Games – Matthew Dawkins, They Came From the RPG Anthology
I’m happy to say we have a real treat for you! It’s an interview with RPG developer and writer, Matthew Dawkins! He’s responsible for a lot of my favorite Vampire: The Masquerade products, a great Youtube content creator, and the developer of the They Came From series of comedy horror RPGs. We’re here to talk about his latest Kickstarter.
1. Can you describe what the They Came From series is all about? The They Came From! series of games is an affectionate tribute to the various media genres we love and that inspire us. With Beneath the Sea!, we presented a game where you’re the protagonists in a 1950s b-movie. In Beyond the Grave! you played heroes in the stories of Hammer Horror, Amicus, and Roger Corman thrillers. In [CLASSIFIED]!, you became spies the likes of which appear in The Avengers, James Bond, and Mission: Impossible. Each They Came From represents a different genre of movie, TV show, or other media, and gives you all the tools you need to play a game utilizing those genres, all with a firmly light-hearted and entertaining tone.
2. How did you come up with the They Came From series?
The series developed due to my love of varied and obscure cinema, my enjoyment of good parodies and satires, and my observation that not enough games just existed for the purposes of fun. They Came From was initially going to be a gritty, militaristic game where you combat aliens from the deep, but it swiftly changed to become something more affectionate and amusing, where the players leaned into the tropes of their games’ respective genres and really hammed up the performances. The game has evolved a lot since its inception, but ultimately, it all comes down to wanting to play the kinds of movies I would avidly watch on screen.
3. Did you always intend to branch out from They Came Beneath The Sea into other genres or was that a decision you made later?
Initially, I intended for Beneath the Sea! to stand alone, but it quickly showed the game and its theme had legs (or tentacles) and could arguably work as well or better in genres other than b-movie science fiction. Once Beyond the Grave! was in development, the ideas just kept coming for additional They Came Froms. The main question always has to be “are there at least five character archetypes present in this kind of media that we haven’t represented elsewhere?” and “is it possible to laugh at this material?” If the answer is yes to both, we have a potential game.
4. What do you think separates They Came From series from other horror tabletop games?
Beyond the Grave! and Camp Murder Lake! are the most explicitly “horror” They Came Froms, though like all the others in this line, they don’t take themselves seriously and lean heavily on the idea of “games as fun” over “games as deep, introspection-provoking media.” And that’s not to say the latter is bad (I love Wraith as much as anyone), but where They Came From excels is it gives you encouragement to just enjoy the horror genre, play up the gothic camp, spray some technicolour blood, and have an adventure in Dracula’s castle. These games have no pretensions. They exist to facilitate laughs at the table.
5. Can you give a short descriptor of the other They Came From settings?
They Came from Beneath the Sea! is about sci-fi b-movies from the 1950s and 1960s. It combines the alien threats with the Red menace of the time, contrasting bizarre and rubbery maritime monsters with communist conspiracies and mad science.
They Came from Beyond the Grave! is a game set across multiple eras (the 1870s and 1970s, most explicitly), in which you play as monster hunters, mystics, eccentric professors, and harmless dupes trying to navigate your world populated by predatory beasts.
They Came from [CLASSIFIED]! takes inspiration from espionage media, from the small screen to the large. Your protagonists oppose mysterious and threatening alphabet agencies like SMERSH and STENCH, while wearing questionable jumpsuits and arming yourself with fun gadgets.
They Came from the Cyclops’s Cave! is our fantasy They Came From, drawing on material from epic fantasies all the way through to Sword and Sorcery. If you want a game that enables you to play everyone from Sinbad and Odysseus to Conan, She-Ra, and Xena, this is the one for you.
They Came from Camp Murder Lake! is our 1980s slasher movie They Came From, and one of my favourites of the list. It blends horror with sexiness and a lot of ick, and really gets the “teens getting picked off at summer camp / at a house party / in an abandoned fairground” tone down perfectly.
They Came from the Danger Zone! is an upcoming action movie inspired They Came From, with five different types of Arnold Schwarzenegger available as protagonists so you can build your own expendable team of Expendables.
And then there’s the multiple genres present in They Came From the RPG Anthology!, from Westerns and Noir to Costume Dramas and Space Opera, and more besides, as backers get to vote on additional chapters added to the book after the campaign concludes.
6. Do you have a favorite of the They Came From supplements?
My favourite is They Came from [CLASSIFIED]! as I feel we nailed the tone perfectly on that one, and honestly, I don’t feel there are enough games out there where you play spies in the style of Emma Peel, Jason King, and Austin Powers. The Cinematics in this book are excellent, too.
7. How important is the tongue and cheek tone of the They Came From series?
Extremely, though it’s subjective. I tend to run They Came From games with more humour than deadpan, but I’ve also run (and I know others who do the same) these games completely straight. That’s the wonderful thing about They Came From: it’s as humorous or as serious as you want it to be. The game system and setting allows you to play it either way.
8. Will we ever get any canon characters for the setting or remain archetypes?
Some of the characters from various They Came Froms have appeared across multiple They Came From books, but at this time we’re not trying to develop a metaplot or any strong continuity. If anything, you can picture the same actors playing different roles in each game.
9. What sort of new They Came From books can we expect in the future?
Well the big one right now is They Came From the RPG Anthology!, which as mentioned contains five new genres (more once the backers have voted on the additional ones!), as well as a new quick play version of the Storypath System, AND the entire Storypath Ultra System should you wish to update your other They Came Froms to the newest version of the rules. This is the first time we’re experimenting with getting multiple genres in one book, but with Westerns, Noir, Space Opera, Costume Drama, and Shakespearean Plays (yep, we go theatrical with this one) all in RPG Anthology, I can’t wait to see which other chapters we end up writing.
10. Where and when can we find the next Kickstarter?