On Wednesday, June 22 my Twitter feed showed something i’d never seen before: a creator’s call offering interviews to any interested parties.
How could i pass up this opportunity? @DrinkingQuest was one of the very first Twitters i followed when i created my account years ago, due in no small part to Jason Anarchy’s clever use of the platform to grow awareness of his then-burgeoning tabletop RPG, Drinking Quest.
“It’s still my favorite social media medium. Content is rewarded on Twitter,” Anarchy said. “If you’re funny then the mechanism works and it keeps going.”
Full disclosure: i am not much of a drinker, and i have not actually played Drinking Quest. But i am a gamer, and interviewing independent creative types is my favorite type of writing, but enough about me. Let’s learn more about Drinking Quest and the man behind the innovative tabletop RPG system.
Before becoming a full-time game designer, Jason Anarchy worked in the newspaper business, which of course immediately endeared him to me despite (perhaps rightly so) pointing out the decline of the industry.
Like many a gamer, over the years he had tweaked existing games as well as made up his own for the entertainment of friends at his gaming table. This practice began as a child with the Hero Quest game, which he cites as inspiration due to its inclusion of a blank, create-your-own-quest section of the rulebook.
In a nod to the game that inspired him, for the Drinking Quest trilogy edition, which Anarchy said contains enough exclusive new material to be considered a fourth game, he was given to option to add a 220th card to the 219-card set at no extra cost.
“At the last minute, I’m like ‘okay, I need a filler card,'” Anarchy recalled. “I’ve got to make it good, though. I ended up putting in, similar to that blank quest in Hero Quest, it was a card that had nothing to do with game play. It was like ‘make your own quest.’ It was kind of corny but at the same time it had some great artwork that I hadn’t used anywhere else. It ended up looking really cool – all the heroes marching off on their drinking quest.
“I got to use this great artwork, and, I don’t know, possibly inspire people,” he said. “That was probably my most sincere in all my games actually.”
It was a simple statement from a friend that led Anarchy to where he’s at today, helming his own game design company with the latest release, Drinking Quest: Journey Into Draught just around the corner as well as a new game, Haiku Warrior, recently released.
“Well, you’re always drinking and playing these RPGs you made – why don’t you make one that combines those things?”
That was in 2011, and the premise is something Anarchy takes very seriously. The hook was there, but he says developing a game with real depth was the key to Drinking Quest’s success – it had to deliver more than a clever gimmick. And based on the game’s growth and Anarchy’s own status going from a guy with a table at cons to being a featured guest and panelist at conventions like Gen Con.
Unlike most game designers and publishers, Anarchy does not run games at conventions (because of the game’s drinking mechanic).
“The first time I ever did a public game with Drinking Quest in five years was a couple of weeks ago in Atlanta,” Anarchy said. “Out of 60 or 70 conventions I’ve done, there are like three of four where you can drink at them. At Southern Fried Gaming Expo, they were really great people to me and really wanted to run a public game.
“People had beers in the audience, and they picked a favorite player. When that player had to chug, they also chugged with us. It was a lot of fun. Also in that game, John Kovalic who does all the artwork for the Munchkin games, he was at that convention, he ended up in the game, which is awesome because he’s an industry legend. And, he can drink more than anyone there – he’s pretty hardcore. I was impressed. He really showed us up, and he’s a really funny dude. So it was a really cool game.”
The game itself is innovative in that there is no GM required to play. Unlike traditional RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons, which require a referee and principal storyteller, Drinking Quest uses a system of cards to guide players through the mechanics that involve combat against all manner of monsters and a hefty dose of comedy along with it.
“I’m definitely more of a workaholic than an alcoholic.”
The basic idea is that, everyone gets to play the hero, and the mechanics keep it simple. There’s four piles of cards – those are your quests. Players pick a pre-made character card, fill out the stats on a character sheet, and you’re ready to play.
