Gor RPG Interview with James Desborough

A controversial tabletop roleplaying game made it to the public via crowdsourcing and is currently picking up steam. Gor the RPG is based on John Norman's books which hold a special place, close to the heart of many kinksters. Today I interview Grimachu who acquired the license to make this game. Onward kinky soldiers!

Smurfer Blurb: I read the first four Gor books and gave a brief review here. Tarnsman captured my imagination and I believe it to be one of my all time favourite books. I have some experience in M/s relationships and even utilized ideas from Norman's work. As for gaming, I've been at tabletop roleplaying games for about forty years and befriended it's progenitor E. Gary Gygax when the Internet was young (before it had pictures). I still game as often as I can to this day and it's at least as much a part of my life as BDSM.

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Tabletop RPG primer link here but there are many others. Feel free to ask me about tabletop RPGs.
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James Desborough Blurb:‎ I'm a freelance tabletop game designer and author, as well as running my own small press - primarily for my own gaming and other material. I've been working professionally in the RPG field for nearly 20 years and have been working full time in the field for early 15 years. Along with my co-author, Steve Mortimer, I wrote The Munchkins Guide to Powergaming which kicked off the whole 'Munchkin' phenomenon. I have worked for Wizards of the Coast, Steve Jackson Games, Cubicle 7 Entertainment, Mongoose Publishing and others.

You can keep up with James at postmortemstudios.wordpress.com, @Grimachu on Twitter and Minds.com, james.desborough on Facebook.

I didn't include any salutations between James and I but lets' assume there's a Hi Grimachu and Hi Smurfer thing right here...

What is your previous experience in tabletop gaming?

I've been playing as much as possible since the age of nine, earlier if you count Fighting Fantasy choose-your-own-adventure books. While I've been working professionally in gaming for nearly 20 years I was producing fan material long before that.

Would you give us a brief idea as to what brought you to do the Gor RPG?

I was looking for a new, big project and this is one I'd been considering for some time. I got some investment money which opened up some possibilities so I looked into getting the licence - one of a few I've pursued - and, against all odds, it was granted! The Gor books have been important to me in my life, making me realise BDSM wasn't some catastrophic personal failing, in the days before the internet was around to inform you that you weren't alone and I've always thought the world presented was an interesting one, perfect for a game.

Also people kept saying it wasn't possible or that I shouldn't, which is a red-rag to a bull.

How would you sell this game to BDSM-friendly people who have never played an RPG before?

I think roleplaying and fantasy - and not just Gorean fantasy - is an integral part of a lot of BDSM play. Roleplaying doesn't have to be about sex though, or at least not only about sex. If you enjoy stepping into other roles and being someone else for a while, you may enjoy it in other contexts. For those who already play into Gorean-themed kink its a way of indulging those fantasies more broadly and even stepping - a little bit - into that world.

Do you think fetish people could relate to the stigma associated with playing games like Dungeons & Dragons?

I think the stigma of both has faded a great deal, though in my personal experience there's still a great deal of stigma against maledom, as found in Gor primarily, rather than femdom. I think both communities have had to deal with demonisation, scandals and people's nonsensical reaction and this - perhaps - already crosses over when it comes to Gor. Consider the fuss recently in the Drupal community.

Still, I think that yes, both communities have had similar past experiences of stigma and are even facing a new wave of that, and interference, sadly.

Does Gor the RPG contain a heavy amount spoilers for those who haven't read the series?

Yes, with most of the books having been out for a long time I didn't really consider there to be a necessity to be spoiler free and I wanted the game to be as accessible as possible to people who hadn't read the books - and that meant keeping them informed.

How many of the Gor books have you read and which is your favourite?

Every single one, and not just for researching the game. I think Players of Gor is probably my favourite, it's where the best parts of the series come together I think.

How much does BDSM factor into the game?

As much or as little as you want. I guess that's a cop-out answer but it's the best solution. Some people will want to play this more as a straight sword-and-sorcery game and play down the culture. Some will want to play it up or make it the core and centre of their games. It's up to them. Obviously its inescapable as the background of the game and I'm introducing some rules in supplementary material for those who want to play it up, but I try to give as much agency as possible to the players and Games Masters.

Why a BDSM RPG to begin with?

Why not?

OK, unfair answer...

It's a BDSM RPG as much as you want it to be or as little as you want it to be, but I've always found it a little odd that games are so ready to embrace violence, but so unready to embrace sex.

People will sit around a table and describe in great detail how they torture a goblin for information, but won't even consider romantic or sexual relationships for their characters? With sex and romance being such huge parts of people's lives, it just seems so damn peculiar.

And if we can imagine magic, dragons, non-human intelligences and all manner of crazy cultures, why not the Gorean cultures?

It's fantasy, imagination, yet people get weirdly terrified of it. I just don't get it.

How are you marketing this game to the Vanilla population?

