Sunday, January 21, 2018

Noah Stevens: Game Writer, Player, Blogger.

Noah Stevens, 2nd from left. about to give the unsuspecting Mike Evans, a "wet willy"
 Brian Mullins, and Phil Spitzer at WayneCon 2016.
I first became aware of Noah Stevens from his DCC RPG solo adventure, The Hounds of Halthrag Keep. I hadn't yet played DCC but was eager to get started so I bought a copy of the pdf figuring I could familiarize myself with the system by playing solo...but I hate pdfs so, honestly, I only played a little of the adventure. I've gotta buy the soft cover so I can get back to it and play. Noah has also contributed to Narcosa and the 2015 edition of Gongfarmer's Almanac. Over at RPGNow he publishes under the name The Hapless Henchman and, besides Hounds of Hathrag Keep, has 2 other adventures available, Bad Dreams, Bad Grades and Green Smoke, and Vacation at the Shore. I absolutely love Vacation at the Shore. It's written in that loose Monty Python like surreal-ish style that Noah's G+ posts are often written in, probably best described as mirthful irreverence which occasionally drifts into psychedelic chaos. It's a crazy fun pleasure to read and has been selected as Tridentcon 2017's Best Free Product! So, I'm looking forward to more releases from The Hapless Henchman and hope to play some online sessions with Noah this year.

Favorite Toys of Childhood

Remember your TOP FAVORITE TOYS of all time. What is it about any of these toys that you most identified with? What made this so special? How did you play with these toys? Shared or Solo play?

Noah Stevens: It was the COBRA F.A.N.G. which I think I probably saw in a K-Mart flyer shortly after it was introduced to the market in 1983.  I lusted after that thing in the way that I don’t think I have cared about a toy before or since. Up until that time, my Joes/Bad Guys had been moving around by putting out their arms and cocking their left or right legs at a right angle and zipping around the sky that way.  Owing to a theft of almost all my action figs by a neighbor kid (an inbred fuckhead named Johnny, may he rot in hell forever) - in my Darth Vader carrying case, no less!!! - I was something in a bad way in regards to figs and toys at that time.  Of course, I had the cool ones my folks could find (a lot of Empire Strikes Back-era Star Wars toys, the ATAT walker, the Snowspeeder, the Tauntaun). But I think after the painful loss of my other stuff the FANG represented a new era of relief; I think it was probably just before my Atari 2600 hit the household and the Intellivision came a little later and I think I was lost to figs and standard toys from then on.  I distinctly recall the diminishing collection as I tried to trade back my least favorites to get my own stolen figures back - I tell you Johnny really left a mark on me that I have not considered until you asked me these awful questions! Fucking Johnny! That was a weird period in my life, and my family’s life.  Pretty Chaotic.  Just then around age 8 or 9 my dad picked me up a Fiend Folio after my older brother introduced me to D&D once fateful summer night and it was downhill ever since.

The Transformer known in the U.S. as Jetfire. But it was really a Robotech Veritech Valkyrie Fighter.  I broke his arm off during the very first successful transformation on Christmas morning, and I hid that fact from everyone until just this moment.

The D&D Castle of Snake-Heads (whatever it was) was pretty cool, I guess.  And Crystar, I had Crystar himself.  A lot of the D&D figs (the half orc assassin, and Warduke of course!) I think that I often played by myself.  I wasn’t a very social player and even then my imaginary playground was probably more in my comfort zone (I note with some insight it may have been Johnny’s FUCKING BETRAYAL that turned me around the corner on introvert vs. extrovert! That motherfucker)

Favorite Films or TV

What were your favorite movies and television shows of your youth? How old were you when you loved these shows? Why did you identify with these shows and do you think these movies and programs had an influence on the adult you?

