Updated: May 13, 2022
Planar Compass is two people: D.M. Wilson and Sarah Brunt. They have just wrapped up a successful Kickstarter for the 3rd Issue of the Planar Compass 'zine. This issue will feature a class designed by Erin Smale, who I'm also a big fan of. I'm lucky enough to carry some of their products in my webstore, but you can also find them online in a variety of places.
Question: I first became aware of your books with the Planar Compass 'zine, but I now know that you've written some rules-lite mini games, as well. What inspirations do you draw on when working on a project?
Sarah: I know it’s vague, but everywhere. Sometimes it’s an album, sometimes it’s something on the side of the road, sometimes it’s a series of increasingly negative interactions with that one person at the post office…We keep a doc that’s just labeled “The Crazy Idea Bucket.”
Dan: I’m definitely trying to capture a certain vibe that I have in my head. It may not even be something I can put into words. It’s a combination of aesthetic, narrative tone, the music I’m listening to to get in the mood, movies, novels, video games, and often a particular place in time (or the romantic idea of it). It's a kind of mood board that exists in my head.
Question: Planar Compass is the work of two people, Dan and Sarah. Can you talk a little bit about your collaborative process and how you work together?
Sarah: Usually, if the idea came from me it’s something we discuss and tinker with until it snowballs into something cool. If the idea came from Dan, he’ll have something 80% of the way there while I’m not even looking. The great thing about a partnership is when one of us gets stuck the other can come in with fresh eyes. They’ll immediately see what’s missing, or what needs bending and twisting.
Dan: I think of it almost like a game of tennis or something where we are just passing an idea back and forth as long as possible, keeping it in the air. When we can’t pass it anymore, it’s “done”.
Question: I'm a big fan of the psionic system you introduced in Issue 1. Psionics is, I feel, a difficult thing to introduce into a fantasy system, but I think that what you introduced meshes extremely well with the B/X-style game. Can you talk a little bit about how you approached it from a design perspective?
Sarah: This is one of the instances where I walked in and Dan had the whole thing buttoned up.
Dan: The psionics system was an attempt to create the feeling of the late 70’s/ early 80’s but arrive at something relatively simple and easy to pick up. I’m not sure I achieved that but it was certainly an interesting exercise. In essence, it is a restatement of the 2nd edition system but massively distilled down to its bare elements. I tried to get it down to the point where the only things presented were what was absolutely needed to function. As such, it relies heavily on interpretation but I think that’s in the B/X spirit. From there it was an attempt to keep it in the same relative power scale to the rest of B/X and present it in the OSE style and philosophy.
Question: Finally, how did the two of you get into gaming and what sort of games do you like to play?
Sarah: I was a musical theater kid in high school, so improvisation and desperate bids for attention are kind of my wheelhouse. Our “Zeppo Marx” Ben, is how I ended up getting into tabletop roleplaying games in earnest and how I met Dan. Ben and I were in both the drama club and an overpowered chess club in high school together. We played mostly Risk, Magic, had LAN parties and read Hamlet in the original Klingon. The kind of stuff you do when both of those clubs overlap a lot. I had always wanted to play Dungeons and Dragons but not badly enough to read the manuals or run a game. So a decade or so later Ben says to me “hey I finally got into Dnd and I wanna ask the DM if there’s an opening in the next campaign if you can join.” So I get an email from Dan with a list of character ideas and he says to pick one and let him know if I have any ideas on backstory to flesh it out, and I send him back this ridiculous document I fabricated off of a Google Doc Pet Resume Template (link). The next thing you know we’re writing together.
I like to play a little bit of everything. I prefer to play ttrpg’s that are light on rules and keep everyone engaged. It is my dream to design a game that’s intended to be played while hiking or walking. I also really enjoy journaling games and ongoing background games. There's a game I’m currently playing with my husband that’s called Don’t Get Got. It’s a board game that has little missions you have to complete with no time limit. So you can be playing it for days or months, it’s really nice because you don’t have to schedule a time to play it.
Dan: I think I wanted to play D&D for a long time before I got a chance to. My parents were fairly liberal but I think there were vestiges of the satanic panic buried within my Mom’s subconscious. This would have been in the late 90s. Eventually in the early 2000s I found friends to play 3rd edition with but I don’t think we ever played it really by the rules or had long term campaigns or anything. It would be many years before I would get that experience with 5e and 1e. I got into the OSR from learning about Searchers of the Unknown and eventually got enamored with the philosophies, games, and adventures I found there. From that point the whole indie scene began to slowly unfold to me.
I think I tend to enjoy simple old-school style games that are more about exploring an environment and achieving party goals. That being said, I'm really open to anything. I just want to play table games.