RPG Industry Professional Interview: Fred Hicks
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Here's what Fred had to say when I asked him for an introduction:

"I’m a dad, a gamer, and a game publisher. I run Evil Hat Productions. I’ve done freelance art direction and layout work for the occasional other game publisher, most notably Hero Games (much of the Hero 6th Edition line), and Galileo Games (Bulldogs!). Evil Hat has steadily grown to the point where that’s my sole work focus these days. The rest of the time I look after my kids and spend time with my wife. Life is good!"

Fred is also a member of the RPG Geek Community:
Fred Hicks
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1. RPG Item: First Quest [Average Rating:6.87 Overall Rank:2468]
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Any other gamers in your family?
Nope, I’m it, though I have two young kids I’m hoping to bring in as they grow.

How did you get into the hobby?

Third grade, 19[REDACTED]. A friend of mine named Eamon was playing with a strange assortment of dice on the playground. *Bewilderingly,* some of the dice had more or less than six sides. I had to know more.

I don’t know that I really “played” any roleplaying game in anything other than the most basic of ways between that time and high school, but boy howdy was I interested in reading them, creating characters by myself as I guess my own version of solitaire, and occasionally making fitful efforts to actually *do things as those characters*. High school finally got me in touch with a few more folks who were interested in that doing things part. Games were played. Casio sampling keyboards were used.

College is where it really started to take off, in great thanks to both the discovery of the Fudge RPG system and, most importantly, Amber Diceless. Amber drove a ton of my face to face gaming at that point, and even more of my online gaming via MUSHes, which is where I met the lion’s share of the folks I game with, still, today.
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2. RPG Item: Shaping the Self [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
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Did any of your previous jobs or education help you become a game designer?

Not a bit. All of the stuff I’ve learned that I’ve put to use in the game industry has been self-taught, or a side effect rather than a direct effect. I mean, sure, I started out as a Math major, went through two other focuses when that didn’t work out, then settled on a third to get my degree in English, but aside from my coursework giving me practice at some building-blocks stuff (how to write, how to math), there wasn’t much. My jobs were either “pass the time” jobs like data entry or, later, tech-focused in the internet industry. As far as games and game publishing go, my teachers were the games themselves and the folks I met through those games, and self-taught things like desktop publishing.
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3. System: Fate Core
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What was the first project you worked on? What was that like?

It’s always hard to identify a “first” because implicit in that question is “when did your tinkering around with established games turn into ‘a project’ in any real sense?” and I honestly don’t know. It’s more a gradient than a mode-shift. I eased into it by way of hacking. Which I suppose is fitting given that the first way any work I did (with Rob Donoghue) got noticed was with a hack of the Fudge RPG system in the late 90s we called Fate. Prior to that it was things like collaborating with Rob Donoghue and Lydia Leong on scenarios for 18-24 player Amber-themed LARPs for AmberCon Northwest, hodgepodge homebrews of one sort or another, that kind of thing. But it’s hard to point at any one of those things and say with confidence, “that was the first."
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4. Board Game: Don't Turn Your Back [Average Rating:7.01 Overall Rank:4103]
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What’s the most recent project you’ve worked on and what’s great about it?

The recently-concluded Kickstarter for *Don’t Turn Your Back*. Eric Vogel designed an incredible deck builder/worker placement/area control hybrid board game, and pleased me greatly by fitting it together with the theme and setting of the first RPG I published commercially, *Don’t Rest Your Head*. I playtested the game personally, helped with the theming, gave Eric some specific directed feedback about gameplay, and did all of the art direction and graphic design for the game. I really think this game is something special — the gameplay is compelling with multiple strategies for a win, and the combination of elements make it somehow better than any single one of them. The Kickstarter funded and we’re going to be releasing the game later this year.

A sidebar, there: Sometimes when you design and publish games for a living you get into this headspace where once you’ve published a game, you’re done with it, maybe a little sick of it. Everyone else is spinning up because the game is fresh and new to them, but you’ve usually already had a multi-year relationship with it and are feeling like it’s time to move on. Totally natural, and eventually I usually circle back around to wanting a game in my life again after a while. With Don’t Turn Your Back, none of that has happened for me; I’m just as excited about the game today as I was when I got started with it, and I really can’t wait to get it in front of people to play. Just a few more months.

At any rate, other recent projects I’ve worked on include the long-awaited supplement to the *Dresden Files RPG, The Paranet Papers*. As seems to be the trend for that line, that book took a long time to bring to fruition, but the team has really blown me away with this one. We manage to tour a number of previously unilluminated corners of the Dresdenverse, including Las Vegas, the early-20th-Century Russian Revolution, South America, the “Neverglades”, and the backroads of the USA and the Nevernever. And that’s just *part* of the book. It’s in preorder right now through evilhat.com and participating game stores, and folks can get the PDF right away when they plaice their preorder.

