• An Interview with Gillian Fraser

    by  • March 14, 2013 • Design & Art, People & Events • 1 Comment

    Gillian Fraser is the lead designer for Wicked Fantasy. Wicked Fantasy, currently KSing here, is a project where she and veteran designer John Wick are re-imagining fantasy races from scratch. As soon as I saw this Pathfinder supplemental had a woman as lead, I knew I had to talk to Gillian, and I was not disappointed! Here’s her fantastic answers to my questions. (Handling evil races, also cooking, no really, read this.) 

    Fil- What’s your primary role on the project? I’ve seen you referred to as lead developer, which is AWESOME, what’s that entail?

    Gillian-  My primary role on the project is to create the game mechanics, meaning anything that uses numbers is normally my work. The basic set up of any race in Wicked Fantasy is John gets about 75% of the way through writing the race’s flavor and that’s when I start reading what he’s got. Then I take elements of the race as he’s explained them and make four racial traits out of them. Orks are known for their use of pain as a motivator, so I made a racial trait that gave them bonuses in combat. The more damage they took, the stronger they got.  Also, any special rules that need to be written out, such the rules for elven favors. Next, John and I would look at the list of classes and decide what we could make an archetype for and what that archetype was suppose to do. The kech was supposed to be the member of the pack who gave orders, so I came up with a mechanic that gave them commands as their actions. If the other PCs followed these commands they got bonuses. Finally, I added feats to enhance the racial traits or new archetype powers. And that’s my job working on Wicked Fantasy. This isn’t to say that I don’t add anything to the flavor or John has no say on the crunch, a lot of the work is done with us working on the same google doc.

    Fil- What’s your favorite part of the job so far? What’s your least favorite?

    Gillian- My favorite part of the job is pretty math. I can be a bit of a math nerd and when all the numbers line up just right I love it. There is nothing better than discovering a 3×3 grid is perfect for your idea. My least favorite part is mind reading for consumers. Every race in the game is suppose to be for a specific type of player and when it comes to player types that I have little to no experience with *cough* dwarves *cough* I struggle and it takes me a lot longer to finish.

    Fil- How did you land this position? What advice would you give to other women looking to get out there and design games?

    Gillian- I was invited to a playtest game using the Pathfinder character sheet. At the game it was discovered that I might be the only person in the room who actually knows the full rules for Pathfinder. That was where I really met John Wick for the first time. We’ve been at the same events before but never spoken properly, and we talked about the Pathfinder system and what I liked about it. Not surprisingly, I talked about numbers and the fun I had playing with them. A few months later, he approached me about doing a supplement for Pathfinder and I agreed. It turns out we work really well together and had a lot of fun this last year. As for advice for other women, it’s all about networking, going about and finding people. I only met John because I went to a larp with my friend Dan, who I only met because he was another player in my friend Luther’s game, which I only played because Luther found my profile on penandpaper.com. For those who want to write a game themselves though, just do it. The secret to game design is the designer made it all up anyways.

    Fil- Wicked Fantasy is taking a second look at the fantasy races in Pathfinder and giving them new identities, what’s your approach to that? Biological? Anthropological? Strictly creative? What’s helping you decided what you’re changing and defining with each race?

    Gillian- The Wicked Fantasy approach to giving the race a new identity starts with finding out what people who play that race find interesting about them. The most obvious example being dwarves, or “uvandir” as we call them. People like uvandir because they are stubborn and stoic, so Wicked Fantasy takes those concepts and turns up to 11. There is no creature in the world more stubborn that an uvandir, you can’t even use magic to change their minds once they are set. We also take into account other aspects the race. Uvandir are known for crafting and we bring that back too. The point is not to break down the race and remove everything that players love and hand them back a creature they don’t recognize. Instead we want players to recognize everything they love about the old race but in a new way. There are exceptions to this rule; what we did with the last race being one of them.

    Fil- I know John has a big problem with the “othering” of an entire species by describing, say, orcs, as all evil and so on. Do you have a tip for bringing conflict into your fantasy game without falling back to ‘they’re all evil’ tropes?

