Jason Vey is the owner of Elf Lair Games and, in his own words, is the successful ttrpg writer you've never heard of. His resume includes his own products as well as work for Troll Lord Games, Palladium Books, Eden Studios, Misfit Studios, Iron Crown, Cubicle 7, and Goodman Games, among others.
Question: In addition to writing for the Troll Lords and Castles and Crusades you have written your own stuff. Most of my readers are fans of old school gaming, and may not have heard about Night Shift, powered by the O.G.R.E.S system (Oldschool Generic Roleplaying Engine System). Can you talk a bit about Night Shift, the game of supernatural horror? How did it come about, and what niche do you think it fills in the gaming market? Answer: First, thanks for having me for the interview! Night Shift: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars, or Night Shift: VSW, is a game of urban fantasy and horror, capable of handling any style or level of grit. If you want to play a dark Lovecraftian game, it can do it. If you want a heroic urban fantasy game in the vein of Lost Girl, Supernatural, or Buffy, it can handle that. Something between, like Ash vs. Evil Dead? Night Shift: VSW can do it. The game uses familiar old-school mechanics that were inspired by the very oldest version of the World’s Most Famous RPG (the one that came in the woodgrain/white box), but is codified and streamlined to demystify the mechanics. More on that below, though. Night Shift: VSW came about when I did a blog about how to do games like Buffy using the rules from the Oldest and Most Famous RPG. The next day, my co-author Tim Brannan, who has been a friend and colleague for decades and with whom I worked on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG and All Flesh Must Be Eaten, messaged me and said, “Why are we not writing this RPG? Nobody can do it like us!” Long story short (too late): Tim knows me well and he knew just by putting that worm in my ear it would happen.
Q: Can you talk about your relationship with Troll Lord Games and the products you have written for them? I confess that I am not super familiar with Castles and Crusades, although I have a number of their Codexes. What are some selling points of C&C that the average OSR gamer may not be aware of? A: I’ve been with TLG since the early 2000s (2008 or thereabouts). I’ve worked on C&C and I am the sole designer (currently; though we’re working to change that) and line developer on Amazing Adventures. The relationship between C&C and Amazing Adventures is, C&C is our flagship high fantasy game, while AA lets you do anything else using the exact same rules. The two games are really one gigantic game that lets you plumb the multiverse for any kind of adventure you like. C&C started in 2005, and Steve Chenault, the owner of TLG is much better equipped than me to tell that story. But I like to say it takes everything that made AD&D cool, dumps the extraneous complexity, and replaces it with a streamlined d20 check system. A lot of people say it’s similar to 5e. The truth is, C&C did what 5e is doing a decade before 5e took credit for the “innovation,” and C&C still does it better because it’s less complex. The SIEGE Engine that powers C&C and AA works off of a very streamlined ability check system. Everything in the game is a basic ability check. You have 2 types of attributes: Primary and Secondary. For a Prime check you need a base difficulty of 12. For a Secondary check, you need a base of 18. The target is modified by the difficulty of the task, usually between 1 and 10. It’s really that simple. Even combat works that way, though the AC becomes your target number and the base to hit and ability bonus replace the Primary/Secondary check.
Q: I'd also like to hear more about O.G.R.E.S. As I understand it, it is basically your "house system" used for Night Shift and Spellcraft and Swordplay. What do you think it does really well that other systems may not do? Are there any little quirks or aspects of it that you are especially proud of? A: Again, O.G.R.E.S. is built off of the oldest version of That Famous RPG. You will recognize the 6 attributes and their ability bonuses right off. It uses three mechanics, all baked into the original game, and codified in a way that not only makes O.G.R.E.S. intuitive, but demystifies the 0e, 1e, and 2e versions of that game as well. Ability checks and combat use a d20 mechanic: roll a d20, add bonuses, and try to get a 20 or better. Class abilities like spell casting, moving silently, tracking, etc., use a straight percentile roll. Try to get under the percentage to succeed. We have jettisoned so-called “Vancian” magic in favor of a percentile-based spellcasting system to unify how class abilities work. Finally, there’s the Rule of 2. If you’ll recall, in the older versions of the game, elves would detect secret doors on a 1 or 2 on a d6. Same thing when someone was trying to hear a noise behind a closed door if they weren’t a thief. Surprise also happened on a 1 or 2 on a d6. That’s the Rule of 2. Any time the GM needs to adjudicate a situation quickly and doesn’t know how to do it, they just need a basic idea of how likely something is to happen. Then based on that idea, they grab a die, throw it, and if it comes up 1 or 2, something happens. That’s O.G.R.E.S. in a nutshell. The three mechanics give you a quick reference of what each character is doing at any given time. It cuts down on, “Wait, what is she doing? Can I try, too?” If she’s throwing percentile dice, she’s probably using an ability specific to her class. If she’s rolling a d20, it’s likely an ability check and you can probably try it too. And so on and so forth. Playtesters found it really speeds up play and keeps things fast and fun. That being said, for those who prefer unified mechanics, we provide guidelines to convert the whole game to either percentile or d20-based (your choice) in our Night Companion sourcebook.
Q: Finally, talk a bit about what you're currently working on. Feel free to plug upcoming products or other items of interest. A: For Troll Lord, we are working on a huge re-launch of Amazing Adventures that is going to bring the whole game line more in sync with C&C, and present it with a Players’ Handbook, Chronicle Keeper’s Guide, and Codex Monstorum. It’s a monumental reorganization and re-presentation of the rules that we are very excited about. For O.G.R.E.S. we have a number of irons in the fire, which are not coming along as quickly as I’d like, but that’s why we usually don’t announce things in advance. I am currently working on our next core RPG, the Howardian/Lovecraftian Swords and Sorcery game called Wasted Lands: The Dreaming Age. In it, you will play human warriors, sorcerers, and rogues fighting to claim the world for humanity in the millennia after the Great Old Ones were sent into their eternal slumber. In the process, you will climb the ladder to become the heroes and legends that later humankind will remember as gods like Odin, Thor, Freyja, Isis, Osiris, Seth, Mielikki, Bes, Inanna, Bran, Brighid, Athena, Tyr, Phobos, and others. It, too, will be Powered by O.G.R.E.S. Finally, I’m super excited to announce that Elf Lair Games has become the very first tabletop RPG company ever to have our own official mead! I have been brewing mead for about 15 years; it’s a passion of mine, and I collaborated with a local meadery, Apis Mead & Wine in Carnegie, Pa, to craft Twilight Queen, a buckwheat honey mead with black cherry, vanilla, allspice, and cinnamon. It ties into our Night Shift: VSW RPG as the favorite drink of Maeve Antinea, an important NPC in our City of the Twilight Queen mini-setting. We are having a big release party at Apis on October 8, and we’ll have gaming events, giveaways, and the mead and game will be on sale. For those who can’t get there, Apis can ship to most states through Vinoshipper and it will be available from there on the 8th as well. I’ve attached a promo image if you want to use it. Elf Lair Games can be found online at https://www.elflair.com/ or my TLG work can be found at https://www.trolllord.com/
https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/--300193/coming_soon/x/30090184 Thanks again for having me!