Russell Morrissey Interview

By on 22 November 2017
Xenomorphs EN Publishing

The WOIN supplement Xenomorphs: The Fall of Somerset Landing has had a very successful Kickstarter campaign and promises plenty of dark action-packed sci-fi grimness.

I got in touch with Russell Morrissey who, along with Darren Pearce and Angus Abranson, is bringing us this tale of terror and I asked him about the WOIN system and this eagerly anticipated book.

I’m going to assume that the first answer isn’t entirely accurate…


Jonathan Hicks: Welcome to the site! Please introduce yourself.

Russell Morrissey: I am Captain Kirk, and was the first man on Mars. I also invented the sea, and built Australia.

JH:Give us some background on you and the tabletop roleplaying hobby – what got you involved and what is it that you love about it?

RM:I started playing RPGs when I was about 10, way back in the 1980s. At the time we played at school – AD&D, mainly, but a whole slew of 80s games including FASA’s Star Trek RPG, Golden Heroes, the Games Workshop Judge Dredd RPG, and tons more. I’ve pretty much played ever since, including all editions of D&D, and a whole slew of other games. Right now I’m in a long Call of Cthulhu campaign, and a sci-fi WOIN campaign, and recently finished running Curse of Strahd for D&D 5E. So I’m a lifelong tabletop game hobbyist!

In 1999 I started working in the tabletop RPG industry, initially as a blogger/games reporter, and branching out into publishing. I run EN World, a tabletop RPG news and reviews website, and I also co-founded, and own, the ENnies, which are the premier tabletop RPG awards program. I’ve published over 300 RPG products over the last 20 years!

JH: WOIN (What Is Old Is New) is a popular system based around the humble D6. How did this come about?

RM: It was a gradual evolution, inspired both by the many games I played in the 1980s, and by many modern game design sensibilities. Initially, my goal was to publish my ideal sci-fi RPG; however, the fantasy themes of D&D (especially older D&D) always drew me back, so I ended up designing two fully compatible games which use the same system.

JH: There have been other D6 dice pool systems before – what makes WOIN different?

RM: I’ve played a lot of different dice systems over the years, and in truth there aren’t many I don’t like. I think I fell in love with dice pools way back when I played the WEG Ghostbusters RPG, which was the first dice pool game; that system evolved into WEG’s Star Wars d6 system. My goal when designing WOIN wasn’t to be super innovative or experimental, but to do something I knew, enjoyed, and do it well. It’s not the same as any other d6 dice pool system, but it definitely shares DNA with some.

WOIN includes a life-path character creation system, which I simply adore. I’ve always enjoyed life-path character creation systems; they feel immersive and organic to me, and the very process of creating our character also creates their background.

The dice pool system is an additive one which pools dice from your attribute (natural talent), skill (training), and equipment (higher quality equipment gives you more dice). You can then “spend” some of those dice on enhancements to your roll, and then roll to beat a target number. It’s very simple and intuitive, and that core mechanic drives the entire game. What I enjoy about it is that there is not direct link between attributes and skills – you can build a pool from any attribute, any skill, and any equipment, as long as your GM agrees it’s relevant. So if you’re climbing the side of a building, you might use AGILITY plus climbing, or architecture, or whatever skill you have that you think will help you climb this building.

I’m also very fond of the Countdown mechanic, which can be used to create tension when you need a duration but you don’t want the players to know when it’s up. Each turn, the Countdown pool of d6s is rolled, and any 6s are removed. When the last die is removed, the bomb goes off, or the building collapses, or the disease reaches its natural conclusion, or what-have-you. It’s a very simple, but effective mechanic.

The magic system gets a lot of attention. It’s a verb-noun system (like you may have seen in some other games), so you would combine a verb ( a skill you know) with a noun (a thing you know the “secret” of) to, say, create fire, or abjure ice, or summon beasts, or compel undead. You spend magic points to power your spell, adding enhancements at-will. It’s very freeform!

JH: Xenomorphs: The Fall of Somerset Landing was a very successful Kickstarter and looks to be delving into some serious dark sci-fi action, something that WOIN seems suited to. Inspirations aside, what was the draw to the dark horrific side of science fiction?

RM: Oh, man! I adore those movies! My wife can rattle off the names of all the Colonial Marines (which makes me envious).

We were brainstorming ways to show off what WOIN can do. The core system is very much a “toolkit”, and so it (by deign) lacks the setting elements which can draw people to the game. That’s both a strength and a weakness – it means it does its “here’s the sandbox; now build your universe!” approach to running a roleplaying game really, really well; but it does make it more difficult to market. So with that in mind, we discussed a range of different “settings” we could use to showcase the game. I can’t talk about all of them yet, but here’s some words associated with some of them: Manhattan, lower decks, exorcism, road rage….

Anyway, Xenomorphs was always going to be first. It’s just SO atmospheric, all that gritty sci-fi survival horror. And WOIN can lend itself so well to both heroic sic-fantasy or gritty, darker pieces. It has the tools to “dial” to either. Suffice it to say that in Xenomorphs, we took a bit of a cue from Call of Cthulhu: don’t necessarily expect to survive. Don’t worry; we have backup characters you can hot-swap into!

JH: Is there a larger world that Xenomorphs could explore? Are you producing any further supplements for the setting?

RM: Our book is about 60 pages long. The first half describes the setting – explored space, the United Marines, the Chen Zua corporation, adventure ideas and plot seeds, equipment, and so on.

So we have a 15-page adventure, which features the PCs arriving at Somerset Landing as colonists – miners, scientists, engineers, maybe a marine. It’s a dark, rain-soaked terraforming colony. And pretty soon, all hell breaks loose. The PCs won’t be having many stand-up fights (or if they do, they’ll be switching to new PCs pretty quick!)

That’s the plan – one book, one setting. We plan to release a few of these, covering different genres, really showing off the WOIN system and showing our love for certain archetypes of the silver screen. Any which prove really popular, we might consider for a bigger treatment, but right now that’s not a thing. Not yet, anyway.

JH: What more can we expect to see from WOIN in the future?

RM: So our biggest upcoming thing is the official Judge Dredd & The Worlds of 2000 AD RPG. That will be out this winter. It’s a gorgeous full-colour hardcover book. We have the license not just for Judge Dredd, but for the entire range of 2000 AD properties, which provides us with a massive amount of completely different sci-fi and fantasy settings. We’re starting with Dredd, of course, but you can expect to see all sorts of 2000 AD goodness over the coming months and years.

We have N.O.W. the Modern Action roleplaying game coming out this winter, too. That’s all about superspies and action heroes, talking cars, and soldiers-of-fortune. Those who love those 80s TV shows will love that one. It even includes rules for Mutants!

About Jonathan Hicks

Jonathan Hicks has been gaming for thirty years and has covered almost every type of genre, system and setting. He also runs the RPG website Farsight Blogger and created the SKETCH system for Farsight Games.

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