Spotlight | Lucian Kahn Interview w/ Richard Ruane
Creator of Dead Friend Roleplaying Game
Lucian Kahn is a brooklyn based independent game designer and began gaming at Twenty Sided Store in 2016. Earlier this year, he published his roleplaying game Dead Friend a Game of Necromancy. I love the energy of a full D&D table and had never really gotten excited about two-player games, but Dead Friend converted me. I caught up with Lucian to talk about Dead Friend, and his upcoming Halloween Special Spotlight Event on SAT 10/27 @ 1p & 5p.
Richard: So let's start by telling me about you and your design work...
Lucian: Just in general?
Richard: Yep - if you can. What's your background with gaming and what got you into designing?
Lucian: I'm a 36-year-old bald, goofy, trans & gay guy living in Brooklyn with a chubby cat named Beastie. I've been playing roleplaying games of one kind or another since the original Final Fantasy came out for Nintendo when I was 9 and my cousin got it for Hannukah. ...
In the past 3 years, I've gotten rather deeply into story-games, which started for me with The Quiet Year, Shooting the Moon, and Fall of Magic.
Separately, I spent the early part of my 20s obsessed with the occult, and I also have a master's degree in History of Religions. So all those things whooshed together and resulted in Dead Friend.
Richard: Was Dead Friend your first game design?
Lucian: Dead Friend was my first GOOD game design. I've made 2 completely unpublishable computer text adventures, one about searching through time and space for Bertrand Russell's mustache, and the other about reconstructing Kurt Cobain's last meal out of food references from Nirvana lyrics.
Richard: OMG, those sound awesome!
Lucian: I was also an English as a Second Language teacher for 6 years, and I used to make up games on the fly for my classroom.
Richard: So tell me a little about Dead Friend? You say it's your first good game design. What's got you excited about it?
Lucian: It's not every day you get to evoke a ghost from the dead! I think the most exciting part of Dead Friend is that the game leads you through an entire spooky necromancy ritual with a pentagram and everything. You can play it with Tarot cards. The whole ambiance is very immersive.
It's a two-player game, so it's very intimate. You get an opportunity to delve deeply into building the story of the relationship between two people, finding out who they knew together, what their conflicts were, how one of them died, and why on earth the other wants to raise them from the dead.
Richard: I've gotten to play this with you, and you and I got to go to some dark, creepy places in an old haunted monastery surrounded by witches. But you've also run games with radically different tones. What are some sessions that stand out to you?
Lucian: Well, to give a sense of how this game can go in very different directions, here are 3 sessions that come to mind.
Richard: Oh wow! So it's a game that can handle these sorts of stories. From paranormal ghost stories to dark comedies…
Lucian: Yeah, there's a lot of room for creativity with setting and tone. It's always a paranormal ghost story, but the question is, will it also be a comedy, a romance, a science fiction story? I played it once where it was all about the economy of a mining exoplanet.
Richard: And it sounds like it really gives any two players space to do a story they'll enjoy and be comfortable with.
Richard: So you've been incredibly prolific this year. Tell me about some of the other games you've been working on.
Lucian: Okay, so there's Grandma's Drinking Song, which will be published in November in Codex, a fanzine for the roleplaying game community, The Gauntlet. Grandma's Drinking Song is a comedy game about a matriarchal family of Jewish bootleggers during Prohibition. You write a drinking song together as you play, and it's played with a literal onion.
There's Same Bat Time, Same Bat Mitzvah, a parlor LARP about what happens when one a Bat Mitzvah guest gets bitten by a vampire bat on the way to the reception. That one was a finalist in the 200 Word RPG Challenge.
And I'm currently hard at work playtesting Visigoths vs. Mall Goths, a tabletop roleplaying game about the conflicts and romances between the warriors who sacked ancient Rome and modern spooky teens, set in a shopping mall in a Los Angeles suburb in 1996.
There are a few other small games too, but you'll just have to wait and see what comes out.
Richard: So what can people look forward to at your event at Twenty Sided? What will it be like?
Lucian: You're going to sit down with another human, a pentagram, and a deck of Tarot cards, and make up a ghost story with the help of a detailed spellbook. It should be highly Halloweeny.
Richard: Do you need to bring that other human with you, or is it okay to come alone?
Lucian: Either one is fine! If you come in a pair, you can play together, or if you come alone, we'll get you a partner.
Richard: Dead Friend matchmaking!
Richard: Okay, last question - If you were stuck on a desert island with only one tabletop RPG and one player, who would the player be and what game would you choose?
Lucian: Uh oh, this means it has to be a two-player game?
Richard: Or a game you can hack for two players.
Lucian: I'm going to say Ten Candles and Sherman Alexie. Partially because I feel like being told horror stories by Sherman Alexie on a desert island, and partially because the terms of the situation would provide us with ten candles.
Richard: Thank you - anything you want to add?
Richard: Awesome! Thank you so much!