Wednesday, November 18, 2020

10 QUESTIONS TO: Allan Wroe

Allan Wroe is the mind behind The Secret Files of Section D, an officially licensed Pulp / Espionage Roleplaying Game setting for Savage Worlds Adventure Edition, currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter.

Allan has previously written an adventure for Triple Ace Games' Hellfrost but this is, as yet, unpublished and believed to be scheduled for the Hellfrost Second Edition… But now he’s taken the big step! He got his Ace License from Pinnacle Entertainment Group and is launching his setting book for Savage Worlds Adventure Edition.

But who is Allan? Allan is a nice guy from Manchester (and the word for that is Mancunian, believe it or not!). He’s worked in the print and packaging industry and IT Recruitment, but is now determined to make a career as an author, designer and publisher. He’s got a clever, amiable sense of humour and knows how to pour it into his writings.

1 Hello Allan. First of all, tell us about The Secret Files of Section D, as if you were trying to explain it to my aunt!

Hi there, thanks for giving me the opportunity to chat about my baby! And ciao Zia Rotondo!

The Secret Files of Section D is a tongue-in-cheek game about the adventures of a group of fictional spies who work for a real world organisation. Section D of the Secret Intelligence Service existed in the late 1930s and ultimately became a part of the Special Operations Executive. Imagine Indiana Jones, Reilly Ace of Spies and Monty Python in one book!

2 What are the influences from any type of media that are more easily recognizable in Section D?

It’s hard to ignore things like the Indiana Jones and Mummy movies when you’re writing something like this so there is a definite influence there. X Company, a fantastic series about WWII resistance fighters, was also a big influence but shows the very serious side of clandestine operations in occupied Europe. 

Added to this are more comedic elements from TV shows like Blackadder Goes Forth and the sublime ‘Allo ‘Allo which both show the more farcical (or should that be futile) side of war. 

Lastly, we took a lot of inspiration from the “dime book” novels and comics of the era to establish the look and feel of the game. The Commando comic books also heavily influenced the art style. The artwork in the book is mostly provided by Mat McGawley but there are a  couple of other contributors as well. 

3 The Taster Edition of Section D shows a nice mix of pulp action and subtle humour. How are they developed in the full game?

A lot of this comes from the new Edges and Hindrances I’ve written for the game. For example, the Edge “Magic Laundry”, which is previewed in the Taster Edition, draws heavily on James Bond and The Last Action Hero. No matter what the hero goes through, they always look immaculate within moments. Humour around a game table almost always comes from the players so I’ve made sure there are plenty of tools to allow opportunities to try outlandish things. 

Worth noting is that the book presents the world pretty much as it was in 1938 when Section D was founded. The pulp and humour elements are built on the top of that but it’s often the case that the truth is stranger than the fiction!

4 You’ve released the Taster Edition free PDF of Section D a few weeks ago. What feedback have you received? Has it proved helpful?

We’ve had close to 500 downloads of the Taster Edition and most of the feedback received has been extremely positive. People feel the art style, while not like modern RPG books, is fitting for the time period (which is what we were going for) and the few Edges and Hindrances they’ve seen are appropriate to the setting. In general the look and feel of the Taster Edition was well received though a couple of people commented that the text spacing could have been a bit more generous. I’ve taken those comments on board and when layout starts for the full setting there will be subtle changes. 

I haven’t received any scathing criticism as yet so I’m taking that as a good thing!

5 You’re currently using Kickstarter to fund your first big project, which is the perfect example of what crowdfunding was originally designed for. Through the years, though, it has become more and more important even for the “big players” in the RPG industry.

Do you consider that unfair? Or is the presence of big publishers beneficial to the small ones? Do you see that changing anytime soon? How would YOU like things to change?

It’s fair to say that Kickstarter is now the most used route to market for RPGs and Table Top Games in general. Without it, I think our industry would be a much poorer place. 

