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Cam Banks
Works at Atlas Games
Attended University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand
Lives in Saint Paul, MN
4,546 followers
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Ginger Kiwi Game Designer and Family Guy
Introduction
Born in the mythical antipodean utopia of New Zealand, wisely regarded by scholars as the fountainhead of cultural excellence and the only place on Earth capable of filling in for Middle Earth, Narnia, and Ancient Greece, Cam Banks was lured away by the siren call of a life with meaning and purpose. Cam now lives a quiet, pastoral existence in the Twin Cities of Minnesota with his beautiful wife, their two sons, and a cat. He pays the bills by writing and editing role-playing games. In his free time, Cam likes to read and write fantasy fiction, watch movies and television with his wife, play video games with his oldest son, and allow his youngest son to chip away at his sanity.

Cam’s work has appeared in almost every one of over a dozen Dragonlance game sourcebooks published by Sovereign Press and Margaret Weis Productions, and twice in Dragon Magazine.
His work on the Bestiary of Krynn earned a silver ENnie Award in 2004 for Best Monster Supplement.

Following his work on Dragonlance, Cam has been involved in the design and editing of licensed roleplaying games based on Universal's Serenity and Battlestar Galactica, Dead Gentlemen's Demon Hunters, The CW's Supernatural and Smallville, TNT's Leverage, and Marvel Comics.

Cam's first short story, “Chain of Fools,” appears in the Dragonlance anthology Dragons of Time; Tracy Hickman Presents the Anvil of Time: The Sellsword (April 2008) is his first published novel.
Education
  • University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand
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Male
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Married
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Occupation
Game designer, writer, editor
Employment
  • Atlas Games
    RPG Director, 2013 - present
    Oversee & manage role playing game lines, including development & production.
  • Margaret Weis Productions
    Creative Director, 2007 - 2013
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Map of the places this user has livedMap of the places this user has livedMap of the places this user has lived
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Saint Paul, MN
Previously
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin - Auckland, New Zealand - State College, PA - North Shore, New Zealand - Lawrence, KS
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Cam Banks

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Inclusivity Followup

A couple days ago I sent out a call to invite folks to write for the upcoming Cortex Prime Kickstarter, since I wanted to include more people from more diverse backgrounds and experiences than are usually included in projects like this. However, I've been rightly called out for the way I phrased the invite, and as a result of the way I worded it, many people who otherwise would have applied felt like they weren't actually invited.

So to be clear:

* If you are passionate about games and have enjoyed the Cortex and Cortex Plus games of the past, I want to hear from you so we can build on what made you so excited about the system in the first place.
* If your background, identity, or lived experiences make you feel excluded from the hiring practices of gigs like this, I want to hear from you to give Cortex Prime a more inclusive voice.
* If you want to build on, expand, and promote games through a lens or a vision that is important or unique to you, I want to hear from you so that we can make Cortex Prime even better.

I have always enjoyed collaborating with creative folks in a variety of ways on Cortex-related projects, and I'm committed to supporting and valuing their work from start to finish.

If you would like more information or clarification, please contact me: seth AT magic-vacuum DOT com. As before, this is free to reshare, and once again I'm sorry that my actions put up more barriers in a business that already had too many of them.
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Tom Cadorette's profile photoMichael Wenman's profile photoCam Banks's profile photoLois Spangler's profile photo
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Done sent you an e-mail, sir. 

Cam Banks

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Boundless Creativity Demands a Common Language

Or I should say, when one has huge amounts of creative content, it makes it much easier to get it out to an audience when you have some way to communicate it. And I think this is one of the observations I've made in the last couple years about the vigorously prolific creations of gamers in the OSR and adjacent communities.

I love D&D, as I'm sure most people who follow me know, but I don't think it's the best platform for every game idea or every setting or genre. I do, however, acknowledge that it's by far the most commonly known and familiar platform, and that it serves as a lingua franca for gamers and game designers in general. Want to publish some kind of freaky adventure set inside the head of a colossal space-orc? Make it a D&D adventure. Got a setting that has apes and lasers and space trains and dragons? Make it a D&D setting.

