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About

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff is the podcast of authors and game designers Kenneth Hite and Robin D. Laws. Stuff talked about includes hobby gaming, history, occultism, chrono-travel, food, cinema, narrative, art, politics, food, maps, Cthulhiana, and in fact any matter subject to jocular yet penetrating erudition.

Robin D. Laws designed the GUMSHOE investigative roleplaying system, including such games as The Esoterrorists and Ashen Stars. Among his other acclaimed RPG credits are Feng Shui and HeroQuest. Recent highlights of his nine books of fiction are New Tales of the Yellow SignBlood of the City and The Worldwound Gambit. As Creative Director of Stone Skin Press he has edited such fiction anthologies as The New HeroShotguns v. Cthulhu, andThe Lion and the Aardvark: Aesop’s New Fables. Upcoming projects include Hillfolk, the first game using the DramaSystem RPG rules for riveting personal conflict.

Kenneth Hite has designed, written, or co-authored more than 70 roleplaying games and supplements, including the Star Trek Roleplaying Game, GURPS Infinite Worlds, Day After Ragnarok, Trail Of Cthulhu, and Night’s Black Agents. Outside gaming, his works include Tour de Lovecraft: the Tales, Cthulhu 101, Zombies 101, Where the Deep Ones Are, and the graphic illustrated version of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to U.S. History. He writes the “Lost in Lovecraft” column for Weird Tales magazine, and his essays and criticism have also appeared in Dragon Magazine, Games Quarterly Magazine, National Review, Amazing Stories, and in anthologies from Greenwood Press, Ben Bella Press, and MIT Press. He lives in Chicago with his wife Sheila, two cats, and many, many books.

37 Responses to “About”

  1. James McGlothlin says:

    Hey Guys,

    Love your podcast! Even though it’s mainly about game design, I love all of the “stuff” you guys talk about. Very interesting.

    I was at a conference this past week in Milwaukee and could not help going on a little DnD nerd pilgrimage after academic duties were served. Using Robin’s book *40 Years of Gen Con* I was able to locate in Milwaukee Renaissance Books (which evidently has only recently gone out of business) and the Safe House bar. In addition I took a very short trek over to Lake Geneva and, again with the help of Robin’s book, found the original TSR offices, Gary Gygax’s home, and the original locations for the first Gen Cons.

    I’m not sure which hut this might go under (The Nostalgia Hut?) but I’d love to hear some reminisces concerning the “golden age” of gaming (70s? 80s?), especially any anecdotes from early Gen Cons or encounters with well-known giants in the field: Gygax, Sandy Petersen, etc. Just a suggestion.

  2. Brett Myers says:

    Great episode as usual, guys. Any chance we you can post your Top Ten Films lists online so I don’t have to try to take notes while driving/working/shopping/dishwashing/etc?

  3. Steven Roman says:

    Just wondering … is this the best place to leave questions for Kenneth Hite and Robin D. Laws?

    If so, I was wondering–for each of you, which game/system is your “go-to” system for running games. And which systems or games do you think you’ve run and enjoyed the most, if different from your current “go-to” system?

    Thanks!

  4. Brett Evill says:

    TO: TIME INCORPORATED

    RE: “PERICLEAN” ATHENS

    Now that I’m aware of the Universal Translation and Turning Japanese functions of Ken’s time machine, I wonder whether Ken might like a trip somewhat further afield than usual and a chance to attend some Classical Greek symposiums on the company’s drakhma. So I’d like to hear a proposal for using the usual methods to extend the golden age of “Periclean” Athens by, say, another thirty years.

    The clients are interested in increasing the artistic and literary legacy of that episode rather than the political power of Athens, and they might be open to sponsoring projects that promoted the production of similar art and literature even if that wasn’t done in Athens specifically. Even just arranging for more of the stuff to survive to the present might suffice.

    Regards,

    Brett Evill

  5. Fridrik Bjarnason says:

    TO: TIME INCORPORATED

    RE: The Nordic Revolution (1809 – 1815)

    We, (expunged), would like to hire Time Inc. to create a revolution in Nordic Europe (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and any colonies such as Iceland, Greenland, Feroes Islands). We request that this is done by facilitating the success of the Dog-Days revolution started in Iceland (then Danish colony) by Jorgen Jorgensen in the summer of 1809. We thereafter require that the the revolutionary spirit spreads to the other Nordic countries, mentioned above, be it by Jorgen himself of any other method that Time Inc. deems prudent. The final goal of this is that all Nordic countries become republic by 1816. Thereby achieving our goals of (expunged), (expunged) and the end of the royal lines of Norway, Denmark and Sweden.

    We expect request that your operative Kenneth Hite is assigned to this job, for the following reasons (expunged) and his love for alcohol.

