David Okum is the pen behind Okumarts, producing paper miniatures and games in several genres; David was kind enough to both assist Trident with prize support and to talk about his work, including his ongoing Kickstarter project, Darkfast Dungeons.
Already funded and headed for stretch goals!
Erik Jensen: Your kickstarter for Darkfast Dungeons, going on now, seems pretty self-explanatory as far as being a simple, easy-to-play game supplemented by great paper minis and scenery. What inspired you to go that route with the game? Have you been playing it with your kids?
David Okum: I had an old game I made with my friends called Space Station DK. It was a modular space station that you built by revealing tiles. After the 10th game turn the whole place starts breaking up and you have to make it to the only escape pod. My friends called it "Many Ways To Die." The core system is what I used for Darkfast Dungeons.
I had tried to run a Pathfinder campaign, but found it too crunchy and I was having such a blast with the rules-lite Microlite 20 that I just felt I could do something with DK and make a quick dungeon crawl game.
I have been playing with my daughter for a while now. She is 18 now and less likely to play, but my partner's kids love the game. It's always a big hit. They are 7-12. They picked it up really fast.
EJ: The sci-fi version sounds like something people will clamor for now that you've mentioned it! But you don't always need super-complex rules for a fun game. That age range is a perfect target for "rpg lite" type games.
DO: Kids love playing Darkfast Dungeons, and older players looking for quick pickup games can get a dungeon crawl in in under two hours.
EJ: Sounds good for a regular group who's down a few players as well. The value seems good - even if someone only wanted it for the minis and scenery!
DO: The basic tile game (with all the stretch goals) runs about 10 dollars and for 15 dollars it gives you the walls as well, not too shabby for a print and play game that will provide a ton of extra content because of the kickstarter stretch goals. The characters, monsters, tiles, walls, and props will all be customizable as well. There is also the exclusive Kickstarter expansion The Dark Depths that will only be offered on KS. I may use some of the art and concepts in other projects, but not for Darkfast Dungeons.
EJ: I hadn't caught that. I need to read better! I presume the look of Darkfast Dungeons came out of the fantasy minis of the same name, which you've been doing for some time now.
DO: Yes, the paper minis seemed like a perfect way to get people getting back into the hobby with Retro Clones a chance to build up a collection of minis quickly.
I was purposely avoiding fantasy, focusing on Western, Martial Arts, and Pulp Sci Fi minis, but I had lots of requests for Fantasy.
EJ: I've admired your art style for some time now, going back to first seeing your minis on the OneMonk forum. I remember one afternoon seeing your name on a 'how to draw' book at the store and thinking "Hey, I know that guy from Cardboard Warriors!". Did you avoid fantasy because you thought it was saturated as far as a market, or were you just having more fun drawing not-Romulans and Shaolin monks?
DO: Jim Hartman just did it so well. I respect his work and the One Monk site and didn't want to step on his toes to be honest.
When he stopped making minis I jumped in with both feet. I couldn't believe he would just stop like that and felt there was so much more that could be done.
EJ: That's an interesting statement, to me, to hear an artist make. Not the respect part - obviously Jim did amazing stuff and pretty much kept that segment of the hobby going - but the idea that "I couldn't possibly do that while he's still doing it." So the 'Darkfast' line started after Jim stepped back. Have you had a good response to the paper minis in general?
DO: The response to paper minis has been astoundingly positive. People still don't know what they are or think of doing minis that way, but once they see them it makes total sense.
I like that I can make 24-40 minis in the time it would take me to paint just one.
EJ: There's a very strong community as far as creators and evangelists, that's for sure. Even gamers who don't think they could draw or mod a mini are happy to talk at length about how awesome and easy they are. I fall into that "can't draw but like to talk" category myself. It's difficult, though, overcoming that metal/plastic bias some folks have. Yet for much of the old-school target market - who might be a little older and keen on saving money they would've been content to throw at lead twenty years ago - paper minis are pretty perfect.
DO: I would agree. There has also been a great influx of new creators out there from Pigmi Games to Grey Matter Games. Really creative and wonderful stuff.
EJ: Are you running anything these days besides Darkfast Dungeons?
DO: I am running LOTS of stuff.. hehe..
EJ: Wow. Where the heck do you find the time? So let's hear what you're up to.
DO: I have an urban fantasy game using Labyrinth Lord rules set in 1974 in a fictional city called Griffon City. It's lots of fun.
I have a WW2 game with mages and their bodyguards which is a combination of Cthulhu, Vampire and Foyle's War. Using the Darkfast Dungeons system no less.
I have also been working on a superhero game designed with kids in mind using the Darkfast Dungeons system. I've been play testing that steady for a few months now.
EJ: Oh, wow, now you're talking my language - using Labyrinth Lord to do something not-vanilla-fantasy. The World War II game sounds intriguing as well. Any chance of some vampire Werhmacht minis down the line? I look forward to seeing the superhero adaptation of Darkfast Dungeons - flight will be an interesting consideration there.
DO: The superhero game has a fun character creation mechanic that lets you make up heroes and villains in a few seconds.
EJ: Fair enough - there are so many great minis out there. What's the process like for you, David? What I mean is do you have a game or campaign concept first, then start drawing, or do you find yourself sketching something - like say the Katana Schoolgirls - and then end up turning the sketches into minis which then beg for a game?
DO: The ideas usually start when I'm doing something mundane like washing the dishes or mowing the lawn. I get the concept first and then just draw like crazy until I have a clear idea of what everything should look like. I'll invent a new alphabet or map out a section of a peninsula just for a drawing and then never usethat again. All of that work is done for a reason, it just seems like so much extra work sometimes.
EJ: It's only extra if nobody ever sees it!