“It’s a 50/50 drinking game/roleplaying game,” Anarchy explained. “The way it works is that the cards are the DM, nobody has to run the game. Everybody’s a hero. It’s a really simple setup. Everyone’s on an adventure. You’re fighting monsters, you’re leveling up. Dice, character sheets – all that stuff. But when your hero dies in the game, you have to chug your drink in real life to continue. So the whole game is kind of built around that real-life sense of danger. It’s about an hour and a half for a game, depending on the speed of the group. As far as drinking games go, it’s a light drinking game. It’s paced out and designed so no one’s going to do ten shots of tequila in ten minutes and go to the hospital.
“And it’s a light RPG, it’s probably the simplest you can get while still fitting the strict definition. Beyond that, I wanted it to be a really strong comedy game…It’s just really fun to skewer gaming and drinking – two things I love quite a bit. It finds humor in both the positive and negative aspects of drinking. It can get pretty dark once in a while, in a way I think people are responding to. They’re liking it and coming back for more,” he said.
Each iteration of the game (Journey Into Draught is the fourth in the series) consists of four themed quests, with each quest getting more difficult than the last and the heroes gaining power and skill along the way. They’re all different stories within the same world with its own loose continuity.
For Journey Into Draught, Anarchy wanted to add some new game mechanics to both streamline the system and mainly to expand and make the game bigger and better. Part of this plan involved having a team of ten artists working on the release, compared to the previous editions having a single artist each.
There are now six quests, including an optional one with a set of tea-stained cards about sobering up the next morning. There’s another Kega Man quest with pixel art where the characters fight eight different alcoholic robot bosses. And of course there’s the same mix of fan affection and parody of classic fantasy RPG creatures and tropes that have helped the Drinking Quest fan base grow and fueled its Kickstarter campaigns.
For non-drinkers out there, Anarchy has several times gotten questions on game design and self-publishing advice from gamers working on variant games like marijuana-themed games (Smoking Quest, anyone?) on how to break into the industry.
“There is no simple answer,” Anarchy said. “Rule of thumb: become obsessed with it and work all the time. I’m definitely more of a workaholic than an alcoholic.
“Make sure you’re working hard at it, and don’t expect instant fame or some sudden rise. I’ve been really proud of the fact that over five years there’s been a good, steady increase of popularity the whole time. It’s not like I got one lucky break then that was the entirety of everything. I feel like there’s a loyal fan base there.”
Although he doesn’t hold anything against people who use marijuana, and is happy to offer advice, he’s happy with Drinking Quests’s place in the gaming strata.
“I’m already the drinking guy,” Anarchy said. “I like the fact that I have probably the most responsible drinking game on the market, in as far as that goes. I don’t want to go much beyond that point. I don’t want to start adding other vices onto that. I’ve got other directions I want to go. Being the guy who explores all the vices isn’t really the thing I want to do.”
With Drinking Quest’s cards-as-the-DM engine, Anarchy realized the concept can make for an excellent single player experience. (“Not Drinking Quest…drinking alone – that’s bad.”)
While signing a card for a fan, Anarchy noticed it was written as a haiku, something he considered a throwaway joke from the first Drinking Quest. He thought it was funny, but not executed as well because it was a one-off and didn’t quite fit the loud, obnoxious flavor of Drinking Quest.
The culmination of Anarchy’s desire to use his card engine for a one player game and that chance card-signing resulted in Haiku Warrior. Quiet and introspective, compared to the boisterousness of Drinking Quest, Haiku Warrior’s cards tell their story through ambiguous haikus written on each of the cards (“No repeat cards!”) [This sounds like a perfect game to explore for my solo RPG play series!]
Built into the Kickstarter for Haiku was an expansion of sorts, which involved getting industry celebrity guests to contribute their own haikus that Anarchy converted into cards for the game. With Anarchy donating $17 to each guest’s charity of choice ($1 per syllable), contributions came from people like Jim Zub (“Dungeons & Dragons”), Ryan North (“Dinosaur Comics”), Becky Cloonan (“Gotham Academy”) and more.
“I have a lot of fun with game design, and I just like the creative element of it because there’s writing, and artwork, and there’s the economy of how the game works – there’s a lot to it. If other people can be inspired by that in some way, that’s awesome.”
If you’re heading to Gen Con in August, be sure to stop by Jason Anarchy’s booth (#2801) to say hello and pick up a copy of Drinking Quest and Haiku Warrior, and remember…