    P.S.
    Great care must be taken when engaging with Jorgen as it’s suspected that, given his strange life, he might be a rogue time traveler.

    Appendix (A)
    Some preliminary information
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J%C3%B8rgen_J%C3%B8rgensen
    http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php/article/jorgen-jorgenson-a-legend-to-rival-ned

  6. Hello Ken. Hello Robin.

    Thank you for a very delightful show. I eagerly await each new episode.

    I do have a suggestion for a topic, in the field of contrafactual literary history. This could also concievably be an installment of Kens time machine. What if Lovecraft had not died in 1937? Since he seems to have perished from malnutrition I Think that would be an easy thing to solve, right? I mean, had the man lived a long and health life he might have been around into the 1970-ies or even 80-ies. How do you think his writing would have developed? And how would his rise to fame have been impacted if he’d still been alive? I can’t help but wonder about how a writer of his sensibility would have reacted to things like the reality of the Atomic bomb or the images of survivors exiting Auschwitz. Please, elaborate!

  7. Portland Indie Team makes Big Moves

    Hello Ken and Robin.

    My name is Donald Fergus, a game designer in Portland Oregon.

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1084691471/pits-table-top-combat-for-mobile

    I’m getting in touch because my game design team is running our first indie Kickstarter! Our game is called “Pits”. It has a fast paced brand of tabletop combat with simple rules, taking about 5 minutes to learn, with games lasting between 20 and 40 minutes, depending on number of players or whether someone gets lucky and becomes a titanic juggernaut. Players battle each other with random weapons, shields and potions drawn from a randomly placed treasure chest that moves about the board. Games can be set up as death match or team games, and for a those who have a more tactical taste, each player can take control of multiple characters for a breezy war gaming experience.

    We’ve got a prototype build online if you want to get a taste of what it will be like on mobile devices, and we’ve got a full boxed tabletop version as a baker reward. We would love to hear what you think, and if you’re interested in playing it around your gaming table, I’d love to send you an early copy of the instruction manual so you can give it a shot right away. A chess board, a set of dice including D4, D6 and some D8′s, a deck of cards and some basic D&D tokens are all you need!

    Thank you for your time and all the great episodes.
    Donald.

  8. Bryan Mullins says:

    Ken and Robin,

    Crisis! I’ve run out shows to listen to until the newest one comes along. I’d like to “ask” you please recommend some other great pod casts that I can listen to while I wait for your next episode?

    Thank you!
    >Bryan

  9. craig says:

    Where can I aquire a copy of the nerd trope cards used on the Dragonmeet and FanExpo Canada episodes?

  10. Ed says:

    Hi guys! Long time listener first time…commenter?

    I just picked up a great space opera game whose name rhymes with Blashen Bars, and was wondering if Misters Ken and Robin had any particular advice to running the Space Opera or Sci-Fi genre, distinct from how us blue collar GMs approach the well worn genres of fantasy and horror? Also, why hasn’t Space Opera had a pillar game in the hobby like D&D or CoC?

  11. Brett Evill says:

    As a fan of Jack Vance whose enthusiasm is so unhinged that I can’t describe it without off-colour similes, I am more thrilled than I can say in a PG-13 blog comment by the prospect of Robin’s up-coming “Gaean Reach” RPG. From the crumbs of rumour I hoover up around the ‘Net I gather that the game will be specialised to support adventures dominated by Vance’s common theme of the protagonist taking revenge for a devastatingly traumatic wrong against an enemy accustomed to impunity. “The Demon Princes” series would seem to act as an archetype story, though of course one can readily imagine it stretching to cover, say, “Maske:Thaery” or “Emphyrio”. But what if one’s favourite Vance SF were more about the struggle of the protagonist against the unalterable horribleness of [a] society: “Durdane”, perhaps, or “Wyst: Alastor 1716″, even the Tschai series. What if one wanted to run investigative scenarios in the Gaean Reach and Alastor Cluster, like the “Araminta Station” or “Marune: Alastor 933″? What if one were inspired by one of Vance’s less traumatised and driven heroes, such as Glinnes Hulden (“Trullion: Alastor 2262″) or Myron Tany (“Ports of Call”, “Lurulu”)? Is there love for Magnus Ridolph? Please tell me there is an appendix suggesting these variant modes, like the “Martini, Straight Up —” and “Dunwich Sanction” variants in “Night’s Black Agents”.

    Talk, Robin! Whet my appetite for the “Gaean Reach RPG” to the point of frenzy.

