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Trinity RPG - The Mind Of The Maker


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The Mind Of The Maker

An Interview with Trinity developer Andrew Bates

This writer caught up with Trinity's developer at a trendy bistro in Peachtree Plaza, Atlanta, looking relaxed in his Dockers khakis as he munched a salad of radicchio, watercress and cucumber with a dressing of... ah, forget it. This interview was conducted via E-mail, and he could have been wearing a "Care Bears" T-shirt when he answered the questions, for all I know. So let's get to the questions and answers:

Question: What's your background? How did you get into the RPG business?

Andrew Bates: I worked my way up the industry food chain. I played games a bit in high school and in college, then got a job at a retail shop. From there I went to a distributor where I worked in customer service, then met some White Wolf folks a few years later. They were looking for a new domestic sales manager and I got the job.

While doing sales work, I also did some freelance illustration and writing for White Wolf. Working in sales was interesting, but I've always wanted to be involved in a more creative job. When White Wolf decided to do a new game, unrelated to the World of Darkness, I lobbied for -- and got! -- the developer job. I've been working on Trinity ever since.

Q: What other games have you worked on for White Wolf or others?

AB: Illustration-wise, I've worked on Werewolf, Mage, Changeling, Rage and Arcadia for White Wolf; Dream Park for R. Talsorian Games; Star Wars for West End Games. Writing-wise, I've done pieces for Wraith, Werewolf, Vampire -- and, of

course, Trinity.

Q: Is Trinity the first game you've developed from the ground up?

AB: Professionally, yes. As a fan, I'd created a fantasy game setting that I ran for a while, and some friends and I collaborated on a superhero setting.

Q: Whose idea was Trinity? Did you go to WW management and say, "Here's an idea I had," or did they say, "Come up with a science fiction game for us"?

AB: White Wolf operates by creative committee. Put another way, we (get) together and brainstorm. Management wanted to create a new game separate from the

World of Darkness. The two initial genres discussed were fantasy or science fiction. I pushed for SF, and contributed a lot to the brainstorming sessions. Many of the central concepts and themes of Trinity are mine, yes, but the game is very much a group effort. As I said in Trinity's afterword, Trinity wouldn't exist if not for the input of many creative individuals.

Q: How much freedom did you have in coming up with the basic shape of the game universe?

AB: That's a really difficult question to answer. I had a lot of leeway in some areas, and almost none in others. For instance, I didn't want to do the regimented "psi orders," but that structure is a staple of White Wolf games. I don't think it's bad, mind you, but I wanted to try something else (not gonna tell you what; I may use it in something else later...). However, I suggested the concept of psions initially and it was left up to me to explain how psi powers fit within the game's cosmology.

Even before the specific orders existed, management knew it wanted to follow what I call the "White Wolf paradigm." Having individual groups that encouraged a degree of collaboration was first, to encourage playability. Our job during the design stage was to create specific, interesting groups that fit well within the context of the Trinity Universe.

Q: How do you write? What's the creative process like?

AB: Oh, that is an easy question to answer! I dunno, really. I usually start from a general idea, and that initial thought becomes more concrete as I write. The core elements usually remain the same, but a lot of the details change during the process. I never know when a better idea will pop up, but when it does I try to go back and re-work existing material to make it all fit.

Fundamentally, though, the creative process is different for everyone. I like to have a cup of coffee and listen to music. Nothing specific; it depends on my mood rather than what I'm writing. As long as I have those things, I'm good to go.

Q: Is there a place (or time) where you go to think and be creative?

AB: I don't have any time! Part of being a developer is being creative on demand. My cubicle (I used to have an office but I don't any more. Long story...) is my creative environment. Still, I'm usually thinking at all times, even if it's just subconsciously. I try to keep it in check, though. After all, this is my job, but it's not my life. I need to have time to myself to wind down.

Q: Did you get writer's block at any time during the production of Trinity? What do you do to get through it?