The fact that D&D "gets out of the way" of gamers who are intimately familiar with it and its many tropes allows indie and small press designers a significantly smaller burden when it comes to carrying their own creations. If they had to come up with a new set of rules they might not penetrate that huge common market, and people might not see it. DriveThru is filled with indie small press games that are fantasy heartbreakers or too-distant clones. Not everyone can be Palladium, for example.

For me, as a designer, and one who loves to create new systems and unlock some of the secrets of less-known ones, I am often disappointed that some of the most beautifully illustrated, magnificently written, and fiendishly designed RPGs and books coming out are only on the D&D platform. It reminds me of the d20 boom in the 00's, where phenomenal games and RPG licenses were bound to the OGL and died a horrid death of being poorly-fit. Granted, many of those were raced out the door as money making efforts. The OSR is not looking to make money.

(It's also possible that many people look at Fate worlds or Powered by the Apocalypse games and think the same thing.)

I look ahead at the future of RPGs and I see that we will eventually settle once again on a small clutch of RPG platforms upon which 99% of the new games will be built. The vast amount will be D&D-alike, with perhaps a large chunk as runner up being Fate, PbtA, and possibly a system we haven't seen yet.

What are your thoughts on the idea of RPG-system-as-platform? Is it a boon to have the dazzling array of creator content be attached to a familiar rules set? Do you instead wish the games were attached to something else?
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Paul Beakley's profile photoRabbit Stoddard's profile photoJason Packer's profile photoJiima Arunsone's profile photo
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My personal observation is similar, although in my parts most gamers are quite conservative both in approach to gaming and, well, everything else. Plus, quite clannish too.

It's the one reason they stick to what they know. The first game published here is Warhammer and for many it is The System. Not The World, because I've seen tons of unothodox Old World interpretations and own settings, but one and only mechanics and everything else sucks. The same is for CWoD, D20 and such. Fate and PbTA are niche here.

The second reason is, creating good setting is not that hard, creating a setting playable and likeable by your team (even if the rest of the world will say otherwise) is even easier. Creating a good mechanics is much harder, and, at least in this part of the world, meets a lot of resistance. First, it needs to work, and that requires tons of playtests because even experienced game designer can make mistakes and average gamemaster is not even him. Second, players here want play, not learn new, weird way to roll dice. If new mechanics don't work they say "warhammer (or dnd or wod or anything else) worked, why reinvent the wheel". Creating a mechanics is hard.

That's my reason I stick to existing mechanics. 

Cam Banks

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MY RPG CHALLENGE TO YOU THIS YEAR

This year I encourage everyone to do the following.

1. Play an "old school" roleplaying game that you've never played before that was published before 1990.
2. Play a "new school" roleplaying game that you've never played before that was published between 1990 and 2000.

Dungeons and Dragons doesn't count - unless you never played D&D before, that is. Retroclones, new editions, etc don't count, either. I'm talking the originals.

Play the game using the rules provided, interpreting as you would the text and guidelines and instructions and procedures provided, making up new characters and playing at least one session. Don't introduce any rules that aren't in the game except those that are suggested or implied.

I will pledge to do this also. There are a lot of games on my shelves that I've never played, as I'm sure is true for many of you. Do this thing, post your play report or thoughts or feelings or realizations about the game here on G+ so we can all see it!

We are better gamers and better game designers when we play more games.
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Remi Treuer's profile photoBenjamin Baugh's profile photoCam Banks's profile photoIan Borchardt (Reverance Pavane)'s profile photo
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That is an impressive list. There is actually a couple of pre-1990 games that I haven't played, although I don't envy my chances of finding a copy of any of them. <grin>

Cam Banks

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Jeremy Hodges's profile photoKevin Lovecraft's profile photoFilamena Young's profile photoRyan M. Danks's profile photo
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Spoken like a true reptilian, +Filamena Young​. I'm on to you! :P

Cam Banks

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Related to my earlier post. 
 