    Gillian- You don’t need the word evil to bring a conflict in. If you look at haffuns, there are a few out there who don’t agree with how haffuns act. They don’t want to be someone’s servant, they want to be their own race with their own goals. The haffuns who want a family to take care of aren’t wrong, the haffuns who don’t want a family aren’t wrong either and neither of them are evil. It’s still a conflict that can crop up in the game, that players can get caught in. The elves guard their trees with deadly force and kill anyone who tries to cut one down. These trees are their souls, so does that make them evil for killing groups of humans who come through the forest? It’s all debatable, the best conflict is grey. If the offending party has a good reason for what they are doing then making a choice gets hard and that makes for a lot better conflict than orks are evil so we should go kill them.

    Fil- Of the races that you’re reexamining, do any of them have gender culture or detail you find particularly interesting? 

    Gillian- To anyone who has been following the Wicked Fantasy videos, it is no secret that elves are one of my favorites. While elves are all the same species and very similar in most respects, I really like how two elves standing next to each other can be very different creatures. Birch elves are the beauty elves everyone thinks about, the Ash elves are the amazing archers and so on. I also love the Heart Bound Elves. They make for a beautiful love story in the middle of the game. I once played an heart bound elf that was bound to an mean old unvadir and I had the most fun I’ve ever had playing such a tragic character.

    Fil- Who has the most interesting women? 

    Gillian- Saying there are  more interesting women in one race is also saying there is a race with women I wouldn’t want to play. In the Wicked Fantasy setting, gender was a big but subtle issue. If you read races 1 through 10 it becomes clear that gender equality is completely normal in our world. Every race has wonderful women. It might be called the “Reign of Men,” but there are female senators and palatines. In our Wicked Fantasy Con Game, the palatine is female and she make a interesting woman of the law, trying to deal with her more mothering instincts while trying to decide who has broken the laws of the land vs. and innocent bystander in the wrong place at the wrong time. In orks, oracles of blood are normally the women who come back from the mountain very scarred up but amazing leaders for the tribes, she knows the secrets hidden in the ork’s blood. Haffun women head up the households of the nobility and stand along side their husbands in dispatching people who threaten their families. It’s common place for the second in command of a pack of gnolls to be female; she sets up the hunt or battle strategy and you have to go through her to take a shot at the alpha. Elven women defend the forests and make some of the best spies, infiltrating the Reign so that they may remove those who would harm her forest homes. The best mob boss of the roddun can be a woman, city king is just a title, and a female roddun can hold it all the same as long as she has the reputation for it. Goblin women can be blessed by immense amounts of bad luck and other powers, there isn’t a caravan out there that wouldn’t pay to have her along with them. Gnome women are hunters, farmers, scientist and peaceful to the extreme, all worthy traits in a good character. I won’t spoil the last race and unvandir don’t have any gender so they don’t really have women. There is no such thing as a more interesting woman in the world of Wicked Fantasy because every woman is a Hero. This might be a little cheap of an answer so that I don’t have to pick, but to me there isn’t an uninteresting race or gender to be had.

    Fil- Which of your races would have the best tasting cuisine?

    Gillian- By far gnolls have the best tasting cuisine much to the displeasure of the haffun cooks. Seriously go read the book. Gnolls have a racial trait dedicated to cooking with anything and it tastes good.

    Attention to detail, cultural awareness, it looks like Wicked Fantasy has a lot to check out. I hope you’ll take a look at what Gillian (and John) are doing with this project. It sound fantastic! I want to thank Gillian for taking the time, and you at your computers, for reading.



    Filamena is a professional writer and game designer who isn't very good at writing bios. Having written for White Wolf, Catalyst, Green Ronin and a number of smaller table top games, she's been freelancing for several years. Interested in the indie game scene, Filamena also publishes independently with her life partner at Machine Age Productions. She's the mother of two (almost three) kids, an outspoken liberal and pro sex feminist.


    One Response to An Interview with Gillian Fraser

    1. avatar
      March 14, 2013 at 17:02

      I love her response, “The secret to game design is the designer made it all up anyways.” So true.

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