AB: I get writer's block constantly. As I mentioned, I have to be creative on demand. So I can't indulge writer's block; I have to work through it. When possible, I work on some other aspect of the game that requires less intensive creative input. Other times I just bite the bullet and push on through. Putting down bad ideas is better than none at all, and it inevitably gets the creative juices flowing again. I usually cut a fair amount of the material I did while blocked, but there's often at least a kernel of a good concept that I can salvage.

Q: What part of the game did you have the most fun creating? The least?

AB: I enjoyed almost all of it, but the "metaplot" (what's actually going on behind the scenes) most of all. As far as stuff fans already know about, I suppose creating the rationale for psi powers was the most interesting, while incorporating Aberrants into the setting was the least enjoyable part for me.

Q: When creating something this big from whole cloth, something has to come first, then everything else has to fit into it. What was the first element you came up with, and did you have to "bend" anything else in the game to make it fit?

AB: The element that remained essentially unchanged was "a near-future SF game where characters are individuals with special psi powers." Many things were bent, twisted, and shoved about to fit this concept. Aberrants, space travel, technology; we went back and forth on a number of ideas. That's the only way to create a truly dynamic setting.

Q: Is there anything you would have liked to put into Trinity, but just couldn't make it work?

AB: There were some concepts that wouldn't fit, but the reasons were unrelated to the setting itself. Trinity covers so many different genres within a single setting that virtually everything we wanted to keep we fit in somehow.

Q: Why do you think it was necessary to revamp the Storyteller system for Trinity? If there's one more thing that you wanted to change about the system but for some reason didn't or couldn't, what was it?

AB: Because I think Storyteller is clunky and seriously flawed. I started designing a radically different version, but the end result is much more in line with the WoD Storyteller system. Part of that is due to management requests, part of it due to my own conclusions during the design process.

There are a few things I still would have liked to change, I suppose. I could've streamlined the Attributes down a bit, preferrably to six. Figuring dice pools and difficulties would also be changed further. Soak and health I wouldn't have minded restructuring, either. Fundamentally, I think the revised Storyteller system is a good, streamlined game system that encourages cinematic roleplaying.

Q: What was the rationale behind abandoning the Nature/Demeanor dichotomy seen in other WW games? It seems like that would make Trinity characters more two-dimensional.

AB: I always thought that Demeanor was a waste of time. What, it represents "what your character is generally like, but it can change depending on mood"? How helpful is that for roleplayers? In my mind, that's something you roleplay. Use Nature to determine your character's core personality, and Allegiance to help figure the social values with which he's sympathetic. But as far as what your character's like from scene to scene? That's what roleplaying was designed for!

Q: You've said that you'll never reveal whose pictures were used for the Proxies and the others pictured in the color section of the book. But are the personalities of any of those characters based on people you know? Are they the same people you used for the pictures? Are any of them you?

AB: Yes, the personalities of some characters are based on people I know, but none of them are the people whose images we used. Alex Cassel is most closely related to a good friend of mine from college, actually.

And as I said, I'm never going to say who the people are -- even whether I was one of them. So there!

Q: Though Trinity is supposed to be separate from the World of Darkness, there are many similarities; some would even call them compatibilities. Will a crossover ever be considered, or is it absolutely ruled out?

AB: As long as I am developer of Trinity, there will never be a crossover with WoD in any way whatsoever. The similarities are thematic in origin, and find their source in White Wolf's sensibilities, not in some inherent WoD-ishness. Other games produced by other companies are likewise similar to Trinity in some ways. We'll crossover with Star Wars before we crossover with the World of Darkness.

Q: Are you considering Trinity LARP rules?

AB: Thankfully, that's something I don't have to consider. That falls to our Live Action developer.

Q: The Aberrant book planned for 1999: Will it be a Storyteller resource, or will it contain player rules, like the Sabbat books?

AB: I've tried to make sure that every Trinity-related book is a useful resource to both players and Storytellers. Even the adventure series include useful source information for players, even though the meat of the book is for Storytellers. Aberrant will likewise include all sorts of cool stuff for players and Storytellers both.

Q: I've seen it said that WW looks at Trinity different from the other games in its line, viewing it as a "franchise," not a game. We've seen two spinoffs already, the novels and the Battleground miniatures game. What other spinoffs are being considered to bring Trinity into the mainstream? Comic books, TV shows, toys, video games, a CCG, anything like that?