When I'm Describing RPGs

When I'm describing roleplaying games to folks who aren't totally brined in endless daily showoffy theory threads, I start with the assumption that we all agree that RPGs are just what they say on the tin: games where you play a role. So right off the bat, if there are no roles involved, or if it's not central to the point of the thing (Microscope, A Quiet Year, whatever), that's a huge help. To be clear: we love and play those games too! Luckily there aren't many of them, so it gets pretty easy to set those aside.

But lordy, the universe of RPGs is huge.

I think about RPGs in terms of how much they have of three ingredients, shown in the Venn chart below.

One of them is Fortune. That is, is there some randomness involved in figuring out who got what they wanted?

Another is Specificity. That is, is the game specifically tuned to describe a place or a situation? How narrow is the premise?

The third is the thing I talked about in my last thread, and that is Narrative Awareness. I was being a little flip about what all I include in this: that is, it's really more than whether there are "scenes" or not. What I'm getting at is the whole range of tools and perspectives and aesthetics that lead us to think about the experience in terms of authorship. Of course every moment of every kind of RPG we're all "authoring" stuff; that's an old fight not worth having. Here I'm talking about intent: is the goal of play to create or emulate a cohesive narrative, or is the narrative an afterthought? As +Cam Banks pointed out, trad games can be storygames for some players! It's a matter of preference and playstyle. Take Cortex Plus (a generic trad system) and play it with narrative awareness and specificity, bam, you're playing a storygame.

Hopefully it's pretty clear here that there aren't freestanding games inside the "Specificity" and "Narrative Awareness" circles. This may make it an imperfect Venn, and that's okay, I can accept that. This is just a quick rough-up to talk about. Those areas are more like uh...dials, I guess. Like, there's a tiny bit of implied setting inside straight D&D and kind of a broad outline of a premise (go into old ruins and get gold), but that dial is turned down so low that in my mind, it's just a generic trad system. But turn it up a little through developing your own campaign or buying shelves of Eberron books or whatever, and ta-da, you're playing a trad RPG.

Same with the things I call "generic storygame systems" in that bottom zone. Burning Wheel doesn't come with any specificity, but you have to add it to play the game, and ta-da, it becomes a storygame.

Freeform, lordy, this was discussed to death like a decade ago, and I so do not want to dredge up any bad feelings or unresolved fights. In my own mind, these are the RPGs with plenty of specificity and narrative awareness, just no fortune to prod things along. I also call these "talky talky" games here in the IGRC.

Anyway, it's a sketch of how my own brain works and how I position expectations when I'm pitching games to friends and at con tables. This is not an attempt to impose a taxonomy. I have no stake at all other than helping friends understand what they're getting into.
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Cam Banks's profile photoRabbit Stoddard's profile photoMark Richardson's profile photoRob Donoghue's profile photo
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Specificity is really a different animal too. Every game has it, the question is only when it comes to the surface (usually multiple when's)

Cam Banks

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Aggressive Inclusivity

So I'm developing an all-new edition/version/core rules set, Cortex Prime, and while the spine and muscles of it are pretty much a solo effort I'm looking ahead to a Kickstarter that should include works by other people. Other designers.

This is that weird thing where I'm like, I would really like to hire people who do not look like me to write, design, and create settings and rules plug-ins for the game, and pay them well for it, but they also need to know the game.

So if you are or you know women, PoC, LGBTQ/NB folk, designers and writers who have loved or still love Marvel Heroic, Leverage, Smallville, or Firefly, and you think they or you can handle my laid-back Kiwi management style and produce rock-solid shit-hot awesome work for me on a not-terrible schedule, let me know.

Drop me an email at seth AT magic-vacuum DOT com with your enthusiastic vision. I want to help you help me make it happen.

(Permission granted to share this around. Originally shared it to my Circles. Sorry about that.)
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Benjamin Davis's profile photoTodd Haynes's profile photoCam Banks's profile photoDavid Chart's profile photo
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A little late, but I do not think that "But think of the white men!" is a good response to someone who has just been told that they are excluded from an opportunity that they want on the basis of their race and gender. It may well be necessary to exclude them, because there are, for unavoidable practical reasons, only a limited number of writing positions on any project and there are a lot of WhiCH men in roleplaying already, but it is something that we should always regret having to do, and we should be aware of the pain that we are causing by doing it.

