Monday, August 10, 2015

#RPGaDay 11: Favourite RPG Designer - Carl Sargent

1970s Carl Sargent I assume (and hope!)
Without a doubt my favourite designer of RPGs is Carl Sargent. Carl is an English writer with a PhD in parapsychology who was co-opted into TSR UK and Games Workshop in the 80s and wrote some of the best supplements for Greyhawk and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, as well as working on Fighting Fantasy and Shadowrun stuff that I'm not familiar with.

Among these seminal works are Warhammer: City, The City of Greyhawk Boxed Set, From the Ashes, The Marklands, Iuz the Evil, Ivid the Undying, DMGR4: Monster Mythology and the Night Below Boxed Set.

When Carl Sargent wrote a sourcebook its text was chock full of dense, vivd prose that would paint the landscapes in an astounding level of detail. 1 page of the Marklands or Ivid the Undying could spark ideas for dozens of scenarios. It's the benchmark I hold any RPG writing I do up to.

His adventures are pretty good too, though perhaps not as exceptional. He wrote the Night Below boxed set, which is a 2E prerunner to the Adventure Paths Paizo now produce (in other words a campaign to take one from Level 1 to a really high level).

In Warhammer he wrote Power Behind the Throne, the seminal Warhammer city adventure that is the fourth part of the seminal origial Enemy Within. It sees a mid-level Warhammer party trying to interact with the royalty of Middenheim and relies heavily on roleplaying. His notes were so detailed on the city that they were published as the Warhammer City sourcebook, the definitive gazetteer of Middenheim city that has been rehashed in later products like Ashes of Middenheim and even FFG's new Enemy Within.

He was tapped to write Empire in Flames as the conclusion to the Enemy Within campaign, rushing out a pretty linear but interesting finale that probably could've done with a redraft or two to make it actually close up some of the campaigns threads. I would happily run it with a few modifications and allowing the PCs free-reign to deviate from what is a pretty tight script that sees the PCs follow a trail of breadcrumbs around the Warhammer world.

He seemed to churn out a lot of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay dungeon romps - Castle Drachenfels is Tomb of Horrors for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Lichemaster looks interesting, and Death's Dark Shadow is a solid "Twin Peaks" style village-based campaign.

His shorter adventures are quite well regarded, the sort that used to appear in magazines like White Dwarf when they were actually good. Grapes of Wrath is considered a classic Warhammer adventure, his Rescue the Paladin adventure is a hilarious change on the damsel-in-distress trope.

He tied together a lot of the White Dwarf scenarios into the Restless Dead Campaign, an amusing collection of adventures I ran several of a few years back, though it seems hampered by the fact the original texts of those adventures are unmodified (but are surrounded by notes telling you what NPCs to change for the campaign version) while his new addition The Haunting Horror is a dungeon romp, something WFRP does not do well.

In Greyhawk he wrote 2 adventures that were prequels to the Greyhawk Wars, as well as City of Skulls - which is a deadly adventure for mid-level PCs trying to infiltrate Iuz the Evil's capital.

Unfortunately Carl left the gaming scene in the late 90s when he was tapped to take a job at FASA working on *ugh* Shadowrun, another range he was prolific in. It marked the end of his RPG writing career as the great James Wallis, who republished a lot of Sargent's Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay work under the Hogshead imprint says,

"Around 1995/6 he accepted a job with FASA as the Shadowrun editor, in Chicago. He left Nottingham to fly to Chicago, but apparently never got on the plane. Nobody knew where he was, though many people in the games industry were trying to locate him. He wasn't answering his phone, emails, anything. Finally about a month later he was seen at his house in Nottingham by someone who knew him well.

"... FASA never heard from Carl, and eventually rescinded the job offer.

"After the incident Carl broke off contact with old friends and colleagues, to the extent of walking past them on the street and not acknowledging them."

And like that he was gone. Hope he's well.

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