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[PlayByMail.Net Interview] Sean Cleworth of Gad Games
Tell us the origin of Gad Games.

[Sean Cleworth] Gad Games, like most PBM companies, had a rather humble beginning. From the age of 14, I had always preferred to be the GameMaster, whenever our local role-playing group got together for a session of AD&D, RuneQuest, MERP, RM, etc.. However, the group started to dwindle, as I reached the age of 16/17. I think this would have been in the mid 80’s (1984/1985).

It was at this point that I stumbled upon Flagship (an early UK issue - #3 tends to stick in my mine – it was a full colour cover of a Super Hero). I bought it by mistake, actually, thinking it was to do with table-top RPG! Anyway, this is how I got into PBM, and I started playing a number of games such as Vulcan Wars, StarWeb, Midgard and a few others that I can’t remember. For some reason, I didn’t really grasp the whole PBM thing for a while, but eventually, I got it, and that was when I caught the PBM bug.

Although I played a varied number of games (computer, mixed and hand moderated), I initially related to the hand-moderated games, especially the fantasy games such as Saturnalia, Crasimoff’s World, AEs, etc..

At some point (I can’t quite remember when, but it must have been when I was about 16 or 17, as I was studying for A Levels), I decided to start up my own hand moderated game called ‘World of Chaos’. It was relatively successful, right from the outset. At the time, I was still living at home in a small village in the countryside in Cornwall. Our house was quite old and large. My bedroom was on the third floor (actually an attic room with its own stairwell, and it was actually quite a cool setting), and it was from here that Gad Games was born.

During my first year of A Levels, more and more of my time and thoughts were on World of Chaos and PBM in general, rather than my studies! Once I had devised and written the rules (I used my mom’s old typewriter), I then stuck together a ton of A4 hex paper, and stuck it onto my wall and drew the world map. For each major place of interest (such as towns, cities, ruins, dungeons, etc.), I drew a detailed street map. I also produced ‘tokens’ for various items, NPCs, herbs, creatures, etc.. These, I photo-copied, to be handed out upon encountering.

I then advertised the game through the various fanzines, and eventually, Flagship, to obtain players. It didn’t take long to get the game running, and before I knew it, I had 50 players actively involved and playing!! It pretty much took up all my spare time. I had to drop my morning paper-round job, to keep up with the demand. To begin with, I wrote the replies by hand, using carbon paper to file away copies for myself, and I used pins with player numbers on the map, to keep track of their location.

It was exciting times. I finally got the thrill of being a GameMaster, again, and this time I had 50 players who were mostly passionate about the game and actively involved in asking me questions, contributing to newsletters, forming player alliances, and helping shape the history and enriching the experience for everyone. Players contacted me on the house phone so much that, eventually, my parents agreed to getting an extension for my bedroom, so I could respond and answer questions with the material (map + information) at hand.

It goes without saying that my studying took a bit of a back seater, but I still continued with them and passed. After A Levels, I really wanted to take a gap year, and finally got my parents to agree. I decided to run Gad Games full-time for a year, at least to see where it would take me. The company and World of Chaos game just grew and grew, and before I knew it, I had several hundred players, before my gap year was up. I never did end up going to University. Gad Games just kept on expanding and growing.

What made you decide to resurrect Gad Games, and why do you think that that is a good idea?

[Sean Cleworth] I really miss running PBM Games. I think it’s a great idea, as I’m hyper-excited about it, and looking forward to being creative and having fun, at the same time. Along the way, I hope players will also benefit from playing a PBM game that has the main elements of a PBM game, while harnessing the strengths of the Internet. I also think the time is right in my life, right now, to get back into PBM. I don’t have that much spare time (which is my biggest worry), but all other aspects of my life are stable, and I believe I’ve got the right mix of design experience and programming skills to do a really good job. I believe most PBM Companies alive, today, have not harnessed the true power of the Internet, and therefore, the conversion to online is both clunky and less than user-friendly. With the right mix of game design and technology, I think the modern PBM game could well appeal to both new and old players, alike.

What are you hoping to accomplish with your return to the helm of Gad Games? Are you in it for the money? For fame or for infamy? Are aliens using some form of mind control to compel you to do this, Sean?

[Sean Cleworth] LOL, no not quite. I’m fast approaching 42, and potentially, I am trying to regain a part of my youth that I really enjoyed. I know I miss running a PBM Company. I’m certainly not in it for the money. In fact, our new game is going to be free. We’re still toying with ideas on how to still make enough money to cover, at least, the hosting and admin expenses, but at worst case, we are prepared to absorb the costs, ourselves, as long as they are reasonable, and we get the thrill and enjoyment out of running it.