  12. Brett Evill says:

    FOR THE WEBMASTER

    Does it occur to anyone else as it does to me that it would be convenient to be able to post comments to huts rather than to episodes or “About”? That seems like the obvious and tidy way of offering commissions to Time Incorporated, Asking Ken and Robin, and whittering about any of the many hats that have not recently been worn in public.

    — Brett

  13. Brian Kelsay says:

    Question about the iTunes feed. I recently subscribed and find that I can only download from iTunes episodes 57-65 or 67, whichever is the latest number. I don’t seem able to get the ones older than 57 to pull down thru iTunes.

    Maybe I’m missing some wizardry of iTunes or I need to wave a dead chicken whilst invoking the power of Shub-Niggurath. I have done a right-click on the title in my podcast folder and chosen download old episodes, but still no Cthuloid love.

    Perhaps I should just go gibber in the corner and await he who comes, but I would really like to listen to these on my crappy work iPhone.

    I wait.

    • Robin says:

      A flare has been sent up to our technical wizard.

    • Jeromy French says:

      I got behind on listening and when I came back, there are episodes no longer available to listen to on iTunes which is now only showing the last 10 at any given time like the above listening also noted. Of course, one can also download the episodes from this website which I had to do.

      • Robin says:

        Our tech detective is on the case.

        • Hyperlexic says:

          Just a quick note that I’ve just learned of this podcast as well and I have the same issue… i’ve downloaded the first 4 by hand, will check again later to see if there’s an autodownload version.

      • Brian Kelsay says:

        I like to start a podcast from the beginning once I decide I like it and usually grab 3-4 at a time. Yes, I could manually get them, but 56 downloads is a bit daunting. I imagine also, if I gorge myself on that many that they will cap out on bandwidth. It is the end of the month though. :-D

        • Brian Kelsay says:

          All episodes have now appeared in iTunes. Thank the tech wizard and throw the poor boy a snack. He did his job well so we mere mortals may now bathe in a smorgasbord of occultism, history, Torontic film and wild statements by our dear hosts.

          I really appreciate the effort and this most intelligent of shows.

  14. Jeromy French says:

    Not that I haven’t gotten more than my fair share of love on the podcast, but one question I’ve had in the back of my head for awhile is for the Writing Hut:

    How does one go about writing short stories? How do they differ from novels in approach?

    Also, would love to hear more about how the Stone Skin Anthologies are put together. How do you select authors? Do you give them ideas? Do people get rejected or revised? A window into those books (especially since another couple are coming out soon) would be fascinating. To me at least.

  15. Steven Roman says:

    On the flip side, this long-time fan thanks you both for many years of excellent gaming products and materials (I still have and use Feng Shui, Nightmares of Mine, and Suppressed Transmission, among others), and for this excellent podcast, where every episode has quality topical conversations and considerations, and useful, gameable ideas.

    I do wish there were more podcasts like this one.

  16. Leeman says:

    I’d love to hear a consulting occultist about gay, right-wing, Thelemite film-maker Kenneth Anger.

    Sounds like a story that has everything!

  17. Brett Evill says:

    Do you suppose that Time INcorporated would warm up the Time Machine and send Ken to prevent the Fourth Crusade from sacking Constantinople?

  18. Eugene Katz says:

    Looking forward to your next episode where I’m guessing this will get some hut time:

    http://www.theminorityreportblog.com/2014/03/09/fbi-opens-files-proving-hitler-went-to-argentina/

  19. greg gray says:

    A question first-time game groups and rule-book format.

    I’ve never played a roleplaying game before but I have read several rulebooks and roleplaying blogs so I think I have at least a rudimentary idea of what roleplaying is. I’m not in a position to join an experienced group but do have several friends interested in starting to play as a group.

    But while reading a rule-book for a generic system recently I realised that for a novice like myself and my friends, such rule-books are structured back to front and present little of the information we need to begin to play.

    The common format seems to be to start the book with the largest section, covering character creation, continue with a smaller section on game mechanics (mainly covering combat), and then end with the smallest section of all on running and playing the game.

    For people wanting to play their first game, this last section, I’d argue, is the most important aspect of the game while character creation is the least important.

    Are rule-books generally written assuming at least one player in the group will have played roleplaying games before?

    Are there commercial reasons why first time groups of players are, in my opinion, not catered for better?

    Learning to roleplay is daunting and without joining a preexisting gamegroup I feel that, the books I’ve read at least, don’t teach me how to do it.

    Thanks,
    Greg

  20. Jeff R. says:

    I’ve been slowing working my way backward through the archive and recently reached Episode 15, where you did an interesting Ask Ken and Robin about an alternate history in which a more reasonable Great Britain leads to no American Revolution and, ultimately, a Dominion of America. I’d like to Ask Ken and Robin to tackle the opposite scenario in the same way, in which a less reasonable Great Britain induces Montreal, Halifax, and Quebec to become the 14th, 15th and 16th colonies, discussing the specifics of how this more north-heavy United States comes to be and differently grapples with the Slavery question.

