It seemed fitting that, given this is a blog supporting Eden Studios Conspiracy X RPG, we kick this whole effort off with a bit of a bang! Let’s be honest, the name – Dave Chapman – should already be one well familiar to you. A long time roleplaying game freelancer and contributor to numerous Eden Studios products, it is through Dave’s devotion that we ever saw a second edition of Conspiracy X (and more recently the other Con X supplements).
As you may well also know… actually, no… rather than rambling on ourselves, let’s ask Dave to introduce himself…
Con X Blog: Hey Dave! Let’s kick this interview off with the easy ones first. How about you tell us all a little bit about yourself…
Dave: Hi, I’m Dave (though I go by David F. Chapman when it’s in print). When I’m not writing, my day job is in retail, working in a suitably nerdy shop selling DVDs, t-shirts and geek merchandise, so I’m kinda in my element. I’m married to the best playtester I could imagine, and we have a demanding cat.
Con X Blog: So I’m guessing with a background like that that you’ve always been a gamer? How’d you get into the hobby?
Dave: I got into gaming thanks to a friend. This was early 1980’s. I went over to his place for our regular video gaming on the old Sinclair ZX Spectrum, and instead we went off to see one of his friends where I was introduced to Traveller. It was a slippery slope from there, playing AD&D, Runequest, Traveller, and I started GMing when I bought my first game, Star Frontiers.
We used to game all the time. This was while I was at school – we used to game about 3 or 4 times a week, though I particularly loved GMing. I guess I’m too much of a control freak! I also loved the licensed games – Star Wars, Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones, James Bond. I loved all of those. The first real writing I can remember doing was crafting character creation rules for Indiana Jones as they were lacking a little from the published box.
Con X Blog: I’m sure that will sound incredibly familiar to many of the readers; we all played way too much when we were younger. But all that lead to creating your own gaming material? Can you recall how you got into the writing gig?
Dave: When most of my gaming group went off to universities around the country, the few of us that remained in my little hometown kept playing, just not as often. But I had this moment of clarity when I was reading the old WEG Ghostbusters RPG – the work of gaming genius that it is. I suddenly realised, someone wrote this. Someone wrote the rules, the stories, the adventures. And Ghostbusters was written in such a way that it was fun to actually read, so it must have been fun to write. So I wrote to West End Games (this was long before the internet, so it was all by post overseas and waiting weeks for a response). They sent me their writer’s guidelines and I set to work writing adventures for Ghostbusters.
None of them ever saw print or light of day, but the feedback from the cool West End Games people was encouraging, so I didn’t lose hope. However, real life, and getting a job (ironically in cartography for the local government’s nature conservation department, and later their archaeology unit) got in the way and game writing was put aside.
Con X Blog: I see you haven’t mentioned Conspiracy X directly yet. So I better ask, how did you discover this great little game and what got you involved with Eden Studios?
Dave: That was thanks to a friend of ours, Jason. He knew I was an obsessive fan of The X-Files, and loaned me a copy of the first edition rulebook. I loved it. Especially the background. The way the history was designed, and how it reflected our real history with alien encounters, and the distinct alien types reported at 3rd kind encounters. It was simply fantastic and I was instantly hooked.
I wasn’t running a game. In fact, I never ran 1st Edition Conspiracy X! I faithfully bought all of the books, devoured every line of information, but I have to confess the rules system didn’t really sit with me. I continued with my games of World of Darkness and Kult, but thought about Conspiracy X a lot.
At this time, I’d launched a small independent comic publishing company – Autocratik. I didn’t publish much, my little comic called Missing (which I wrote and drew), and I published “Consequences” for my good friend D’Israeli, the legendary artist who’d worked on Batman, Sandman, and 2000AD. My comic had been cancelled (due to lack of sales), and D’Israeli’s was a one-shot, so I was thinking about comics to work on and my mind came back to Conspiracy X. So I dropped George Vasilakos and Alex Jurkat at Eden a line with an idea for a Conspiracy X comic.