I don’t consider it “unfair” for the larger publishers to use Kickstarter at all, in fact I’d say a lot of them are now big publishers because of Kickstarter. The larger companies draw the audience to the platform and help the smaller ones get noticed. Pinnacle is a great example because they put out great products. I hope that by association, my product will also be seen as great. If Pinnacle trust me enough to give me an ACE license then maybe the backers will also give that trust. 

How would I like things to change? That’s a great question. One thing I would like to see more of in Kickstarter is support for retailers, particularly in the games industry. A lot of companies use Kickstarter to bypass the FLGS and I think as publishers we should be supporting them. That’s why The Secret Files of Section D Kickstarter has a retail pledge at a wholesale price. We want to open up that channel and build a relationship with game stores and gamers around the world. 

6 You’re an Englishman launching a setting about a British intelligence group, for a game whose audience mainly is from the US. Do you see a challenge or an extra value in that?

Another great question. I certainly don’t see it as a major challenge, at the end of the day it’s a roleplaying game so, by definition, it’s supposed to take people out of their day-to-day life. Also, I think if you ask pretty much anybody to name a spy they’ll say “James Bond”. Ian Fleming was heavily influenced by Section D and the SOE when he wrote the initial Bond stories. 

I’ve had really good feedback from US based people I’ve spoken with and I ran three sessions for the recent Hollerween event which were really well received by a primarily US based audience.

There’s no reason at all why players couldn’t play a US agent, in fact one of the pregenerated characters in the Taster Edition is American. At the time of the beginnings of Section D, the US didn’t really have anything other than Naval Intelligence by way of a clandestine unit. Who is to say that an American wasn’t seconded to Section D to ultimately help set up the OSS?  

I will say at this point though, US based readers should have a read of question 9!

7 Inclusion and representation of minorities in RPGs have become a hot topic, recently. How does Section D address that? And I’m asking both as a product and as the in-game organization.

This is something I thought very hard about when I started planning the book because we’re talking about a different era with different attitudes and, let’s face it, some pretty horrendous things were happening in the world. 

The history of the real Section D actually gives the best answer to the “in-game organization” question so I’ll address that first: 

One of my best information sources for the game is a book called Section D For Destruction, superbly written by historian Malcolm Atkin. The book discusses some of the recruitment techniques for Section D and, for the time period, the methods were groundbreaking. Candidates were targeted (you didn’t apply for Section D, they found you!) for recruitment because they had a particular skill set and that was all. It’s worth mentioning at this point that most people targeted for Section D were experts in communications, journalism / propaganda, engineering and so forth. They weren’t “soldiers” for the most part. Gender, sexual orientation, religion and ethnic background were largely irrelevant, it was the skills that mattered. For example, It is now known that Section D’s upper echelons hid the fact that several of its agents were homosexual at a time when homosexuality was illegal in Britain. Section D recruited from all over Europe, and further afield, and trained agents to go into situations where a heterosexual, male, anglo saxon christian might stand out like a car at a bike show. 

So it’s safe to say, any character a player can come up with is likely to be fine from an historical point of view. 

As for handling the inclusion and representation of minorities as a product, that’s a tougher question. As I mentioned above, The Secret Files of Section D is set at a time when the world had different attitudes and while I certainly don’t share those attitudes, I can’t say  they didn’t exist.

In game terms, the GM will be advised on the historic attitudes of some people to certain others but also that bringing those into the game should probably be avoided. In some circumstances that may make roleplaying a certain situation a little less realistic but certainly more palatable. We want to encourage players to play any character they can dream up without boundaries. 

8 Let’s see how good you really are as a role player. Now you are a Hollywood screenwriter and must write a short email to convince Mr. Warner Bros to produce a movie based on The Secret Files of Section D. Go!

Dear Mr Warner,

Please read this like you are the movie trailer voiceover guy. 

“In a world where Nazi Pseudo Science, Miracles and Magic are real, and sinister figures stalk the shadowy corridors of power, a group of secret agents with an overriding mission to protect King and Country take on their greatest adventure yet.”