Noah Stevens: Maybe in a rough order, probably not according to their release date:

Empire Strikes Back (without comment)
I will watch WarGames without fail
Night of the Creeps - maybe the most perfect horror movie ever made; I kid I kid
Return of the Living Dead - I had to explain to my wife the other night that Linnea Quigley was maybe the first full frontal nudity I ever experienced in my life, and it’s also in the context of the Tar Man zombie which I mean, it explains my weird fetishes now.  Just kidding.  Maybe.
Weird Science
Back to School with Rodney Dangerfield (and the corollary Easy Money)
The Beastmaster (I mean, everything about it and Tanya Robert’s boobies, maybe after my latent mind woke up about it)
Ghostbusters - I have remarked to my wife that my persona is something like an amalgam of Peter Venkman and Han Solo and Bill and Ted, and of course this is not probably very healthy.
The Goonies - I cannot recall if this hit me right around the time I was hip-deep into the Fiend Folio, or what.  I think every kid my age dreamed of adventure, and this was a perfect one; no parents.  All the adults laughably incompetent.  Very empowering, for a kid. I saw it at my grandparents’ house the summer of release, and I spent most of that summer making mazes on graph paper, poring over the FF, and hoping/dreaming to see an anime that I didn’t know the name of on TV some afternoon ; I think it turned out to be Mazinger or Tranzor Z
Ferris Buehler’s Day Off (I think at that time me and my dad were having some trouble and I identified pretty closely with Cameron)

Favorite TV of that era: GI Joe, Voltron, Transformers, The D&D Cartoon, The A-Team, The Greatest American Hero, Thundercats, the space Thundercats spinoff. I recall being entranced by Robotech, series one, two and three.  It appeared on Channel 33 every school day, and I always had to leave with 10 minutes left in each episode, so I never was fully apprised of what was going on. Pinwheel (the Canadian kid’s cartoon variety show) was a quiet favorite of mine, which is maybe weird.  Somewhat later, Ren & Stimpy and Pete and Pete.  Max Headroom (mid 80’s I guess) - there were a few series I recall with different actors etc. but the guy Matt Frewer was the center of it. There was this one saturday morning thing, it didn’t last long - The Mighty Orbots.  Man.  GOOOO MIGHTY ORBOTS

Looking back, maybe the rugged heroism and individualism and implicit anti-authoritarianism in all of it.  That idea that clever people get ahead, maybe a certain kind of meritocracy and thumbing your nose at people in charge when they are clearly obnoxious squelchers of good ideas.  To be pretty frank, my movie preferences have opened me up to a world of professional hurt and rotten choices.  Thanks, Venkman!

Creating Games

Think About Playtime:  Did you create games or imaginary worlds as a child? Please give a description of an important original game or play world that you enjoyed.

Hounds of Halthrag Keep, Noah's solo
adventure for DCC RPG
Noah Stevens: I’m not very creative, but I’m good at fresh and unexpected (to me) combinations.  I don’t recall particular settings or ideas that I cooked up, except that summer I spent doodling mazes pretty obsessively on graph paper the thing was influenced by Atari’s Adventure and this series of books called Circle of Light. The covers of those two things, together, spun off into an intricate and probably derivative world of very symbolic and nebulous characters.  The Circle of Light series (pretty awful in retrospect) had Dwarf, Bear, and Otter as primary characters and that has struck me pretty deeply.  The mazes I drew had keys and chests and dragons and pirate ships.  Probably no plots or concrete names that I can recall.  Pretty likely it was “fetch the key -> grab the treasure -> exit the maze”.  Influenced by Encyclopedia Brown, You Can Be an Interplanetary Spy, and Choose Your Own Adventure Books.  There was one CYOA book that involved going into the center of the earth and that one still influences me, even after I encountered Pellucidar and HG Wells and all the stuff it was spun off from.  I am intrigued now on reflection that I don’t particularly hold on to imagined worlds and that they are fairly mutable and impermanent.  I don’t even like codified fluff in the games I do play in these days. I resent the imposition of an official narrative like the Games Workshop guys are doing these days for example...

Play Community

As a child how did you feel about how you fit in with the rest of the world or community or friends? Like, were you very social or did you prefer spending time alone? Your environment, was it rural or urban? Were siblings a big part of your playtime? Did adults interact with you in game play, and if so was it structured play (sports, scouting, clubs, etc.) or free form?

