Hercules: Greetings Magnus! I am greatly honored to be interviewing the creator and author of the Dogs of Hades RPG. Thank you for granting us this interview.
Magnus: My pleasure.
Hercules: What were the games you grew up playing? And which ones were your favorites?
Magnus: Well my first game was D&D the Red Box, followed by AD&D 2ndEdition and Drager og Dæmoner – a Swedish Sword & Sorcery game based on the RuneQuest rules. But then I moved to France and found out that there were worlds beyond the standard high fantasy genre. I brought In Nomine Satanis/Magna Veritas and Bloodlust home to Denmark – two of the greatest French games ever made.
I’ve regularly played both games, and Bloodlust is my personal favorite Sword & Sorcery world.
As for systems – I’ve been mostly a fan of GURPS until I found Savage Worlds.
Hercules: How did you discover Role Playing Games?
Magnus: One of my friends called me – he had just gotten the Red Box and needed a Dungeon Master. Since I was constantly making comics at the time, he figured I’d be a good DM. I was twelve and never looked back…
Hercules: I understand that you are a teacher. Can you tell us more about this career path?
Magnus: I met some great teachers in the Danish gymnasium (11th-13th grade) – and I decided I wanted to be just as knowledgeable if I could.
Hercules: What inspired you to pursue the path of Game Designer?
Magnus: I’ve always made stories and worlds – even before I found RPGs – so it was always natural to me. I like making systems as well, but it’s not my main force, so I really like working within other systems, tweaking them to fit whatever world or story I’m trying to convey.
Hercules: How would you say your two professions relate?
Magnus: Teaching is a social endeavor – much like a roleplaying session. You learn by not only listening to others, but also by communicating things as simply and as clearly as possible. In a RPG session the exact same social mechanics are present. Both as a GM and as a teacher, getting the group to work and be engaged is vital. If you fail, things become a slug, but if you get the enthusiasm going, then you can more or less just take a step back and enjoy the scene as your players/students take care of business.
Hercules: Have you explored, or are you considering, other vocational paths?
Magnus: Not seriously.
Hercules: Before Dogs of Hades, did you create or work on any other games?
Magnus: Oh yeah – lots. I made Danish and English translations of both In Nomine Satanis/Magna Veritas and Bloodlust, and even got so far as to consider publishing an English version of Bloodlust myself, but the investment at the time (it was pre-internet) was too much for a student pay.
A few years after I came home from France, we had a pretty solid RPG group of very ambitious people. We really competed in making the best possible RPG experiences, and many of the campaigns from that time we still talk about. We made animated trailers, soundtracks, players handbooks, etc., for our campaigns – trying to outdo each other. The Garden of Athena/Dogs of Hades – grew from a 75 page players handbook I’d made for one of these campaigns.
Hercules: You obviously have deep feelings for ancient Hellenic culture.
Magnus: Hellenic culture is extremely important because of its geographical and historical position – but I have deep feelings for all ancient cultures… I’m a historian after all.
Hercules: What inspired Dogs of Hades?
Magnus: I was trying to work out what my next campaign was going to be – when I went to see The Phantom Menace, and saw one of the guards of Senator Palpatine who had a very Hellenic-looking helmet. That was it. Space-hoplites. And I had just re-read Frank Herbert’s Dune, and finished a course at university about warfare in Ancient Greece.
Hercules: Can you provide us with an overview of how the game approaches Greek Mythology and what possibilities are thereby opened to those who wish to play?
Magnus: It’s not a coincidence that Greek and Norse mythology has been such a stable of the fantasy genre pretty much from the beginning. They both lend themselves to epic stories because the gods are flawed beings, the monsters are (relatively) recognizable across cultures, and mortal humans are very much pro-active participants in the stories. This last part is particularly important for an RPG. It should always be the PCs’ actions that are in focus and feel important, even when dealing with super powerful beings like gods and the like. In the in-game mythology, the gods did once wipe out humanity, only to discover that they missed them when they were gone. So they revived the bravest of them and gave them a planet (the Garden of Athena) to live on. This make the humans and gods interdependent, not equals in power – but equals in importance.
Hercules: Why sci-fi and outer-space?
Magnus: Historical RPGs are often very hard to make fun, unless you make it very “Hollywood” – and I think I’m too much of a historian to feel comfortable ignoring real history. I could have made Dogs of Hades in a Fantasy setting – but I think it would have become a little too run-of-the-mill in that case. I really wanted the freedom to mix a lot of cultures, periods and technologies together in a new way, without the short cuts of time travel or dimensional hopping. Space Opera seemed the perfect home for my setting.
Hercules: I’m greatly enamored of Dogs of Hades and love the One Sheets. At present I’ve reviewed all but one. What inspired their creation?
Magnus: The One Sheets is a stable of Savage Worlds – and Miles (Savage Mojo/Suzerain) wisely continued that for the Suzerain settings. I think they’re a perfect way, not only to explain a setting to newcomers, but also for the writers to distill the essence what type of stories his setting can or should tell. For me personally it’s the perfect place to tell all the little stories and adventures that highlight different locations or elements of the setting, that I didn’t get to elaborate in the plot-point campaign.
Hercules: I love the game’s focus on the human condition. Why focus on that as opposed to individuals with heroic or even deific powers?