Cut to action montage: 

Silhouetted figures rappelling from a gigantic airship onto the roof of the British Museum

Fleeting glimpses of a high speed car chase through 1930s London

A huge brawl in a casino 

A deep volcanic cave in which stands a maniacal villain, a strange statue stands behind him bathed in a lava red glow. The villain speaks…

“You cannot stop me! Soon, you will be dead and the Fuhrer will live FOREVER!! Muahahaaaa”

Back to voiceover guy

“Can Section D save the world again and blow up some really big stuff? Find out in the new Section D movie, Trouble In Tripoli”

I look forward to hearing from you soon,

9 You’re quite the creative, so I’m sure you already have at least three other ideas for new RPG products that you might be publishing in the future! Am I right?

Absolutely right! The Secret Files of Section D takes the unit through to the end of WWII time wise. Section D doesn’t have to be a WWII game but the world changed in 1945. It’s worth noting that officially Section D was merged into the Special Operations Executive in 1940. We like to think, somewhere within the depths of the intelligence network, there is still a Section D for Destruction!

The second book handles the Cold War era which has some really interesting possibilities. The CIA and other agencies are introduced as sides change, enemies become allies and vice versa, and the arms and space races begin. It’s also the era of UFO paranoia and Project Blue Book etc. So the pulp and espionage elements are huge for this expansion. 

Next is the modern era expansion with much cooler gadgets and more dangerous villains. The battlegrounds may change but the threats are always very real!

I also have a whole bunch of adventure ideas to develop. Section D is supposed to be a little bit of off the wall fun but I have ideas for a more serious campaign which is rooted in actual WWII history rather than alternate history. It’s more gritty but if there’s a desire from players for it then it will get done. 

10 If you could buy any franchise/IP for an RPG, which would it be? Tell us about the franchise and the game you’d make.

An easy question at last! I really want to make an RPG set in David Gemmell’s Drenai world. It’s a series I’ve read over and over since the mid 80s and I just love the way David wove his stories. 

I’d use Savage Worlds for the mechanical aspects of the game because it’s a perfect system for the world. Flawed heroes and really nasty villains abound and there are great big holes in the timeline that an RPG could easily operate in without affecting canon. 

I’ll let you into a secret. A couple of years ago I partnered with Triple Ace Games and we put a proposal to David’s estate to get a license to produce this game. We had fans, famous authors and even a member of David’s family on our side but we heard nothing back. I was gutted.

11 I know, they were supposed to be 10, but I have one more question before we say goodbye. Please point us to a song you think we should listen to.

On The Turning Away by Pink Floyd.

It carries a poignant message that is highly relevant in these difficult times. 

Thank you Allan! Bye!!

Thanks for the opportunity to speak with you and to everybody who has read this far!

Stay safe and Happy Gaming. 

So go check out The Secret Files of Section D!

Stay tuned for more interviews! Hit me on the Axian Spice Facebook pageon Twitter or even on Telegram to never miss one! 

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  1. Excellent interview- learned a lot! Love the attention to historical detail, and the promise of later books set at the height of the Cold War era. Classic Bond shaken up with a whiff of dry vermouth humor? :) Cannot wait. I was on the fence about the "taster" b/c I read a LOT of SW settings. I'm off to put my money down right now. Also fingers crossed about a Gemmel setting- the man was one of the finest fantasy writers out there. Thanks very much gentlemen. :)

  2. @ Savage S, thanks for your very kind comments and for your support. I hope you have a lot of fun with Section D.

    As for the Gemmell setting, sadly I don't think it will ever happen. David was very protective of the rights to his characters, this is why we don't have a movie or a series, and I suspect is why there was no apparent interest in the RPG even though we specified no use of canonical characters. Maybe one day!

  3. I won't hold my breath to see old Druss cutting though that red tape, but who knows? Thanks very much.


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