Noah: I grew up in a couple of crummy trailer parks in Miami.  I do not believe that they were great places, and my folks were always stressed out and in conflict.  I had a couple of close friends that I clung to who lived - to my young mind - very far away.  My very-nearby buddy Doug and I engaged in juvenile cinematography in Junior High but before that I was wrapped up in one or two friends at a time, very clingy, probably too clingy. I was teased a great deal in school because at that time Miami was primarily Hispanic and me and these two other kids were maybe the only Caucasian types in the school, and I always felt like an outsider; this is a feeling that continues to this day.  We played some D&D at the library in middle school, and in Elementary it was frowned on, and in High School it was a magnet program and RPGs seemed like really well-accepted but by then I was too gangly and shy to take part in anything for very long.  My mom forced me to stay in track despite my own resentment of it and all the, uh, effort. Me and my brother played a lot of Nintendo together but he was never interested in D&D; my best friends never seemed interested, either. I didn’t even particularly fit well with the guys who did like D&D/RPGs, for some reason. I feel immensely, truly, relatively comfortable with the people on Google Plus who I game with, but I think I am always going to feel apart from people in most ways.  Thanks again, Venkman!

Childhood Playtime's Impact On Adult Gaming

Do you have any thoughts about aspects of your childhood play time that influenced your passion for RPGs? Have you ever intentionally incorporated memories of childhood playtime into game work you have created/written as an adult?

Noah: Well, my sinking into RPGs coincided with the arrival of the Commodore 64.  I had AD&D1e and the Moldvay set, along with 1e Gamma World, Star Frontiers, and then my second wave was maybe WFRP 1e and Paranoia and AD&D2e with Oriental Adventures.  I think I had given up trying to convince friends to play RPGs with me, and turned that into tinkering with Basic programs and Apple IIe programs and genre smashing, even then.  I think I didn’t much like ‘official’ settings except maybe the implied frameworks - I think Greyhawk is dull and Dragonlance is awful and Forgotten Realms is bleh, for example… I think of RPGs maybe as a fundamentally imaginary and maybe even lonely undertaking, but of course when you can get that thing in your head across to others it’s a big win.  I don’t stick with settings or campaigns or games very long, mostly one shots, and I don’t like official or organized play at all.  I buy splat books for 40k mostly so i don’t look like a cheapskate asshole when I hang with my 40k friends… On reflection it seems like my underlying thing is always sort of DIY and imminently disposable if it’s not fun.  I guess my RPG philosophy treats RPGs like a bag of chips or something: try it, if it’s fun then eat a little more and if it’s not then throw it away and forget about it.

Lost in Space Media Cache

You are adrift aboard an intergalactic cruiser. You are the last surviving member of your crew. You no longer remember you're mission or destination. Your ship sent out a distress signal, but you lost contact with your home planet months ago. Your chances of being rescued are nil. The ship is well stocked with everything necessary for your physical survival. You have no fear of starvation and there are no security threats. On board with you are two AI bots programmed for average human intelligence. You were allowed 10 items of any type of entertainment of your choosing (movies, recordings, books, videos, games, comics). The ship is capable of playing everything you brought, regardless of format. What choices do you hope you packed away so that you avoid dying of boredom?

Noah: FUCK.  This is horrifying. I dig loneliness and DIY but this is an existential nightmare…


  1. Ghostbusters.  Not 2 - it’s not worth it.
  2. Robocop 1 and 2.  Not the others.
  3. The Rogue Trader 1e book, hardcover.
  4. The 1e DMG
  5. The 1e Player’s Handbook
  6. The Cramp’s - Bad Music for Bad People
  7. The Ramones - Ramones
  8. The Harmy’s Despecialized version of Star Wars
  9. Robotech - Macross Saga (still have not finished it… boring as fuck in the middle but one day I hope to press through to the end)
  10. The Forest of Doom (Fighting Fantasy gamebook)

Links to Noah's work:

The Hapless Henchman products on RPGNow:
The Worm Cult of Laserskull Mountain - Gongfarmer's Almanac Vol. 3, 2015:
Hapless Henchman - Noah's RPG Blog:
Lasrifle and Crow Quill - Noah's Warhammer 40K Blog:

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