DO: Katana Schoolgirls came out of a love for Anime and Manga and having watched Gunslinger Girl, I thought it would be interesting to have a group of Buffys that were created to fight zombies and what would happen on their missions.
The WW2 game (Warcana) came out of watching Foyle's War and wondering what would happen if monsters and mages were involved in the war.
Griffon City Blues (the 1974 urban fantasy game) came out of the realization that this was D&D's 40th anniversary and I wanted to somehow mark that milestone with a game.
EJ: Now when you say 'urban fantasy', what sort of tone are we talking here? There's World of Darkness urban fantasy, and then there's Dresden - pretty much what people tend to think of these days when you say 'urban fantasy'.
DO: I did a book for Big Eyes, Small Mouth back in 2000-2001 called Cold Hands, Dark Hearts. It was the first book I ever wrote all by myself. It was a very ambitious urban fantasy setting with an anime twist. I really liked the genre and wanted to do something with it. It's not as dark as Vampire, that's for sure.
EJ: I didn't realize you had written that one, David! That's one of the BESM books I never picked up; I don't think I realized it was a whole setting and not just the "angsty horror" supplement for the game.
DO: Yes, I had taken a year off of teaching to spend time with my kids and pursue my freelance career. I pretty much wrote the book in the first two months.
EJ: And now it's off in Guardians-land...bit of a shame, there.
DO: It was near the end of the company and they had lost faith in the line I think. Too bad really because it was such a great little company.
EJ: As long as it's still available, that's a win. BESM was great fun, and they did some interesting games besides - Hong Kong Action Theatre comes to mind. Do you look forward to doing more game writing, alongside the art or as a palate cleanser? How do you market yourself as both an artist and a writer?
DO: I do both. I like doing both. I realize that is confusing for some editors. That's probably why I have been happier publishing my own work. I find that writing comes much faster to me than art making. Art takes painstaking craft. Writing is a stream of consciousness that I can record as fast as I can type. It's the editing and organizing that takes the time.
I originally tried getting into comics, but that seemed too daunting.
EJ: I can understand why! But your style seems to lend itself to comics, after all - those paper minis aren't static, they're as hyperkinetic as anything in a comic. So if the right writing project came along, you'd consider it, but right now it sounds like the freedom to do your own thing is working out nicely.
DO: Yes, I still love to do the odd freelance job here and there, but right now it's getting my own material published that is more important.
EJ: Is cranking out gaming material a side-job for you, or are you living the dream and paying the rent with it?
DO: Gaming material is a side job. By day I am a mild-mannered high school English and Art teacher. I tried to leave teaching, but I missed it too much. Today I seek a balance of 50% teaching, 50% freelance, 50% family and friends, 50% gaming and 50% 'me time'.
EJ: We can see why you're not a Math teacher, I guess.
DO: The Kickstarter came about as a push from other people who ran their own kick-starters. People like Jeff Dee, Tom Tullis and the Lord Zsezse people.
EJ: Kickstarter is a great platform for people who have their prep work done and have an audience they've already built up, it seems. Are you considering another KS down the road?
DO: I've been told that my first KS will not be as strong as later KS so I wanted to start with something that was pretty much together.
I must admit that I already have a second KS idea together. But I want to get the core system and sets released for Darkfast Dungeons before I launch another.
EJ: Makes good sense, I imagine the audience builds as you go. The reaction to Darkfast Dungeons seems quite strong, you might find yourself working followups for some time. Suppose it's too early to tease that second KS idea.
DO: I don't mind mentioning that it will be a rules-lite superhero role playing game called Save The Day. It will be aimed at having two tiers, a Basic set and an Advanced set. The Basic set is what I will do for the KS. I think keeping it smaller than DFD is a good idea. I tend to over-complicate things.
The Advanced set will allow players to tweak characters much more like M&M and Champions, but keep a rules-lite system.
That's a scoop, you heard it here first!
EJ: That scoop sounds like a lot of fun! Combining superhero designs with the way you typically do multi-layer pdfs for the minis probably means a ton of bright combinations. And that's something I did want to bring up - the way you use technology to give your Okumarts minis an extra kick compared to some publishers.
DO: Some of the customization options has really pushed my limits as a designer and computer person. I really think it adds value to the product, however.
EJ: I imagine so! Do you draw on a Wacom to start with, or do you scan everything?
DO: I scan everything. I am not very stylus friendly. I like a good mechanical pencil and a good felt-tip marker. I'm very old school that way.
EJ: That's funny - old-school for the drawing, but bleeding-edge for presentation with the layered pdfs. I don't know who else is doing that with paper minis and scenery - I can only think of you and Dave Graffam - but it definitely sets a new standard.
DO: I love Dave's sets. I just want them to be all fold flat.
EJ: Well, that's a whole different technical challenge!
DO: It is. The walls for Spot of Bother 2: Top Secret Headquarters are all fold flat and that helped me design fold flat walls for the Darkfast Dungeon. My hope is that there is something in the basic sets that people can use, even if they don't play the game.
EJ: Absolutely. Plus, you're pushing yourself and learning something new each time. Do you plan ahead as far as new sets, or just go where your own gaming leads? You'll pardon me, perhaps, for lobbying for a pirate set.
DO: I have been talking with Bill De Franza, author of the pirate RPG Yarr!and I will will be making some sets that also reflect his setting. So pirates are in the future. Plus lots more $1 sets. just trying to find the time has been difficult to get those out. They are scanned and coloured, just need to finish the backs on 3 sets.
EJ: I am pleased to hear about the new sets, especially the pirates! After all, the Trident con is all about pirates and vikings and mermaids and things. Thank you so much for assisting the con and taking the time to talk to us about your many projects.