Typically, this was just as the glory days of independent comics were coming to an end, and it just wasn’t financially viable for me to continue. So I folded the company, gave up on that dream, and went back to a real job working in a bookstore.
Con X Blog: Damn, that must have been depressing, I know I’d be frustrated not being able to follow my creative dreams…
Dave: But, I kept talking to Eden. They were so receptive and open to hearing ideas, I saw this as an opportunity to try my hand at writing again, just like I had all those years ago with Ghostbusters. They asked if I could write something for them to prove I could write, and I ended up creating a complete supplement for them, for their All Flesh Must Be Eaten game. It was a supplement for turning the game into a slasher movie, rather than a zombie movie, called “Summercamp Stalkers and Unstoppable Evil”. It let you use the zombie rules to create a “Nemesis”, a supernaturally powered slasher / evil that the group had to try to survive.
Eden weren’t in a position to use it, but it proved I could write so they got me doing some editing work on stuff like Terra Primate, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Army of Darkness, Ghosts of Albion, and All Flesh Must Be Eaten.
A lot of it just felt like helping out a friend, if that makes any sense? They were really great to work with, despite being on the other side of the planet. If they needed something checking or tightening up, I helped out – some of it unpaid, some of it uncredited. But I wasn’t fussed. It was fun, I was doing something I loved. I even helped out at one of the UK GenCons on the Eden stand. Great fun!
Con X Blog: That’s great to hear that good things came out of the disappointment of closing up the publishing house, as they always say, as one door closes, another opens…
And that lead to… Actually, let me stop there. I have to ask. How did a fan and freelancer such as yourself get the opportunity to reboot Conspiracy X, this time with using Eden’s Unisystem mechanics?
Dave: I still loved Conspiracy X, and I was running WitchCraft by this point. I emailed Eden and said that it was odd that Conspiracy X, which by this point was kinda sitting idle, was the one game they produced that wasn’t Unisystem… and would they like me to revise it? I’d proved I could do that sort of thing before with Terra Primate – a game where they had a writer who did all the game, but needed the rules “plugging in” and a book building from those two elements. They asked me to write up a “pitch” and I showed it to George when he was in the UK at the final GenConUK.
Basically, I wanted to give Conspiracy X a new lease of life, to give it a faster and simpler game system that already existed with Unisystem, and update the setting. With series like Fringe still keeping conspiracy science fiction alive, it felt right. George gave me the go ahead, and I set to work.
Con X Blog: Fantastic! It’s pleasing to hear that George was open to reviving the line, especially as you say, when it had been sitting idle for a while. But it must have been a bit of a daunting task to dive into it, right?
I mean, the 1st edition of Con X wasn’t the most well supported RPG going around at the time, but it did have numerous supplements available. And from what I’ve heard it also had a considerable amount of material that was unpublished at the time. How did you go about converting it? What was your process?
Dave: The first thing was to work out what went where. The Conspiracy X books spread lots of Pulling Strings and Resources through the various volumes, so it was best to put them all together. A few were kept for their relative sourcebooks because they were exclusive to a certain element. In order to squeeze three books into one, the adventures and the fiction had to be lost, but after that there wasn’t really a need to trim anything else.
Of course, it had been years since some of these books had seen print, and the text files were long gone. Eden had the original Quark documents on file and I managed to slowly and laboriously copy and paste the text in chunks, carefully maintaining the boxouts, into new text files for editing, rewording and updating.
I was also given the original text files for Armageddon – the most up-to-date and revised version of Unisystem, and I started piecing it all together like a massive puzzle. My head was a mass of notes with string, like a JFK conspiracy theorist’s noteboard.
Then came the tricky bit. Being a Brit, I was unaware of just how much restructuring had occurred in American government in the wake of 9/11. I knew about the Department of Homeland Security, but didn’t know about the massive upheaval in almost every department, from the Department of Justice, customs and immigration, and the Treasury department. This possibly took up most of the time, making sure the Conspiracy X careers reflected the new structuring. I remember even emailing the FBI and DHS to check some facts.