  21. Fridrik Bjarnason says:

    Request for the “Time Machine / Ask Ken and Robin”
    Would Ken be so kind as to talk about characters in history who are so serendipitous or who’s life is so ridiculously unlikely that they must have been under cover chrononauts/time-travelers.

    Of course I’m only asking for chrononauts who’s identity has been declassified, we can’t ask him to break the nondisclosure agreement.

  22. Chris O. says:

    Ask Ken and Robin:

    One of the major distinguishing characteristics between table top RPGs and video games has been that the latter were limited to pre-scripted and randomly/procedurally generated elements. Video games, while providing a great deal of immersion through visuals, provide a relatively flat experience compared to the paper and pencil variety –at least from the table top player’s perspective.

    There are a number of virtual tabletops which can facilitate RPG play via computers or mobile devices, and they are increasingly using more elaborate visual elements. Recently, however; this is being approached from the opposite end. “Game Master” modes are creeping into multiplayer computer games. While this is nothing new for games that bear ancestry to the table top, it’s been appearing in other genres. The starship bridge simulator Artemis has a game master console, and the shooter/military sandbox series Arma now has a Zeus mode.

    Both of these features allow an elected player to populate and depopulate the environment spontaneously, throw in pre-scripted events or content, take control of or direct in game-entities, speak through characters, and alter the properties of entities on the fly; in addition to granting the player a god’s eye view of the world. Beneath this layer, these games function normally; handling things like combat, movement, actions, physics, inventory, and skill use.

    What do Ken and Robin think? Is there potential here? If the interface was not too cumbersome, would combining a digital “real time” environment with traditional role playing enhance the experience or detract from it?

  23. Brett Evill says:

    TO: Time Incorporated

    RE: The Albigensian Crusade

    Dear sirs:

    Without endorsing the heresies of the Cathars or condoning their repellent customs, the clients nevertheless deplore the loss of life, the brutal maimings, and the lasting economic damage done in the Languedoc 1208–1229, also, the fatal disruption of Occitan culture and the permanent rupture between Catalonia and Languedoc occasioned by the French annexation of the County of Toulouse. We would therefore like to entertain a proposal by Mr Hite for an intervention using his time machine to either head the whole thing off early or to bring it to a more satisfactory result.

    Yours faithfully,

    Agents for the clients

  24. Brett Evill says:

    Dear Ken

    What happened to the Knights Templars? Why did it happen to them rather than to, say, the Hospitallers, the Order of Calatrava, the Order of Alcantara, the Mercedarians, the Teutonic Knights, the Knights of St Thomas Acon, the Knights of Santiago, or some others of that bunch? Why have the Templars and their fate exerted such a powerful hold over the imaginations of conspiracy theorists and that lot? What’s the best use of Templars you have made in one of your games? How can I best use the Templars in my games?

    Sincerely,

    — Brett

  25. Brett Evill says:

    Ken? Robin?

    What do you have to tell us about the problems of RPGs in which the PCs’ adventure activities are subject to the orders and supervision of their superiors, whether those be NPCs or fellow PCs. I’ve had only occasional trouble with it in my own games, despite running lots and lots of adventures in which the PCs were a small team with one of them in an official leadership position and all subject to direction from an NPC field controller. Also, I’ve run a lot of spaceship such in which the captain (PC or NPC) was in charge. But I hear other gamers complaining that they find it very troublesome and steer clear of the situation. What am I probably doing right that I can’t put my finger on?

    — Brett

    • Sean Phelan says:

      I would like to second the motion on this topic as a discussion point.

      I’ve been running a campaign for fifteen months where the players are juniors in an uber fascist organization that orders them around with regularity. The Cell of Dark Heresy acolytes continue to seem quite fine with this arrangement, but from time-to-time player agency concerns come to mind. I would love to hear luminaries wax eloquent upon this.
      Cheers

  26. Chris Lehrich says:

    Supposing (just hypothetically) that one were wishing to enter the freelance writing world, and wanted among other things to get known as an “interesting person with interesting and potentially bizarre or exciting ideas.” On the off-chance that you know anyone like this…

    What kind of blog post length, structure, and so forth seems to you most effective in reaching the rapid-skimming online audience? That is, when you don’t have a set contract to fulfill for X words and Y structure, what’s a good baseline default for “I had this neat idea” or “I was just reading this weird thing” if you want to post online and get some recognition? (Assuming, obviously, that you write well, do so regularly, and are in fact interesting — you’ve talked about those issues in other parts of the podcast.)

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