Sunday, June 1, 2014

Interview with Herbie Brennan

signed by "C.A. Millan"

Yaquinto Publications managed to publish a decent selection of games during its brief existence, including a handful of role-playing games. Two of these RPGs – Man, Myth & Magic and Timeship – were designed (or co-designed) by accomplished author Herbie Brennan.  Mr Brennan has been gracious enough to answer a few questions about these games for this blog.

Thoul's Paradise:  First, what lead you to create Man, Myth & Magic and Timeship?  How did Yaquinto become the publisher?

Herbie Brennan:  I was having a wonderful time with FRP games (mainly Dungeons and Dragons, a bit of Runequest and something called Boot Hill) when I got it into my head that I’d like to create one of my own based on time travel, a theme that still fascinates me to this day. So I put together Timeship. I’d seen Yaquinto games advertised in several FRP magazines and thought the name sounded cool, so I submitted the project to them. I got a reply from the then President of Yaquinto Games, Steve Peek, who said he liked Timeship and wanted to publish it, but he thought my first move into this market should be in the area of fantasy, which was a proven seller, and proposed that we collaborate on creating Man, Myth and Magic. I jumped at the chance. As far as I can remember, Steve and I created the game system together, and wrote half the scenarios each. It was the start of a lifelong friendship. (Steve’s now out of the gaming industry and busy writing fabulous novels: you’ll find them on Kindle.)

Steve published Man, Myth and Magic first then Timeship several months later. Timeship got the most player reactions and Steve had so many people phoning he had to instruct his secretary to ‘tell them to call back yesterday.’ The fans loved that. A Texas software company called Five Star hired a 14-year-old to convert it into a computer game. This was right at the beginning of the computer game industry so the end product was a sort of text adventure with illustrations, pretty leading edge for the time.

TP:  What lead to the game being called Man, Myth & Magic ?  I can appreciate the alliteration, but there was already a magazine/encyclopedia by that name.  Why not Myth & Magic or Magic & Myth or even Leprechauns & Gladiators ?

HB:  That one was completely down to Steve, as instigator of the joint project. When he called me with the name, I pointed out that it was the name of a very successful partwork. He argued that we were in a completely different field of activity so it didn’t matter. I was a bit uneasy, but he was the publisher...

TP:  One of the innovative features of Man, Myth, & Magic is the concept of “Special Categories”  – a player, through his or her own skill, can adopt the “meta-role” of Sage and/or Orator.  Can you comment as to how the “Special Categories” concept was developed?

HB:  I didn’t even remember special categories until you mentioned them and I still can’t really remember them now, so I’ve no idea how the concept was developed. As a broad principle, though, Steve and I bounced ideas back and forth by letter (this was the pre-email age, of course) then refined the ones that looked useful. I’d imagine special categories came out of this process, driven by a need to do something a little different to existing role play games.

TP:  At the time M, M & M was published, most other RPGs had an 'experience' system through which characters could improve.  M, M & M had something different  – POWER  – which served as experience as well as a 'fuel' for spells and abilities.  Ultimately, POWER was used by characters for re-incarnation.  Do you recall how the POWER and re-incarnation concepts originated?

HB:  One of the aims of MM&M was to create a game that was a little different to the rest and also, if I had anything to do with it, simplified the gaming system. (Even at that time I was convinced most RPGs were too complicated and game systems often got in the way of players’ enjoyment.) The POWER concept was a way of combining the EXPERIENCE points with spell drivers like MANA, CHARISMA or what have you, thus eliminating one more thing for players to worry about.

The use of POWER for reincarnation emerged directly out of my interest in reincarnation. I spent some thirty years engaged in reincarnation research, mainly hypnotic regression, and produced two books on the subject: Five Keys to Past Lives and Discover Reincarnation (a.k.a. The Reincarnation Workbook.) A good FRP system closely mimics real life and in some instances can provide interesting insights into how the world works. I wanted to see what benefits/problems a reincarnation factor would provide in a game context and thus supply clues as to how reincarnation might work itself out in life.

TP:  The notion of hypnotic regression is an interesting one.  Parts of the 'Great Ritual of the Timeship' seem conducive to hypnosis, especially the dimmed lights and the gateway 'visualization'.  Was this intentional?

HB:  I’m afraid the inspiration for the dimmed lights and gateway was more disreputable than hypnotic regression. I drew it from an esoteric technique known as pathworking. It doesn’t involve hypnosis, but the original pathworking (not the modified form I introduced into the game) can sometimes induce trance in particularly susceptible subjects. Interestingly enough, my experience of role play, led me years later to develop what I called the Atlantis technique which is a specific type of pathworking designed to stimulate archetypal elements in the psyche. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but looking back, I suspect the Timeship ritual may have been an important root of this technique.

TPTimeship offered three adventure “capsules.”  Another adventure, The Werewolf of Europe (also suitable for M, M & M), was published separately.  Can you describe any other capsules that you used with your players?  Were there any you wished had been published?

