I’ve had the pleasure to interview my good friend Fabian Küchler a few weeks before THE KRAKEN 2015, a short gaming retreat that is taking place on October 2-5, 2015 at Schloss Neuhausen, a Prussian château at a couple hours drive from Berlin. With an impressive list of Guests of Honor and so many great RPGs and boardgames already programmed, THE KRAKEN 2015 is definitely one of the gaming events NOT to miss this Fall.
In this interview, you’ll discover a bit of THE KRAKEN’s past, what’s planned for this 2015 edition, and also some of the secrets on running a successful gaming holiday.
YD: Hello Fabian, thank you very much for this interview. For starters, could you present yourself a little, and tell us which games you’re playing at the moment?
Fabian: Hi Yohann, you are very welcome. My name is Fabian Küchler and I think I am best known for my role in organizing gaming events like the former Tentacles Convention, every other year THE KRAKEN Gaming Vacation, and now THE KRAKEN Gaming Retreat. Because of this ‘hobby’ I rarely have time for gaming myself. I host a boardgame day at my apartment every other month, where I and some other gaming enthusiasts playboard games like Civilization, Axis & Allies, Diplomacy, Cosmic Encounter, Arkham Horror, Battlestar Galactica and now Cthulhu Wars. Well, I am basically introducing some people to the classics. (Laughs) There is a promise of a Call of Cthulhu campaign I might be invited to as a player and I have yet to discover playing roleplaying games again via Google Hangouts. I heard it is great. Not the least from you (Laughs). But at heart I am a Glorantha fan and I love RuneQuest and HeroQuest. I am also nuts for Robin D. Laws other games like Hillfolk with its DramaSystem.
YD: You’ve been organizing conventions and gaming vacations for, what, a decade now? Could you present THE KRAKEN, and also tell us why the 2015 edition is a particular one?
Fabian: Well, I started organizing conventions when I was 19, a bit over two decades ago now. (Laughs) It has been a bit of time now. Sandy Petersen said once “This is my good friend Fabian, that I’ve known for over 20 years.” as he introduced me to someone. I went “Wow, he is right.” and of course I got to know Sandy through conventions. To us THE KRAKEN is the direct development out of Tentacles, hence the name.
YD: Can you explain that?
Fabian: Sure! First you only see the Tentacles and then THE KRAKEN comes up and devours you. (Laughs) To understand THE KRAKEN and what it is, I need to go back in history a bit. Tentacles, our first show, was a classic 3-day weekend convention at castle Stahleck, in beautiful Bacharach, on the Rhine in Germany. It was a direct successor of the German RQ-Cons of our club, the RuneQuest-Gesellschaft e.V., and a very international show heavily focused on the games from Chaosium Inc. and all their offsprings. Naturally Glorantha, RuneQuest, Hero Wars and HeroQuest as well as Call of Cthulhu, Elric!, Pendragon and FreeForm games, big and small. It was a lot of work to organize it every year and fill the castle with 140 to 180 gamers from around the world. But it was also a lot of fun and a truly magical experience. However, we ran into an odd problem after doing it for 13 years. First of all it was foreseeable, in a not too distant future, that we could not line-up our Guests of Honor and good friends Greg Stafford, Sandy Petersen, Charlie Krank and Lawrence Whitaker any more every year. Either because the wear and tear was going to be too much for them, or as they moved away to even more remote locations in the world. For us, there was no way Tentacles could be the same without their charisma, their games, jokes and wicked sense of humor, their ideas, stories, creativity and motivation for the team.
Secondly, and that was the odd problem, it was becoming more and more obvious that the Tentacles’ attendees, whom we love with all our heart, had a tougher and tougher choice to make every year. Do you want to hang out with your friends from all around the world, that you can only see once a year, and chat and have a drink? Or do you want to participate in a gaming program that took 6 months to prepare? The success of Tentacles was simply beginning to eat the Tentacles itself. Sven ‘Evil’ Nolte, our financial officers; dryly said “We simply passed our half-time.”. If that is not a verdict — I don’t know what it is. (Laughs)
We discussed the situation within our team and the legal organization behind it, our roleplaying club RuneQuest Gesellschaft e.V. We agreed we had to change, and then we took a vote at our official meeting. The club allowed us to take all the funds and material from Tentacles and host a new gaming event with it,because at the same time, we still felt we weren’t done and that we still had fun doing conventions. In fact we had already presented our new idea.