AB: Yes. The Trinity Universe was designed to expand relatively easily into other entertainment media. We're interested in pursuing every avenue we can. The bottom line, though, is to make sure that everything we produce relating to Trinity is true to the feel of the core property. Plus, we want to get people involved in Trinity projects who'll do the best possible job. As a result, some avenues could take us a while to branch into. But we'll keep looking.

Q: Speaking of cartoons and comic books... Just how annoying to you was the whole Viacom/AEON thing?

AB: Not very. It was more a hassle for Sales and Marketing. I thought the previous name was better (that's why I suggested it), but the important thing was always making the game available to fans. If we had to change the title, fine; the setting remains just as interesting and dynamic as ever.

Q: Have we seen all the Orders we're going to see, or is there the possibility of Trinity going the route of Bloodlines/Crafts?

AB: Good lord, no! Again, not while I'm in charge of this game. There's a specific reason within Trinity cosmology why the orders exist as they do. While the orders themselves may offer surprises or undergo change, I'm not planning on any bizarre variations.

Q: What's your favorite Order -- both your favorite to create, and the one you'd most like to play?

AB: I really don't know. I like them all for different reasons, and my preferred order changes with my mood. That's what made each fun to create, that they were all different and explored different themes and character types. Sorry; I think they're all pretty cool.

Q: And finally: If Andrew Bates was a Psion, what Order would he belong to and why?

AB: Y'know what? I'd actually play a neutral in Trinity. I like the extra challenge that adds to things. I might well work for Orgotek, though, since I know how sneaky Cassel really is, and that fits my own subversive sensibilities quite well.

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  • 8 years later...

I managed to get a hold of him recently...less than a year ago I think? Unfortunately I didn't question him much about the overall meta-plot or anything. My questions were about Africa, and anything he had planned for the new "order" that was supposed to be revealed in Bright COntinent. I can't reveal his answers though, since we're currently making Bright Continent over at EON.

But he did mention that mesmerists were psions, and stalwarts were novas; the differences were simply themeatic in nature, since the three games lines were pulp, supers, and sci-fi. That goes against what Baugh has in Terra Verde (he presents the option of playing Inspired after the Venezuelan Phenomenon, in the Trinity era). Bates also never planned on the Superiors, or any kind of daredevils in Trinity, since when I mentioned the Superiors he didn't know what they were. Bates and Baugh had different interpretations of the Inspired.

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  • 3 weeks later...

That is the Venezuelan Phenomenon. After it occurs (August 3, 2122 I think) clairsentients cannot see before it anymore (where before it happened, they could not see after it), and all psions must relearn to use their techniques.

If I remember correctly, I don't think they even had anything specifically planned for the event when they first alluded to it. I remember reading that the Luna Rising author just added it in, and they went with it. Then in Terra Verde it happened.

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The details are sketchy, but I believe that was the intent. However, we have no confirmation on who set off the wave, whether what they did was an accident or intentional, what their goal was by doing so, and if they're still alive and what they're doing now. The Norca seem most likely. But could it have been Mal, trying to bring about another wave of Inspired? Could it have been Mercer, trying to do exactly the same thing, but for different reasons? Could it have been Mega-Intelligence novas? Could it have been psiads? Could it have been the Aeon Council?

The details, I think, are best left to the Storyteller.

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The version I've heard (with no real sources to quote so take it for what it is) is that the Norca recreated the Hammersmith experiment in some way using the survivors of the Chitra Bhanu and a few Aberrants.

I can't remember where I got all the info from but I can try to find some of it again if you like.

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Originally Posted By: Blue Thunder
I'm not sure about Aberrants being involved though. At least, I've never heard anything about them being involved.
One of the books (I can't remember if it's an official or an Eon book) mentions that one of the asteroids is basically a hollowed out research facility with 2-3 aberrants and one of the Quantakinetic higher-ups who was Warped out during the order's destruction. I don't think they were a part of the 2122 re-eruption.
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