As a sword-and-planet, sword-and-sandals game with a sexy undertone. A Conan that doesn't shy away.

Why two Gor books?

It seemed the best way to organise things. To have the rules etc in one book, along with basic background and so forth, for the role-players, supported by the encyclopaedia for more world information, and to have the encyclopaedia as a separate book with a broader appeal. The encyclopaedia should appeal to non-roleplaying Gor fans as a resource for fan-fic, freeform role-playing and reference while reading the books.

Trying to serve as broad an audience as possible.

What supplementary material are you planning?

A series of adventures exploring different areas of Gor and - possibly - exploring some areas that haven't been touched in the canon, though that material obviously won't be official and should have to defer to any more books that come out.

How long do you have the license to generate material for Gor Roleplaying?

Sadly with all the problems and delays in the production of the books the original licence expires in about a year, so it's a bit of a race to get material out. As it has been successful so far, I am hoping that it will be justified to extend the licence when it does run out.

Does the game delve into the fetish slavery lifestyle some call Gorean?

Not explicitly. No judgement, of course, but going into that just wouldn't be that relevant in the books.

Have you thought about selling trinkets of special editions of the game like a Gor RPG collar in a boxed set? Gor dice?

If the game continues to do well we might look to produce something - like dice (caste dice with a kef instead of a '1'?) - but the licence is limited to role-playing material.

Tell us about "The Tower of Art."

Its the first in the series of adventure books we're planning and intended as an introductory adventure, alongside the one in the main book, that introduces the players to many elements of the Gorean world. It also contains some supplementary rules for extra character customisation. That's what we intend to do with the supplements, make them more worthwhile by including more than just an adventure.

Why the d6 system?

It's a good introductory system for new gamers, and introduced a lot of new people to role-playing when it was used to power the old Star Wars game. Most people can get hold of six-sided dice easily, it suits Gor's style of adventuring and the character creation method of using customisable templates fits Gor's caste system very well.

Did the old Online games from software like Palace influence the game design or content at all?

I researched a lot of this while working on the game and it's fascinating and amazing how so many people have made Gor their own - especially in Second Life - but I had to go back to the books to write the game and couldn't let people's own interpretations creep in (other than my own). That said, everyone's game is their own, so you could certainly recreate your favourite ideas in the RPG. Indeed I hope the game might become a kind of 'common language' between all these different groups.

Could you foresee a FetLife Gor RPG group?

Absolutely. In fact, I hope someone makes one.

How does Gor differentiate itself from Barsoom(John Carter/Princess of Mars)?

Slightly less fantastical, at least on the surface, much more influenced by Norman's interest in classical civilisations, and then there's the sex. Gor is much more a product of the liberated 60s and 70s and much less coy, while Barsoom - while suggestive in many ways - is relatively tame. Though the Gor books are much less explicit than most people seem to think.

Do you have to use templates for character creation or can you make a character from scratch?

You can do either, though given the nature of Gor's caste system I'd recommend using templates.

Will print copies of the game be PoD or will there be some distribution to gaming store (eg. Lion Rampant in Canada)?

PoD is available via Lulu.com - you can search there or check my blog for details. Getting into distribution as an RPG is getting more and more difficult but it looks like I'll be dealing direct with some game stores that want to stock it. If a distributor wants to approach me I'll see what I can do.

Surrendering to the right master is a theme in the books (pulling from philosophy) concerning true freedom. Are things like this touched on in either gamebook?

Lightly in the main books, it'll be tackled more in the supplements. I think these kinds of things are normally best left to pure role-play and due to the necessity of allowing for broad interpretations I didn't want to hard-wire such things into the rules.

Are characters from the books statted?

There is an old saying amongst gamers: 'If you stat it, they will kill it'. I didn't feel it was really appropriate to give the book characters statistics, plus people would endlessly argue with me over it!

Why should the kinkster community take a look at this game?

Because it plays to their themes, tickles their fancy and treats them with respect rather than condemnation and shame. For the same reason they might read BDSM themed fiction, read BDSM comics or consume BDSM art.

How can people help you spread the word?

Spread the links, blogs and Youtube videos, have me on podcasts, livestreams or blog interviews like this. Post reviews when you've bought or read the books. Engage with my on social media. All that kind of stuff. It's important to get the word out, especially, to the existing Gorean communities.

Anything else you'd like to share?

I make a lot of other games, if Gor isn't to your fancy then check for Postmortem Studios on RPGNOW, Amazon and Lulu and something else might do for you. I also have a Patreon (grimachu) for people who want to support me longer term and people who back me can make suggestions for material and get access to discounts and other advantages.

Free Preview

Order print copies of the Gor RPG.

Order PDF copies of the Gor RPG.

All three links above also take you to more works by James.

Thank you for this interview James. I hope the Gor RPG has great success and that we talk again.

Cheers,
Smurfer

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