Basically, instead of watching Tentacles wither away and become a ghoul, we decided to host a last Tentacles Convention, Tentacles Omega for a proper goodbye, instead of just ending it and then take all we like from the convention and start over. Why not make it longer? We already spent a week of holidays to set-up and run Tentacles anyway? We would have had time to play AND hang out and chat. Why not having more comfort and better food? Why not harnessing the incredible creativity of our attendees to create, develop and test games? Why not going from the castle to a chateau as history demonstrated? The result was THE KRAKEN a Gaming Vacation. We brainstormed the idea at our infamous team meeting Camp Fork hosted by Sven Fork. We looked around while having beer between relaxed games, chilling in the sun and we said: “More of this.”
So, THE KRAKEN is basically a baroque gathering of international gamers and game creators to play and create fine quality games at Schloss Neuhausen, along with great food, comfy beds and all-inclusive drinks. Normally, it lasts 5 days and takes place every other year. Except this year, I went rogue on the team and decided more or less single-handedly to run a Mini-KRAKEN. I guess I could not stand to wait another year before the next one. (Laughs) And it looks like quite a lot of our Krakeneers agree. (Laughs) So THE KRAKEN a Gaming Retreat was born. It is shorter, cheaper and a bit less elaborate than the Gaming Vacation ,and it is also a great way for people with less time and money to find out what THE KRAKEN is. I am sure it also helps to counter some objections people might have against the concept or better evaporates them. (Laughs) We have a certain philosophy about gaming events, you know.
YD: Interesting, can you tell us more about it?
Fabian: I have the feeling that most conventions are at their heart still the way they were in the very beginning. They have developed less than the games they host. This insight struck me as I was reading the book 40 Years of GenCon by Robin D. Laws about the history of GenCon. At the very first GenCon someone was insightful enough to snap a few pictures. You can see geeky teenagers having fun or better livin’ the high life. They radiate joy and companionship and do not care that there are no tables and chairs (they play on the ground), let alone food, drinks, beds or showers. Somehow this seems to be the DNA of conventions. Meaning who needs comfort and culture when you can just play games? Do conventions have to define themselves through size and attendance numbers? Do we need the exhausting feel of gaming through the night and crashing under a table on a camping mattress? Well, it is fair enough if you are a teenager but many gamers are older than that. But I am not saying these things can’t be fun.
I always felt conventions could be more than that and always tried to do crazy things early on. At one of the very first Dreieich Cons (now one of the biggest Cons in Germany) I was on the team and had the crazy idea — wait for it — hand out FREE BEER to GMs at the end of the show on Sunday night. Guess what, no one wanted it — except the team. (Laughs) People literally passed us by while we offerend them free beer. (Laughs) Maybe it was too social an idea for most gamers. I am very fond of Chimériades (in Provence, France) and their convention culture. They have been able to capture the true spirit of Tentacles in my opinion. If you want to have an idea what Tentacles felt like, don’t miss the next Chimériades. A big inspiration for Tentacles and THE KRAKEN has always been the Convulsion conventions in England and the RQ-Cons worldwide.
YD: THE KRAKEN 2015 is meant to be a gaming retreat for all the attendees (myself included), and I hope for the organizers too. Could you tell us a bit more about the activities that are planned there?