Thankfully, it all seemed to come together fairly well. The only other tricky element was Seepage, but looking at it logically with the way that Essence was handled in WitchCraft, it seemed sensible to mirror Essence, almost as an “anti-Essence” that was building in the world and corrupting people and the environment.
Con X Blog: You raise a good point in regards to the just how much the world changed after 9/11, especially in America. In both reflecting that, and your take on the Seepage issue, I think you’ve outdone yourself.
I’m sure that looking back at this sort of effort, you must be proud of what you achieved? But any book, section or rules in particular you hold most fondly?
Dave: The Conspiracies Sourcebook was possibly my favourite to work on. The other three involved a lot of rewriting, and editing, but the fourth book had a lot of new material in there. Parts of it was my own, and huge chunks of it was from the legendary Area 51 Boxed Set that had been planned. George emailed me half a dozen documents of supplements that hadn’t seen publication, and the Area 51 boxed set – a set of four sourcebooks – had essential information which changed the way we perceived the Conspiracy X universe. It detailed the origins of the conspiracies, the true nature of the background. Major stuff that had never seen the light of day that would appeal to players of Conspiracy X both old and new.
There was also the option to play a more cinematic game, where the ConX reality that we were familiar with was just a simulation, with the Aegis resistance against the Saurian invasion hiding deep underground in a Matrix-style humanity’s last stand. It was sowing the seeds of some elements that would resurface in Extinction, the Armageddon of the Conspiracy X universe.
Of course, once the first book came out, the biggest surprise was how small the book was! I’m not sure if it affected sales, but seeing the size of the corebook was a shock. I knew it was going to be about the size of WitchCraft or Armageddon, but George was trying this new paperstock. It was glossy, more durable, and made the blacks of the art really dark and crisp. It looked fantastic. The new paperstock meant the actual thickness of the paper was less, and while the page count is more than WitchCraft, the book is half the thickness. I think it looks awesome, but I worried that people would feel like they weren’t getting their money’s worth in terms of actual girth!
Con X Blog: I wouldn’t worry about that. Page count wise all four books are up there with almost every other RPG, and once you open them up, it doesn’t take much to realise just how packed with information each book is. In fact combined, you’ve got near on a thousand pages of published content already.
Indeed, given that fact, I have to ask, is there actually anything else waiting in the wings to release?
Dave: There’s still plenty of unpublished material. The Area 51 books had a whole campaign designed which just couldn’t fit in the Conspiracies Sourcebook. And there’s still another batch of books, written for the first edition, that are just waiting for conversion and updating. There’s a UK sourcebook, a massive campaign about memories and technology, a global conspiracies book (Terra Incognito) that takes a Cell around the world and discovering other conspiracies. There was also a few other books looking at magic, intelligence operations, and even a fourth Bodyguard of Lies. Of course, before all of that, a fifth book was planned – The Operations Sourcebook – which would compile all of the adventures that were in the original supplements, that had to be cut for space for the new editions. These would be revised, updated, converted to Unisystem, and some new adventures added in there for good measure.
Con X Blog: Wow! That’s a lot more material than I was expecting to hear about, and it’ll be a shame if it doesn’t see the light of day at some point. But Eden was never the best at hitting its publishing dates, was it?
In fact, second edition itself is a good example of this, given the time that lapsed between the release of the core book and then the supplements (barring the pdf of the Extraterrestrials Sourcebook, of course). In some ways thought, this delay must have be the result of other forces at play. I have to ask, are you a privy to the why Eden Studio’s presence in the market suddenly shrank around the mid 2000s?
Dave: I must admit, I’m not sure myself! The corebook came out, and everything was going fine. As far as I know, the licensing contract with Fox ended for the Buffy game (still one of my favourite RPGs of all time – love Buffy and the RPG was simply fantastic) and I know there was a financial knock-on effect from the deal with Fox that put a strain on Eden. Alex Jurkat, the editor who gave everything another look over and really made things shine and work perfectly, left Eden to pursue his day job and pay the bills, and with CJ Carella cutting back on his game writing, it really just left Eden as George Vasilakos and a handful of freelancers like myself.