Yes, I know that historically a lot of WhiCH men with power have not cared about the pain they caused by saying that sort of thing. They are not supposed to be our role models.

Cam Banks

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Sentai/Squad-Level RPGs

I'm interested in creating a sort of squad-level module plug-in for Cortex, tentatively titled BRIGADE. It would be the basis for games that model everything from Power Rangers, Voltron, and Thunderbirds to Generation Kill and Team Fortress.

What RPGs exist out there right now that tackle this sort of thing? My first thought is +John Harper's The Regiment, but I'm sure there are others.

(And yes, Power Rangers and Generation Kill seem like wildly different things, but trust me there's something to it.) 
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Neil Smith's profile photoPK Sullivan's profile photoBenjamin Davis's profile photoClark Valentine's profile photo
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+Benjamin Davis Unfortunately, Tachyon Squadron is a (still in development) Fate-based starfighter squadron RPG (Flying Tigers, but in space--Star Wars meets BSG) and has nothing to do with SotM. It was named after the hypothetical superluminal particle, not the Sentinel Comics character.

Cam Banks

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This year 2017:

Cortex Prime.
Pillar of Fire (via Atlas).
Eidolon.
Swordbridge.

And at least one short story and one novella. 
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David Rollins's profile photoRyan M. Danks's profile photoJerry Sköld's profile photoCam Banks's profile photo
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Forgot to add: Sentinel Comics RPG from Greater Than Games is also going to emerge this year. :)

Cam Banks

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I got two gamer things for Christmas from my family.

1. Pandemic Legacy. We played January last night, and lost horribly as outbreak after outbreak took us out in Beijing and Chicago. Even after we got one disease cured and two more were about to happen... oh well. This is one of my favorite board games and I'm excited by the Legacy format.

2. Mutant Year Zero Genlab Alpha. MYZ is a great game, but I think I like this version even better, as it has uplifted mutant animals and a really cool baked-in campaign. This is a very good way to present RPGs, to my mind: a packaged campaign with room to sandbox if you like while tying everything into it so it feels like everything matters. I'm approaching Pillar of Fire in a similar way. Plus, those Fria Ligan folks are terrific. I love Swedish RPGs.

What gamer things did you get in your non-denominational stockings and why are they cool? Let me know in comments.
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Christian Jensen Romer's profile photoLevi McCormick's profile photoAdam Schwaninger's profile photoStacie Winters's profile photo
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I got a copy of The Manhattan Project: Energy Empire. Haven't been able to play it yet, but it looks really neat and a lot of fun.

Cam Banks

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Pillar of Fire: Value Meters

In Pillar of Fire, you're aiming to change the world, or rather, you're trying to steer humanity toward a different path. As it stands, you are also genetic demigods gifted with awakened souls able to do tremendous things, but what you really want is to shove humanity in a direction you believe to be best for it. And here's currently how this happens, using a system inspired strongly by parameters in Ray Winninger's Underground RPG. Love to hear thoughts from folks.

Value Meters
Each of the ten Houses of humanity is tied strongly to one of the ten drives, which in turn are keyed to the Value Meters that represent the overall systemic sociopolitical state of humanity in exile. Seraphs (who are proxies of their Houses) can push or pull against the Value Meters keyed to their House and the drives their House embodies through their actions.

At the beginning of the game, all the Value Meters are set to five, which is the enforced status quo that used to be maintained by the House of Crowns. When Seraphs are created, the archetypes chosen by players push or pull against the Value Meters the archetype's Houses are keyed to. For each dominant archetype, push or pull a Value Meter upward or downward. In addition, for each drive that is crossed out (made a shell), shift that Value Meter downward. Value meters can go as high as 10 and as low as zero.