The Gad Games website advertises that you are working on a game called Ilkor: Dark Rising. Who - or what - is Ilkor, and what will distinguish this game from other games that came before it?

[Sean Cleworth] Ilkor: Dark Rising is the game we’re currently designing and coding. It is a computer-moderated game. I don’t think it will be too different to other such games, either out there now or in the past. It will be a single character RPG - The usual type of game where you create your own character, and roam about the world, going on quests, collecting items, fighting, etc.. There will be a number of unique features (we think), but we don’t want to reveal them quite, yet, nor do we feel they are big enough to distinguish it from other such games, without taking into consideration the user-interface, which I also can’t really go into detail about, either. I will, however, reveal more about the actual game mechanics (game rules, background, etc.) soon.

The strength of Ilkor will be in its simplicity, which will be achieved in both its game design and the technology it harnesses. There will be just one, single, persistent world where all characters will live. The turnaround will be fixed, maybe a weekly turnaround, maybe 2 turns a week. We haven’t decided, yet. This will come out of beta testing.

Players will access the game via their web browser. No downloads will be required. The website will store all of the player’s historical information (old turns, etc.).

I really can’t say too much more, right now. I don’t want to give away our plans, as the design has been a collection of thoughts gathered over the past few years.

Who designed the Gad Games logo, and what made you decide to go with that particular logo design for your company?

[Sean Cleworth] I actually designed the logo, myself, while at school, during a rather boring Geography lesson. I remember, quite clearly, doing this on a scrap piece of paper. At the time, my nickname was ‘Gads,’ and therefore, this is where the name of the company spawns from.

Not counting games that Gad Games has designed over time, what were some of your personal favorite old school Play-By-Mail games to play, and what made them your favorites?

[Sean Cleworth] I played a lot of games, especially at the beginning, but as Gad Games became more demanding, I had to reduce my list to about 5 or 6. Most of the games I played were based in the UK, simply due to the faster turnaround, cheaper postage, and interaction with players. Remember, in those early days, we didn’t have the Internet and e-mail, so communication came in the form of hand written notes passed through the game system, letters externally, or phone calls.

My favorite games of all time (from memory at least!) really must be:

Saturnalia (I played this almost from it’s launch. My main character was a thief called Morden. This was, without a doubt, my favorite game right through my PBM experience. I loved the simple game mechanics and great interaction with the players).

Aes (not sure about the spelling – its been a while, but I remember this being a great hand-moderated fantasy single-character RPG. To date, I’ve never seen this game mentioned on the web, but it was a very popular game in the UK, at one point).

Crasimoff`s World (Another popular game of mine. I really enjoyed playing this game, but I found it, at times, rather slow in both progression and turnaround)

Keys of Bled (I think this could have been one of my very first games I ever played, and I will always have fond memories of this).

Vulcan Wars (This was one of my first experiences of a pure computer-moderated game. I loved it, especially the clean up rules, turn cards, and printouts. It was extremely professionally put together)

Tribes of Crane (a huge game at one point, though plagued with issues that affected the turnaround greatly).

How would you describe the Play-By-Mail game industry, as you see it from your perspective? Describe its past, it present, and its future through your eyes.

[Sean Cleworth] I think the past was most certainly the golden era. I don’t think anyone who was around then would disagree. It was great to be part of that and have fond memories of that time that I’ll remember forever.

I’ve been out of the PBM scene, since then. I believe I left, just as the Internet was really starting to take off in a big way. Potentially, it was around that time the PBM hobby started to decline, to where it is, today? I’m not sure, as I’ve been pretty removed (though I have been subscribing to Flagship on and off over the past few years) from the hobby.

The hobby does feel close to dead! Am I the only one feeling like that? I am in the process of playing a few more games, so maybe things will change in the coming months. I think the Internet, especially, is a big contributing factor to the hobby’s decline. The actual name of the hobby (Play-By-Mail) doesn’t do it any justice, either. I’m not sure how many games are still run through the snail mail system, but I am guessing it is very low.

Currently, most games that are still alive, today, have a web presence, and to be honest, a lot of them have been badly thrown together. Coupled with a bad transfer to electric/on-line media, it feels like it is just a matter of time, before the PBM hobby really does go underground.

That is how I see the current state of PBM. Like I said, I feel like a bit of an outsider. Maybe I’ve read the signs wrong, but I am not negative of the future. I see small signs of some companies starting to move up to the next level, and really go truly online. I think that is where the future lies. I am not talking about hosting a poorly designed website, having the rules available online or to download in PDF, a signup form and then turn orders and results sent via email.