In the past year I also pushed Evil Hat to see what we could make of the Patreon subscription-based crowdfunding site, and the result has been our Fate Adventures & Worlds Patreon, which has already kicked out several great settings and rulesets for Fate Core, including Venture City Stories, The Secrets of Cats, The Aether Sea, Save Game, Romance in the Air, Psychedemia, and Eagle Eyes. Maybe more! My memory is horrible. These sets for Fate are way better, and way prettier, than I had any right to expect when we kicked off the project, and it’s opened up the ability for Evil Hat to provide more ongoing support for the Fate Core line than I would’ve thought we could manage.
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What games influenced you?

Semi-chronologically, D&D, Gamma World (1st Edition), Marvel Superheroes (FASERIP), Champions, GURPS, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness, Spades, Amber Diceless, Fudge, Torg, Sheepshead, Magic the Gathering, Shadowfist, Exalted, Shadows Over Camelot, Ascension, Sentinels of the Multiverse, Dungeon World, Monster of the Week -- there are probably missing elements in there, but all of those are where my gamer DNA hails from & is at, today.
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6. RPG: Monster of the Week [Average Rating:7.62 Overall Rank:45]
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What are you playing right now or most recently?

As a GM, I’m running a Monster of the Week campaign, which may wrap in another few sessions. I’m thinking about running Icons Assembled next.

As a player, I haven’t had a lot of chances since my kids were born, but we recently concluded a Dungeon World campaign and are spinning up a D&D 5th Edition game now, both GM’d by Rob Donoghue. I’d love to do more! But time is … fleeting.

As a board gamer, … see below.
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7. RPG Designer: Erick Wujcik
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Who is one of your favorite RPG Designers?

Eric Wujcik for sure. He’s left multiple fingerprints on my gaming brain over the years.

But really, it’s hard to play favorites. Everyone whose games I’ve read has brought something to the table — I think one of the things that game design and publishing does to you (or maybe it’s one of the things that drives people to get into game design and publishing) is make you into something of an omnivore. Everything is delicious, so it’s hard to sort out what rates as the “tops”.
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8. RPG: Feng Shui [Average Rating:7.10 Overall Rank:88]
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What RPG do you wish you had designed?

Feng Shui. Ask me tomorrow and I’ll probably answer something different!
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9. Board Game: Sentinels of the Multiverse [Average Rating:7.26 Overall Rank:329] [Average Rating:7.26 Unranked]
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What non-RPG (either card, board, or video) games do you play?

I’m playing Sentinels of the Multiverse and Sentinels Tactics when I get the opportunity. I went through a spate of deckbuilding for a while, but I’ve fallen off of that, especially now that Evil Hat has published takes on that genre (Zeppelin Attack! as well as Don't Turn Your Back) that are more in the pocket for me. I also play a fair amount of Carcassonne on my iPhone, among other apps; I favor board games & puzzle games.
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10. RPG: Bulldogs! (Fate) [Average Rating:7.34 Overall Rank:271]
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If you had to point someone to an overlooked RPG product, what would that be?

Man, what’s overlooked? Hm. The aforementioned impact of small kids on my gaming makes this even harder! (Really, the right person to ask this is Rob Donoghue.)

But I might say *Monster of the Week* even tho we’re the publisher of its latest edition; part of the reason I offered (to Generic Games/Michael Sands, the creator/publisher of the first edition) to publish the revised edition was to get it out to more people, into game stores, etc. Probably my favorite iteration of the Apocalypse Engine so far, tho that’s partly because it plays directly to my personal sensibilities.

But reaching beyond Evil Hat’s stuff, I’d point folks at Bulldogs! There’s a Kickstarter going on right now for a new edition based on Fate Core, but the earlier edition from a few years ago — which I did layout on, full disclosure — was a real treat, but I’m not sure it got onto enough folks’ radars as it deserved to. There are things that Brennan Taylor & Brian Engard did in that game that were really influential to us as we were working on Fate Core, particularly in terms of how they chose to present the skills. If the idea of playing “Han Solo the RPG” in a universe of homicidal foulmouthed teddy-bears and shady dealings sounds up your alley, definitely check it out.
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11. RPG Item: The Book of Water [Average Rating:7.57 Overall Rank:5889]
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*Bonus Question*
What are you drinking right *now*?

Water! I got into the habit of hydrating pretty constantly, a couple decades back at least. Restaurants where I was a regular during college quickly learned to bring a pitcher to my table rather than have to go into constant refill mode.
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