It took a long time for Eden to resurface after that. I always hoped the books would come out, especially as I was on a pay-on-publication contract. I’d handed in the four books, and was hoping to do more, but time passed and I had to set my sights on other things. I started to work with Cubicle 7 in their formative days to start to pitch to the BBC for the Doctor Who license.
Con X Blog: But we finally got the other Con X supplements in print and pdf, right?
Dave: I think the reason the other three books saw print is down to one word – Kickstarter. It had just started becoming a viable option for roleplaying game publishers. It was a way of testing the water, almost getting ‘pre-orders’ that could see a game published that would otherwise have never happened without an infusion of start-up capital. Out of the blue I had an email from George saying, “how about we try to put the Extraterrestrials Sourcebook on Kickstarter?” Of course, I had both the motivation that it was fantastic to see the book in print, but also it would mean that I’d get paid for the books I’d worked on so many years before. It was a win-win!
George did the layout, and I went through the book again a couple of time to make some last minute revisions, updates and changes. Not too much. A process that was repeated for the other two. Of course, Kickstarter and its stretch goals meant that additional elements like a GM screen, cool dice, zener cards, maps, and so on.
Con X Blog: I have to say that I was really proud to see the fans respond in the way they did to the Kickstarters, especially how they built over time in regards the amount pledged.
But what about you? Obviously there was a lot water under the bridge between the writing of the conversion and the final Kickstarter for the Conspiracies Supplement. Are you involved in the long promised Extinction sequel to Con X?
Dave: At the moment, my relationship with the game is a bit like a long lost first love, I’m sorry to say. I’ve moved on, but look back on our years together fondly. I was always just a freelancer, typing away in my free time and when Eden scaled back its production after the corebook came out, I needed to keep writing. I started working (again as a freelancer) for Cubicle 7, designing the game system for Doctor Who (which has since gone on to be used in Primeval and Rocket Age).
Back when I started work on Conspiracy X, I was sent the files that CJ Carella had produced for Extinction – the “sequel” to Conspiracy X. More of a “resistance against alien invasion” setting than conspiracy. When the Conspiracies Sourcebook was heading to Kickstarter, George said that he was looking to work on Extinction as a future Kickstarter, and that he would open up playtest to the Conspiracies Sourcebook backers as a stretch goal. He sent me some images he’d been playing with for Extinction, and it looked really cool.
Once the Kickstarter was over, I opened the Extinction files and started to have a look at them, and I had a real problem. It wasn’t anything to do with the game, it was me.
Back when I first was pitching to do the conversion for Conspiracy X, my father was very ill, and had been for some time. I’d just signed the contracts to write ConX, and a week later he’d died. Maybe it was just my way of dealing with the loss, but I kinda buried myself in the writing. Not a particularly healthy way of dealing with it, I suppose. The corebook has a dedication to him in the credits.
Just as the Conspiracies Sourcebook Kickstarter reached its goals, my mother died. That sourcebook has a dedication to her in the credits, almost bookending my Conspiracy X career in the worst way possible. I knew the “working through it” option hadn’t been very good for me with my father’s passing, and actually reading the Extinction rules – the pages and pages of death and destruction… I just felt like I needed something lighter to work on. My head and my heart were not in the place for violence, death and war. I needed to be working on something where combat wasn’t the core of the game, and I regretfully had to tell George that I couldn’t do it.
Last I heard, Extinction had been offered to a few writers who had worked on other Unisystem titles. It’s a massive job that is just waiting to be tackled, just by someone else I think.
Con X Blog: That’s a shame, from what I’ve seen and heard in the industry, it usually takes a dedicated advocate, such as yourself, to keep a game line alive. But that said, I totally understand your position, I mean it’s been a decade since Conspiracy X 2.0 hit the shelves…wow, has it really been that long!
And with that realisation, I have to ask, what do you think the future holds for Con X?