Fabian: First of all there will be many excellent roleplaying sessions and great players. One of the secrets of our success is that most if not all Krakeneers are GMs. So they make GREAT players because they are happy to play and know what you need as a GM. We will have a multitude of seminars and boardgames. Sandy Petersen will basically bring ALL games still in development at Petersen Games including the Cthulhu Wars expansions with finished miniatures and game pieces, AND run a Call of Cthulhu session for the winners of the Horror Lottery. We will have crazy events like Axe Throwing and Speed Archery, Kubb, Sandy’s Movie Nights (Oh! yes, Sandy is a Movie Buff), a Cthulhu Sing-Along as well as an action ready Billiard table, all inclusive food and drinks, Finnish Pancakes, a French Apero (Wait, that is not even on the website yet!?), a KRAKEN Bazaar, a Charlie Krank style BBQ and you can help test and create games. Tentacles and THE KRAKEN have been Hotspots for new designers, artists and authors. You should have to ask Grégory Privat about that! (Laughs) It is a very creative atmosphere. And then there will be cake… Oh, while I’m typing, there is this one last spot that has just opened up for THE KRAKEN. So if you still want to come, hurry up!
YD: So what is the difference to THE KRAKEN Gaming Vacation?
Fabian: First of all it is shorter and cheaper but it is also a bit less elaborate and has a smaller team running it. But it is the same crazy fun. During a Gaming Retreat however we do not plan to be booked out and we do not host FreeForm games, workshops or big miniature games. But we are booked out now. Well, no, as I said there is still one spot open. Well, open again. (Laughs)
YD: There will also be Guests of Honor, and this is quite an impressive roster! Could you present them briefly, please?
Fabian: Sure, there will be Uncle Sandy aka Sandy Petersen the designer of Call of Cthulhu, Cthulhu Wars and main contributing author of Glorantha, Ken Rolston from Paranoia and The Elder Scrolls fame, Jeff Richards ,the architect of the Guide to Glorantha and creative director of Chaosium Inc., Michael ‘MOB’ o’ Brien, former editor from Tales of the Reaching Moon, Maximum Game Fun advocate and author of the RQ supplement ‘Sun County’. We will also have Jason Durall the main author of the Big Gold Book ‘BRP’ book and Online Game Designer for Drakensang Online, and as a last minute addition none lesser then Chris Klug himself, the author of the James Bond 007 RPG. Well, I was not sure if we would host any Guests of Honor at a Mini-KRAKEN but since it is a week before SPIEL ’15 in Essen and Sandy was going to be there anyway because of business, so we got lucky. Jeff and Jason now live in Berlin, MOB is passing through, Ken owed me a visit since he never made it to Tentacles and Chris Klug heard about us through your Google Hangout game about us and decided he wanted to come play games and hang-out with the crew. Why, don’t you tell us something about that Yohann?
(Note from the interviewer: Chris Klug heard about THE KRAKEN 2015 from me during a session or HeroQuest Glorantha I ran with him on Google Hangouts. He got interested, so I just gave him Fabian’s contact details. My work stopped at that point).
YD: Every edition of THE KRAKEN sees the release of a KRAKEN Chapbook as part of a fundraiser. Could you give us some details about this year’s edition and what this fundraiser is about?
Fabian: That is not entirely true. (Laughs) Even so it was planned since the beginning we could only pull it off last year and this year. We just had to find a format for the fundraiser and it was an inspiration I during conversations at and after the last Chimériades, especially with Robin D. Laws. So, thanks Philippe, Camille, Rémy and the rest of the team (the love pays back nicely)! (Laughs) The idea of our fundraiser is to provide stellar content by well-known roleplaying designers and authors but in a very simple and accessible form. We make them available in a very small print run and in PDF. This year will see the publication of a great talk by Sandy Petersen about forgotten secrets of Glorantha. After 20 years of knowing Sandy I finally realized the huge impact he had on Glorantha. While Greg is the über-creative creator of all things in Glorantha, Sandy was the guy who saw connections, made many things work, and most importantly made them fun. One thing about hanging around with Sandy is that it is never boring. For 20 years, I have kept hearing new stories. So I told him I wanted him to talk about the super secret stuff of Glorantha that is basically stored only in his and Greg’s brain. So I set up a camera and a Dictaphone, and Sandy sat down in the empty chapel of Schloss Neuhausen with only me at first. While we were waiting for more people Sandy calmly grabbed a piece of paper and a pen and began to write down an honest to god list of the forgotten secrets from his memory. So I was right these things exist like I envisioned it. The room filled up pretty fast after we started the seminar. (Laughs) So this year, the KRAKEN Chapbook is the transcription of this seminar and we have to thank Scott Martin for jumping in the trenches and transcribing it all. It has pieces of Glorantha art by Jon Hodgson who is famous for his illustrations in the Guide to Glorantha. Hey, you have read it, Yohann. What do you think?
