter Archer, Editorial Director of Book Publishing; Keith Baker, Fantasy Setting Search Finalist; and Keith's giant, $10,000 check.

Keith Baker
Age: 33
Residence: Boulder, Colorado
Occupation: Freelance Game Designer

Wizards: How long have you been playing RPGs, and how long have you been playing D&D?

Keith: I started playing D&D in fifth grade, sometime around 1978. I still have my 1st Edition books, although my basic D&D set and white box rules have gone missing over the years. I've been roleplaying continuously since then. When I was growing up I was the gamemaster more often than not -- I always enjoyed coming up with stories.

Wizards: What first interested you in gaming and D&D?

Keith: I really enjoy the whole process of interactive storytelling. I've run my favorite adventure about ten times now, and it plays out differently every time depending on who's involved. I love to see what players will do when presented with difficult decisions. I like to write prose, but in some ways it’s more fun to see how other people will shape a story than to control every element of it.

Wizards: What are your favorite games/settings, and why do you like them?

Keith: Well, D&D for one. I like the changes in 3rd edition; the streamlining of statistic bonuses, armor class, saving throws, and multiclassing is very convenient, and I like the implementation of skills and feats… although high-level combat can get fairly complicated, with all the options available to characters and attacks of opportunity and all. Of the D&D settings, I think that Planescape is my personal favorite.

I'm also a fan of [Atlas Games’s] Over the Edge. It's a different style of game, with very simple rules in comparison to D20, but it gives the gamemaster a lot of flexibility and it's an easy system for bringing in new gamers. Plus, I love the bizarre, conspiracy-laden world of Al Amarja.

Other systems I've been playing over the last few years include Feng Shui, the Hero system (primarily Champions), and more recently the Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG. I'm looking forward to checking out D20 Modern.

Wizards: Do you have a particular experience or situation from gaming that stands out in your memory? Something funny, exciting, or weird?

Keith: All I'm going to say is "Five Ducks in a Battlesuit."

Wizards: Do you have a favorite designer? If so, who?

Keith: There are a lot of talented people out there. If I had to pick a personal favorite, I think it would be a tie between Robin Laws and Jonathan Tweet. Robin Laws's Cut-Ups Method (from the Over the Edge book Weather the Cuckoo Likes) may be my all-time favorite game mechanic.

Wizards: What got you interested in fantasy as a genre?

Keith: We had a recorded version of The Hobbit that I used to listen to all the time as a kid. It was read by Nicol Williamson, who also played Merlin in Excalibur, which threw me off when I saw that movie -- "Hey, it's Gandalf!"

Wizards: Who's your favorite fantasy author, and what's your favorite fantasy novel or series of fantasy novels?

Keith: My current favorite is George R.R. Martin and his Song of Ice & Fire series. He's created an intricate world filled with well-rounded, fascinating characters -- what's not to like? I'm also fond of Sherri S. Tepper's True Game books, Tanith Lee's Tales from the Flat Earth, and Stephen Brust's Vlad Taltos books. And for a different sort of fantasy, I recommend Milorad Pavic's Dictionary of the Khazars.

Wizards: Of Wizards/TSR's authors or books, who/what's your favorite?

Keith: Richard Baker, no question. Of course, that may just be because his last name is "Baker"…

Wizards: What interested you in submitting to the fantasy setting search?

Keith: I love to create worlds -- It's one of the most interesting parts of roleplaying, and it's not something you get to do very often. Coming up with ideas in the first round was just a lot of fun. Getting the chance to develop one of those ideas into a full-fledged world is an incredible and unexpected opportunity.

Wizards: Is your setting one that you've been working on for some time, or did you devise it just for the fantasy setting search?

Keith: Both. There are many elements of the setting that are drawn from my old campaigns, but the composite was something I came up with on the spur of the moment. The basic idea occurred to me when I was trying to think of something new and interesting, and then I started tying in things that worked from old campaigns.

Wizards: Without revealing too many specific details, do you work on your setting alone, or are you part of a team?

Keith: I'm working alone. With that said, there are certainly people who deserve my thanks -- notably Lee Moyer, John Blakely, and my wife Ellen -- for providing inspiration. Should the setting make it out, they'll certainly recognize the impact they had on it.

Wizards: How did you feel when you found out that your setting was chosen as one of the 11 best out of almost 11,000 submissions? What about being chosen as one of the 3 best out of those 11?

Keith: I found out I was one of the eleven during a layover at an airport, and I spent the next two hours racing around the airport trying to get emails and get things mailed out in time -- it was such a crazy situation that I was too numb to really realize what was going on. As for being one of the final three, I was shocked. When I got the phone call, I was definitely expecting to hear "Thanks for playing, here's a copy of our home game.…"

Wizards: What do you currently do for a living?

Keith: I used to be a computer game designer. For the last six months I've been working as a freelance writer. It's been a bit of an adjustment financially, but I really enjoy the work.

Wizards: What do you plan to do if your setting is chosen and you receive the $100,000 contract?

Keith: Jump up and down screaming for half an hour? Start eating something other than ramen noodles for dinner? I love what I'm doing -- it would be wonderful to have enough financial security to be able to do it without worrying about being eaten by wild dogs (I must know at least three good writers that's happened to).

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