Dave: I’m not sure. With the return of Delta Green, it would be cool to see Conspiracy X make a return. I’m just not sure what’s going on. I have chatted to Derek Stoelting who is a dedicated freelancer running the Unisystem lines. We’d all but given up hope on there being any future for any of Eden’s lines, but things may be changing. There’s talk of the legendary Beyond Human being on the horizon, George teasing a new format, layout and design on Facebook recently. Also talk of a new edition of All Flesh Must Be Eaten. You never know. It’d be a shame if it fades into obscurity. It has such a rich background, and plenty of material just waiting to print.
I’d love to see more of the simulation scenario that was being hinted at in the Conspiracies Sourcebook, adding more cinematic combat and strangeness. And so many genre shows are ripe for Conspiracy X inspiration. Not just with The X-Files returning, but with shows like Colony, Falling Skies… even series like Orphan Black, Person of Interest, Sense8 and Wayward Pines are all filled with story ideas that could fuel a Conspiracy X game. Hell, even Supernatural, if you imagine all those demons and shapeshifters are Corrupted – a perfect civilian hunters game!
Con X Blog: You’re right, you know. There’s plenty of inspiration and source material floating about for a Chronicler to latch on to.
But moving on from Conspiracy X what are you up to these days, Dave? I know you’re involved with Cubicle Seven and their Doctor Who line.
Dave: Conspiracy X actually lead to my role working on Doctor Who for Cubicle 7. Chris Birch contacted me saying how much he liked ConX and we started chatting about getting more kids into RPGs. One thing lead to another, and a month or so later we’d teamed up with Dominic McDowall-Thomas and Angus Abranson who were just getting Cubicle 7 off the ground, and then we were sitting in the BBC offices!
Chris later went on to spawn Modiphius Entertainment, a veritable RPG powerhouse, and I continued to work on Doctor Who. Over the years I reduced my involvement, mostly chiming in to check rules, update the corebook for each Doctor, and to keep an eye on “my baby”, but Doctor Who is in very good hands with Dom and the guys at C7. They’re doing a great job with it, and are producing some cool and exciting things for the line.
Con X Blog: Good to hear! While I’ve not personally keep informed about the line, I’ve seen the very snazzy Limited Edition Anniversary printing a friend of mine has. Every nice!
So, life after Doctor Who is…
Dave: Since Doctor Who, I’ve been working on my own RPG called WILD, which stands for Wake-Initiated Lucid Dreaming. It’s inspired by my love of Inception, but taking the dreams into more exciting environments. I’ve been experimenting with using Tarot cards as a game mechanic, but it has been a slow process. It’s nice to work on another game that doesn’t involve a lot of combat. I’ve a couple of exciting projects on the horizon I can’t talk about yet, so it’s never a dull moment!
Besides that, I tried a couple of years ago to launch a thing called RPGaDAY. It’s a project where every August you can take part on social media, youtube or your blog, and daily address topics about RPGs to try to get everyone talking positively about games. It did okay the first year. Last year I managed to get some amazing names from the gaming world to contribute to my videos, and that was great fun.
I launched that initiative to try to combat the negativity that was circling the gaming community at the time, and I hope it helped rekindle the love of the games in a few people. Some of the negativity resurfaced last year, and I had some negative feedback, but that’s the nature of the internet sometimes.
I’m not sure if I’ll be doing it again this year – lots on my plate, so to speak – but if I do I probably won’t dedicate as much time to it as I have in the past. Daily videos were fun to do but exhausting and time consuming. But ultimately, I just need to remember the old saying – “never read the comments”!
Besides that, I’ll still keep chipping away at WILD, and other projects. Who knows, maybe one day, Aegis Prime will recruit me again to fight the alien threat. After all, the Cells need to be ready to take on our new reptilian overlords!
Con X Blog: As long as we don’t lose you to gaming, as we have when so many other great designers have moved on to… shall we just say… better paying opportunities.
It was great to talk to you to Dave, and I’m sure fans of Con X will keep up to date with your goings on over at . I really appreciate you taking the time to reminisce about Conspiracy X and the dedication it took to convert it over to the system we all love the most.
Once again, thanks a lot!
And that concludes our first interview on the new blog site. I hope to be able to bring you more in the future, and am always happy to reach out to chat with anyone involved in this great game from over the years.