(Note from the interviewer: as one of this Kraken Chapbook’s proofreaders, and a relatively new Gloranthan explorer, I got utterly mindblown. The amounts of details provided in there and their depth will make this little tiny book an incredibly indispensable supplement to this world. Besides, I really loved Jon Hodgson’s illustrations. They’ve really captured the mood of… Oops! I was about to spill the beans…)
Fabian: Here is an evil tease : Jon was also captured by the contents he did two more illustrations without me knowing.
YD: Fabian, you inspired other conventions, like the Chimériades in south-eastern France, which has seen an increasing success over the years. If you had to share your experience and give some advice to future convention organizers, like on how to attract big names from the industry and so on, what would you tell them?
Fabian: It is said that we have inspired only ONE convention so far. (Laughs) But boy, it is a really cool convention. Honestly, I am very pleased and humbled by the existence of the Chimériades and I have to tell you the story on how it all started one time. It is very funny. (Laughs) But yes, 20 years of doing conventions with a bit of unnatural zeal leaves you with a lot of experience and possible pieces of advice. If you ask Philippe (Note from the interviewer: Philippe Auribeau, one the Chimériades’ masterminds), he will tell you that the most valuable piece of advice I gave him was ‘Start small.’ This is particularly amusing for me because I sat down with him when I visited him on my holiday in Provence and we talked for HOURS. I gave him all kind of advice but this is what he took away. (Laughs) But yes, starting small is a good idea. Also be unique and special. Focus on something. There are many conventions that have general gaming as a focus. Game designers can be more easily lured to a convention that celebrates the games they have written of course. One secret is that they often LOVE be among like minded people after years sitting writing lonely in their room. They like the feedback and they like seeing their games are cherished and played. Also I found that a trip to a foreign country and hospitable hosts is a great motivation to attend for them. And being able to not talk about your character is a great skill especially if you meet the spouses of said authors and designers. (Laughs) Tree McLean the wife of Charlie Krank once said about me and Sven “These two can visit, they don’t talk about their characters.” (Laughs) Also the more convention experienced Guests of Honor, like Robin D. Laws, have a very effective detector if your convention is good. Robin says he knows it when he gets off the plane. Basically it goes like this: “If the people picking you up at the airport (mostly the people in charge of a convention) are calm and relaxed it is a great con. If they act as if they are in a constant emergency and seem to panic it is going to be a rough ride.” So, yes being prepared helps. I think, there are only guidelines for running a great convention or better principles but no formula that you can copy. You must have fun doing it. You must find your own thing. I like doing it. It is a great way of self-expression; it is a creative outlet. It is ‘Doing something.’ And you can do great things. So if anyone asks me for some advice or help, then do feel free to ask me, even if it is “only” about packing cars the German way — one of my most noble activities at Chimériades. (Laughs) True, just ask my Fabian-Deutsche-Ninja-Squad. But hey, there is some good advice I have for convention organizers. “Burned” by my teaching experience with Philippe, I came up with shorter more snappy advice or rather a rules list for convention organizers:
- Do it again
Philippe cherishes this list even though he is not that good following those points. I guess I framed an ideal that is indeed very hard to live up to as a convention organizer worth their salt. It is harder then it looks like.
YD: Thank you very much for your answers Fabian. I’m really looking forward to being at THE KRAKEN this October. If you agree, I’ll also interview you when this gaming holiday is over to share your experience with us once again.
Fabian: It will be my pleasure. See you soon.
For more information, visit THE KRAKEN website: