Tim Brannan is a game author who, in addition to his own books, co-wrote the Night Shift with Jason Vey. He is also a prolific blogger, with his blog, the Other Side, updating almost daily with a mixture of reviews and his own work.
Question: We'll just cut right to the chase. I wanted to interview you in time for Halloween because, as you said, "Halloween is your jam." A lot of your products are horror-themed: the Night Shift is an OSR-game of modern supernatural horror, and you've got a wealth of witch-themed classes. What draws you to the genre? Can you recommend some inspirational reading or viewing that you find especially appropriate?
Answer: I have always loved horror. Some of my earliest memories are watching the Universal Horror monsters, Hammer Horror, and "Dark Shadows." I knew who Bela Lugosi was before I even knew who the president at the time was (Spoiler: It was Jerry Ford). My mom loved telling all of us kids these creepy ass horror stories and I would sit with my dad and watch "Monster Movies" what I called horror back then along with Godzilla movies. Also, keep in mind I was growing up in the 1970s when there was a new occult rival. Time Magazine (my parents were subscribers) had the Devil on the cover. I remember reading about Anton Le Vey, Alex and Maxine Sanders, and more in the growing occult movement. All of it fascinated me so much.
For reading, I am going to cheat and refer you to my "Appendix O" on my blog. If Appendix N covers the literary influences of AD&D/D&D then my Appendix O covers mine. Yes. I know there is an Appendix O in the DMG. This one is mine.
For required viewing, again a cheat, I am going to direct everyone to my October Horror Movie Challenge I do every year. This year is a mixed bag so far, but I am leaning heavily into witches again.
Q. I've never really found D&D to be a great system for emulating horror. Do you have any tips for DMs trying to incorporate horror into their D&D game? Are there any systems that you think do an exceptionally *good* job of bringing horror into fantasy gaming?
A. What we have here is the John McClane vs. Nancy Thompson problem. In horror movies, you have what is called "The Final Girl" the last one left alive to confront the killer or sometime (in the Gothic Horror tradition) just the last to die. She is typified by Nancy Thompson from A Nightmare on Elm Street. She spends 90% of her time afraid, running away, and screaming. But. If you take her and replace Heather Langenkamp with Bruce Willis you have John McClane from Die Hard. John McClane is the last one standing, but only because he took everyone else out. D&D heroes are all John McClane. To get to a proper sense of horror in D&D you need to shift the power dynamic. Not make the big bad superpowerful, but every bad now has power. Take away some character power. Not "Nerf" them, but put them in a place where their skills, their magic, or their abilities will not serve them as in the past. Keep the characters AND the players in the dark. They should not know everything, and in many horror tropes, they shouldn't really know anything at all. I prefer to set the mood with setting and roleplaying than to rely on "horror checks" or other mechanical means.
It is something I have been calling Heroic Horror. NIGHT SHIFT does this and many of my homegrown adventures, like "Spector Detectors" do this. The heroes are still heroes, but the evils they face are still great, powerful, and largely hidden.
As far as systems go. A good fear check is helpful, but everyone reacts differently to fear in real life. Fear is just as likely to make a hero mad or determined than to run away. I strongly dislike most sanity systems in games too. As a game designer, psychologist, and former Qualified Mental Health Professional, I also find many of the sanity systems to be laughingly bad. I give Call of Cthulhu a break because of how it is baked into the system and the genre they are emulating. The rest just kind of suck really.
Q. Talk about your witch projects. What drew you to the theme? You've written a number of witch classes (available on Drivethru), and also have done some interesting series of blog posts where you create witch characters in different systems. Do you have a favorite version of the witch class that you've written? How about that someone else has? A> Going back to the 70s and my fascination with horror I was really enthralled with witches. My mom claims it was the Wicked Witch of the West in Wizard of Oz when I was a kid. But it was also likely equal parts of Angelique from Dark Shadows and Stevie Nicks. I have read so much over the decades and there are still more things for me to talk about. Now which one is my favorite? This is like asking which of my kids ar my favorite! But I do have a soft spot in my heart for my "Basic Witches: The Pumpkin Spice Tradition." It started out as a joke while I was working on my Pagan Witch book. But the project was so much fun that I had to keep at it.
As for other authors' witches, I usually find something in each I really like. I mean I am a fan of the class and all. I am a huge fan of the Dragon Magazine #114 witch. I just got done reviewing a bunch of classes from Jeremy Reaban and he has a witch, a warlock, and a couple of other related classes that are a lot of fun. Vince Garcia's witch in his Quest of the Ancients RPG is also great and he might be the only person I can think of that has written as much as I have on them.
I have, since July, been doing something I am calling 100 Days of Halloween, where I have been reviewing all sorts of other witch-related game products every night. So you can see what I think of all the ones I have bought over the years. https://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/search/label/%23100DaysOfHalloween Q. Finally, tell us about what you're working on. I'm also interested to hear more about your blog; how you maintain such a consistent output of work.
A. Oh wow. Well, I have a few projects I have needed to get done. I have an adventure that I am referring too as "Halfling Folk Horror" so think "The Wickerman" but set in Hobbiton. I have all the art, maps, and more I just need to finish the adventure. I am still moving forward with my "Basic Bestiary" idea because I do love monsters, but it looks like it might take a different shape in 2023. Depends on how much I get done in November. I have a few NIGHT SHIFT ideas including an adventure that are nowhere near ready yet. I also want to get out a free witch SRD for the OSR. This would be a free product with the very basics for a witch class that anyone can use to create their own works. Again, I have all the art and text, it just needs to be edited.
For my blog. I write a lot at night. I don't sleep much to be honest. I don't have trouble sleeping, I usually fall asleep as soon as I lay down, I just don't need a lot of it. So I write. I schedule posts ahead of time and use a social media management tool so that my blog is off doing its thing while I am working at the day job.
The blog itself is the resurrection of one of the first websites I ever made. I wanted a place to house all my "netbooks" and ideas for various games. I also wanted a place where I could talk about any game I wanted, how I wanted. So that is why I am not really exclusive to D&D. I also like to talk about WitchCraftRPG, Buffy, and Ghosts of Albion all from Eden Studios, superhero RPGs, and of course books and movies.
I don't spend my time talking about things I don't like. Yeah, a scathing review might get me the clicks but it won't get me my time back. I want to talk about the things I enjoy, the games I like, the books I love, and so on.
I keep thinking I am going to run out of things to say and next thing I know it is another couple hundred posts later!