Value Meter ratings are primarily a tool for the GM to gauge the current systemic morality and attitudes exemplified by humanity. Houses keyed to positive Value Meters are likely to dominate politics and operations in the setting. Houses keyed to negative Value Meters are likely to be subverted or diminished. This can guide the choice of situations presented to the players.

Value Meters change each time a Seraph pushes a 6th die in a drive keyed to the Value Meter. Even Seraphs who are not members of the House the Value Meter is keyed to have this effect; acting as a proxy for a House to the point that it's drive has maxed out always influences the Value Meter it is tied to. Each die so moved out of a Seraph's drive will push a Value Meter up and pull another down, as specified on the chart.

Value Meters also decrease each time a Seraph shells out a drive to nothing, and increase when a covenant sets as their mission goal the pushing up of a specific Value Meter. It's possible that a covenant might achieve a mission's goal only to see the Value Meter in question drop because of actions taken during the mission.

Authority: The sense that society needs leadership and governance to direct and maintain order.
Pushed up by: Loyalty + Power
Pulled down by: Liberty + Survival
Increasing Authority can lead to decreasing Prosperity and Community.

Community: The sense that society is connected and benefits from interaction and common understanding.
Pushed up by: Compassion + Pride
Pulled down by: Power + Justice
Increasing Community can lead to decreasing Security and Spirituality.

Security: The overall feeling of society being protected and defended from threats internal and external.
Pushed up by: Survival + Victory
Pulled down by: Compassion + Curiosity
Increasing Security can lead to decreasing Authority and Spirituality.

Prosperity: The overall feeling that materials and assets are available and accessible.
Pushed up by: Curiosity + Liberty
Pulled down by: Honor + Loyalty
Increasing Prosperity can lead to decreasing Security and Authority.

Spirituality: The overall feeling of trust and faith in a larger metaphysical purpose to existence.
Pushed up by: Honor + Justice
Pulled down by: Victory + Pride
Increasing Spirituality can lead to decreasing Prosperity and Community.

Drive Pushes Up (^) Pulls Down (v)
Compassion Community (^) Security (v)
Curiosity Prosperity (^) Security (v)
Honor Spirituality (^) Prosperity (v)
Justice Spirituality (^) Community (v)
Liberty Prosperity (^) Authority (v)
Loyalty Authority (^) Prosperity (v)
Power Authority (^) Community (v)
Pride Community (^) Spirituality (v)
Survival Security (^) Authority (v)
Victory Security (^) Spirituality (v)

Value Meter Rating Effect
0 Total submission
1 Major submission
2 Moderate submission
3 Minor submission
4 No effect
5 No effect
6 No effect
7 Minor dominance
8 Moderate dominance
9 Major dominance
10 Total domination
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Cam Banks's profile photoJosh Roby's profile photoAdam Schwaninger's profile photoWhitney Delaglio's profile photo
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Shark Jesus has a zero in Curiosity. Shark Jesus has no time to contemplate where puppies came from

Cam Banks

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If +Johnstone Metzger doesn't win a ton of awards for the magnificent THE NIGHTMARES UNDERNEATH this coming year, there is no justice nor art in this world.

You should get it. 
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Henry Ulrich's profile photoJohnstone Metzger's profile photoCam Banks's profile photo
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Proof presented!

Cam Banks

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The various Cortex Plus games, including Smallville, are not "story games." They're roleplaying games with rules lifted from the indie/story game scene, but they're still pretty traditional. You're still rolling dice based on some stats to beat some target number even if how you get those dice and what success or failure mean aren't always the same as D&D or Shadowrun or Star Wars.

I believe they occupy the same RPG space as Fate-powered games and Powered by the Apocalypse games. I don't think those are "story games" either. 
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Brie “Brie” Sheldon's profile photoJason Dettman's profile photoRichard Williams (Epistolary Richard)'s profile photoCam Banks's profile photo
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For those still questioning my reasons for posting this, I've seen many people in the past week talking about story games as distinct from other games. I find it more interesting to observe the spectrum upon which these definitions tend to lie than I do the tribes that grow up around them. Thanks to everyone for the discussion and comments!
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