I think the next generation of PBM Gaming will need to drop ‘PBM,’ and call itself something more appropriate that describes the hobby in today’s terms. Maybe something like: Online Turn-based Gaming (OTB Gaming). I don’t know, but I hope you get my point. Then, the games need to be truly online, available via the web browser, iPhone apps, Facebook plugins, twitter feeds, wikis for GM and Player game material contributions, the use of HTML5 and CSS3 for rendering of graphics, map tiles, chat clients for clans and alliances to talk to one another, etc.. We need to harness the strengths of the Internet, and model it into the game design. Sure, it might mean changes to the way we traditionally play PBM games, today. For example, take a order form. That worked 20 years ago, when codes, etc. were required, so that GMs could capture your turn orders both quickly and at the same time reduce errors. But, today, people want to drag and drop, plot a course on a map for travelling, etc.. The game that is coming close to that is BTSE. I think they are on the right path.

So, in summary, I think the future is bright, though I believe PBM is going to have to move with the times to survive, and if they do, I think it could be bigger than ever.

What is your favorite genre of PBM game to design, and why? What is your least favorite, and why?

[Sean Cleworth] Fantasy, without a doubt. I am a RPGer, at heart. I especially like the hand-mod versions, but learned to equally enjoy the mixed and computer-moderated versions. My least favourite are crime games. I did play a number of them, but they didn’t really capture my imagination, for very long.

Have you ever attended any PBM conventions or other gaming conventions, either as an individual gamer or as a game company, and what were some of your most memorable moments attending those?

[Sean Cleworth] Yes, I’ve attended, as both. Originally, just as a player, and then, as a company. I can’t recall all of the details, now, as it was such a long time ago, but we pretty much attended all of the major (and even the minor) PBM conventions that were based in the UK. We even journeyed to Germany, for their main PBM/War Game convention, one year. The UK conventions were quite a trek for us, having to come up from the depths of Cornwall to places like Leeds, London, and Sheffield. Besides PBM Conventions, we attended the major War Gaming conventions, when our Game portfolio had such games that would potentially interest such attendees.

We were also quite big in the Football (Soccer) PBM scene, and attended a number of Soccer related conventions. I remember, we were invited up to Wembley to watch the Cup Final one year. We were given the full VIP treatment, pre match meal, drinks, entertainment and then we watched the game from a private box. That was certainly memorable. We were given this due to the large amount of advertising we gave Match magazine.

What is your view on the role that magazines have played in impacting the Play-by-Mail genre of gaming, and what do you wish that those magazines had done differently, if anything?

[Sean Cleworth] Magazines (including the various fanzines and semi-professional magazines, like PBM Scroll from Jon Woods) played an extremely important part in PBM in the golden era. Without them, it was extremely difficult to find avenues from where you could promote your games to new players. PBM has always struggled I think. It has never been easy, and considered an almost ‘unknown’ hobby. Flagship played a huge role in bringing the hobby together, and do a wonderful job, in my opinion. It was always put together very professionally, and is a fantastic read. I don’t know if the magazines could have done anything differently, really, that would have impacted the hobby in a positive manner. I found the magazines listened and reacted to the comments and suggestions made by both player and company. It felt like belonging to a special secret club!
Great interview and Mr. Cleworth's game sounds quite intriguing...
(01-18-2012, 10:57 AM)tstone Wrote: Great interview and Mr. Cleworth's game sounds quite intriguing...

Hey tstone,

If you are at all interested in checking out Ilkor: Dark Rising then venture over to the website and see what it is all about.

Development is still continuing and the game is coming along nicely. The website is already reasonable rich in detail, but we are adding more and more information almost on a weekly basis.

You can't play the game yet, but if you wish, you can signup to be placed on the playtest waiting list. No obligation, no fee, so nothing to lose really.

Oh, and we have a wiki for players. it is still being populated with data, but it might be of some interest for you aswell.

Obviously you are more than welcome to contact me directly with any questions.

[Image: gad_games_logo_small.gif]
Sean Cleworth
Mobile: (+27) 082 377 4344
Great! I've just registered.
(01-19-2012, 01:46 AM)tstone Wrote: Great! I've just registered.

Cool. Smile I've just noticed that the game engine has sent you an email.

Hopefully you'll receive news updates from time to time from us amongst other things.


[Image: gad_games_logo_small.gif]
Sean Cleworth
Mobile: (+27) 082 377 4344

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