HB:  The original business idea was to create two popular game systems then feed them with an open-ended series of adventure modules for as long as there was a market for them. MM&M was published first and Steve and I between us created a goodly number of modules to give it the best springboard into the market. Unfortunately the project didn’t achieve the sales we hoped, so we were more cautious in our approach to Timeship. The second game sold better than the first (in my view because it was a more original idea) but still not well enough to justify the creation of any modules beyond the ones you mentioned. No regrets and I’m delighted all this led to a lifelong friendship with Steve, but I can’t pretend either game was a runaway success.

TP:  If Timeship had been more successful, what sort of capsules would you have liked to publish?

HB:  I’ve long been interested in the scientific possibility of time travel and wrote a serious book on the subject some years ago. So I’ve often thought about what eras I’d most like to visit if time travel ever became a reality. Those would definitely have been the experiences I’d have turned into Timeship modules. My top choices would have been 1) The building of the Great Pyramid, 2) The Crucifixion, 3) The destruction of the dinosaurs 4) the sinking of Atlantis. Those modules would all have involved trips into the past. I’d also have tried two trips to the future with 1) a module built around humanity’s first contact with an alien life form and 2) an exploration of the Face on Mars (postulating an ancient civilisation on that planet.)

TP:  In Timeship, you adopt the conceit that you translated Sumerian cuneiform from manuscripts discovered by “Professor Mauzer.”  Was Mauzer entirely a product of your imagination or was he based – however loosely – on someone of your acquaintance?  What about Mauzer's colleagues (Bord and Speir)?  Are you prepared to reveal the details of “Professor Mauzer's tragic death”?

HB:  As best I can remember, I made them all up. Reference to somebody’s ‘tragic death’ is an old literary trick of mine. It gives the reader the impression of a whole back story without my having to bother actually to write one. I can, however, reveal that in this instance, Mauzer’s tragic death was occasioned by a bus falling on him.

TP:  You write about the TIMESHIP culture as though it died out long ago; however, since we are dealing with time travel, extinction is relative.  For all we know, the culture might not exist until some point in the future.  What relation (if any) does the TIMESHIP culture have with the Time Traveller's Guild?  What does the Time Traveller's Guild actually do?

HB:  Good point. A physicist friend of mine, Fred Alan Wolf, once told me it’s theoretically possible to build a time machine by lashing together ten neutron stars to form a (slightly lumpy) rod. Their combined gravitational field distorts time and space in such a way that it creates areas where you can fly your spaceship into the past and future respectively. The point here is that if this gizmo is ever built by a future technology, it will instantly and simultaneously exist throughout the whole of time. So concepts like a 'past' culture become essentially meaningless. Furthermore, since we know next to nothing about the nature of time, the possibility exists that it is circular, so you will eventually arrive at the same point in time whichever way you travel. The culture of the Timeship and the Guild are linked in that it’s a bit pointless having a Time Traveller’s Guild before you have time travel. In the world of Timeship, the Guild came into being as soon as time travel became popular and inexpensive. The purpose of the Guild is to look after the interests of time travellers (‘everywhere and everywhen’ as it says in their brochure) and provide them with travel insurance if and when they need it.

TP:  One of the interesting things about Timeship is the concept of Wild Talents.  The 'Timelord Screen' states that “Wild Talents manifest rarely; but once manifested remain with the player forever.”  However, the Rule Book implies that Wild Talents can only exist within a given capsule.  What is the final word?

HB:  They stay with you forever.

TP:  Back to M, M &M, in your 'How to Become the All-Time Greatest Lore Master of the Known Universe', you mention that one group of playtesters insisted on travelling to Colchester.  Do you recall this incident?  Do you recall what occurred to the playtest party?

HB:  I can’t remember this at all now: can’t even remember the playtesting generally. But I suspect I was being coy when I said the group insisted on visiting Colchester. For a long time I suspected I had a past life as a Roman living in Colchester, so I imagine I was looking for an excuse to visit it. Which I did eventually, but without stirring any memories.

TP:  Have you considered making M, M & M and/or Timeship available again as print-on-demand products?

HB:  I’d certainly be happy if a nice publisher appeared and offered me a contract, but the thought of tackling the job myself would fill me with horror, given my current work load.

TP:  Thank you for taking the time to respond to these questions and best of luck in your future endeavors.


  1. Thank you for the wonderful interview with Mr. Brennan. He truly is a gentleman and a scholar. It was a pleasure to read this. It would be quite an intriguing project for some OSR-type publisher (or anyone else for that matter!), to work out a deal to bring back either of these 'lost' games of yesteryear.

  2. I thought this post was really good so I added a link to it on my Best Reads of the Week series. I hope you don't mind.

  3. These interviews and reviews are great; very informative. Have you done "Heroes of Olympus" from Task Force Games?

  4. Thank you for posting this! One of the best role-playing experiences I ever had was an original adventure I ran using Timeship. MM&M was fun, too, (especially the introductory part).