Magnus: As I mentioned above, the beauty of the Greek mythology is exactly that it is about the human condition – heightened and emphasized in the case of gods and demi-gods – but it’s always based in easily recognizable human feelings. Achilles and Jason were powerful warriors, but both were struck down by sorrow at the loss of their loved ones. And I love epic battles, but the “epicness” is always bound up in the investment. An unarmed woman fighting off a rapid wolf to save her baby can be just as epic as the 300 at Thermopylae.
Hercules: Dogs of War is also a strong statement about the importance of cultural diversity. Would you care to expand on that a bit?
Magnus: From the beginning I realized that if I made the Athenian culture in Dogs of Hades too monolithic it would become far too much like a Roman empire – something which has been seen so many times in Space Opera and Science Fiction that it’s almost a cliché. Also, I really like how the Hellenistic culture on Earth was made up of so many different elements, absorbing over the millennia so many different gods, customs, philosophies, technologies, etc., each addition making the overall culture stronger and more dominant in the Mediterranean world. It was this diversity and ability to absorb the best from other cultures they encountered that made them so strong. And it was only when they started feeling that no one else could teach them anything that they began to decline. Following Alexander the Great, whose success made all the successor kings try to recapture his glory instead of seeking their own.
I tried to convey this feeling in Dogs of Hades. The Athenians’ strength comes from their diversity, and it is only when they become too full of themselves that they are stopped by the Sakalids their cultural opposites.
The barbarian cultures are an amalgamation of ideas I’ve had, most of them are very recognizable cultures from Earth with a twist.
Hercules: Have you designed any other games since Dogs of Hades?
Magnus: I’ve made a couple of Savage Worlds conversions, Bloodlust (again), Mystara (oD&D), and Warhammer Fantasy RP, but I’m doubting that any of them are going to get published as anything but fan projects.
Hercules: Are you currently involved with any other creative projects?
Magnus: I’m writing a children’s fantasy book (in Danish) and a pike-and-shotte Fantasy novel.
My favorite board-game is a WWII game called Memoir’44 and I’ve been actively involved in the Online Version of this game, and have made a good number of maps for it, most based on the Sino-Japanese part of WWII, as well as organizing both real life and online tournaments.
I’ve also stumbled into an interesting project, live-illustrating for a group of Danish stand-up comedians roleplaying D&D in front of a live audience. My usual definition of table-top RPGs is “improvisational theater for the introvert”, so this is a new experience.
Hercules: Which of your projects or gaming related activities has been the most challenging?
Magnus: Keeping deadlines is always a challenge – especially when you’re working on something you’re really invested in. But as gaming-related challenges go, I’d say my weekly game-sessions at the school where I work are the hardest but also the most rewarding. I love how table-top games can still capture the imagination of kids, even when faced with the temptations of tablet and computer games.
Hercules: Which of them has given you the greatest level of creative freedom as an artist?
Magnus: I’ve never felt restrained when making RPGs. As a matter of fact, it’s often the other way around. When Dogs of Hades/Garden of Athena found a home with Miles and his Suzerain universe, I only ever felt it as a help to tighten up the background for the setting. Some great ideas were born from having to merge my original ideas with the Suzerain universe.
Hercules: And which of them has given you the greatest level of fulfillment as an individual?
Magnus: I really loved holding the physical copy of Dogs of Hades in my hands… I highly recommend publishing a book – it’s a fantastic feeling.
Hercules: Beyond teaching and designing games, what is the rest of your personal universe like?
Magnus: I turned 15000 days last year, so it was time for my mid-life crisis. I decided against buying an expensive sports car and go running with the bulls in Pamplona, and instead got involved in politics. It’s a good new challenge, especially since I’m trying to sell openness, compromise, and evolution to a world that is so used to politics going for protectionism, antagonism and revolutions.
Aside from that – I try as much as possible to enjoy life while I’m here.
Hercules: What is next in the Dogs of Hades Universe?
Magnus:Working title is Curse of Eris… We’ll have to see what format it will take.
Hercules: The people at Savage Mojo seem like a wonderful group of people. How are they to work with?
Magnus: I really enjoy the fact that Savage Mojo is such an international endeavor. For Dogs there was Miles working out of New Zealand, Aaron Acevedo out of the US, Vincent Kingston, my editor out of Canada and finally Robert Friis and me working from here in Denmark. You gotta love how the internet connects so many people around common projects.
Hercules: And what is next in the unfolding saga of Magnus Nygaard?
Magnus: I really don’t want to know. The future is such an interesting place to speculate about, but it’s important to stay open and not get disappointed when it arrives. I used to speculate a lot about the future when I was younger. As a matter of fact, I’m still a little miffed that we’re in 2017 and don’t have a moon-base, hoverboards, and a starship on the way to Alpha-Centauri…
Hercules: How can people enter and experience your creative realm(s)?
Magnus: At the moment, I’m not really promoting anything myself. I’ll be sure to make a lot of noise when I publish stuff, so my Facebook page is probably the best way to keep and eye on me.
Hercules: How can people contact you directly?
Magnus: A knock on my door will always get answered… All kidding aside, I’ve worked for the Cruise industry here in Copenhagen for twenty years in my summer holidays – so if anyone reading this need recommendations for hotels, tours, etc., go right ahead and poke me on Facebook.
Hercules: Thank you very much Magnus for this wonderful interview. I wish you the greatest success in all your endeavors!
Magnus: Thank you, Hercules, and likewise.
(c) Hercules Invictus