Bringing decades of narrative-based design experience to the Montreal International Games Summit; Ken Rolston hosted a seminar on his the tools he uses when designing a narrative-focused game. The seminar was a barrage of ideas, thoughts and valuable tools for any aspiring RPG designer.
Currently Ken Rolston is lead designer at Big Huge Games working on an as yet unannounced Triple A title, which will of course be a narrative themed RPG. He moved to Big Huge Games from Bethesda, where he was lead designer for the wildly successful and critically claimed The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind and The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion.
Previously Rolston served as roleplaying director for West End Games, Games Workshop, and Avalon Hill Game Company. With those companies he was as an award-winning designer of paper-and-pencil roleplaying games, including games and supplements for Paranoia, RuneQuest, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, AD&D, D&D, Star Wars, Ghostbusters, Stormbringer, and many others.
I had a chance to sit and chat with Rolston while at the Summit and he is enigmatic, energetic, and thoughtful as well as a self professed egomaniac. Digging below the surface of what he is thinking and how he accomplishes his tasks, I discovered that for an egomaniac he is surprisingly humble.
As we talked he discussed his move from Bethesda to Big Huge Games. At Bethesda around the time of Morrowind Rolston was an integral part of the team. Much of the concept, design and premise of that game he feels is owed to him and rightly so. When Oblivion was underway he was an active lead designer and important to the project but he felt he did not add as much as he did to the Morrowind project.
Flash forward to Big Huge Games and Rolston is surrounded with talented and dynamic individuals in a different environment and the world is once again his oyster. He could not reveal anything of the game to me, and out of respect I did not press him, but his excitement was palpable.
The discussion weaved and bobbed from his current work, to Oblivion/Morrowind, to other games he respects as well as his history in the pen and paper world. Rolston has been designing fantasy worlds for decades and his talent, capabilities and yes ego about his skill comes across plainly.
Below is a link to the interview. Anyone interested in narrative RPGs, Bethesda’s classic RPG franchises, and just plain interesting design conversation should listen to this talk. Rolston is currently hip deep in his new project with Big Huge Games and has promised an announcement early in the New Year.