Many readers of my blog are also gamers, and know the important role roleplaying games and boardgames play in my life. In this the first of an occasional series of interviews with people I know I am talking to Fabian Kuechler, who for many years was involved with running the fabled TENTACLES roleplaying game convention in Germany, which focussed on Glorantha, Call of Cthulhu and Chaosium games. At the time I approached Fabian for the interview he was planning the TENTACLES-successor event, named The KRAKEN – because “after all the Tentacles appear you see the Kraken”, as he says in his press release! Owing to work pressures on my part I missed the gaming scoop of breaking news of the new event, but I am delighted to now post my interview with Fabian.
CJ: Can you tell us any more about THE KRAKEN? I’m sure we have all seen the announcement but what other surprises are in line for us?
Fabian: All I can say right now that everybody involved is very excited. Especially Greg Stafford. We have some very cool ideas and are trying to change the way RPG events are set up, run and perceived. I can not say more right now but if you know the Tentacles team and their spirit you can be sure it will be a show worth going too.
CJ: Fabian, I have to ask – after all these years of TENTACLES, why the change? I appreciate the idea of a gaming vacation, but I did wonder when Tentacles Omega was announced why Tentacles was ending?
Fabian: You are welcome. It is indeed a very interesting question. We have been running Tentacles for 14 years annually almost on a professional basis on a non-profit budget. The team and I always felt we put up a show with no compromises, a show *we* would love to attend and I think we have succeeded.
Of course we owe the success to all to our dedicated fans and friends who attended every year. The reasons for us ending Tentacles have been multiple. The main reason was a shocking revelation. In 2008 Tentacles Dejavu suddenly turned into Tentacles Fumble because we could not provide our line-up of guests. Sandy Petersen could not free up time and Greg Stafford got sick. This did not hurt the convention directly but it made us aware how our concept and team morale depended on our Guests of Honour. We realized how extremely lucky we have been to attract Greg Stafford, Sandy Petersen, Charlie Krank, Lawrence Whitaker, Simon Bray and many more for such a long time annually without much trouble.
It is really hard to get 165+ people to attend a show as Tentacles. And we need that amount of people to make it fly as a non-profit event. We felt that this can only achieved in the long run with our line-up of guests. There was a point in time in the future where they just could not attend any more. The revelation simply was: Tentacles has passed its half-life. This insight was provided by our finance officer Sven and it was a very mathematical observation including average lifespans of human beings. (laughs)
We felt that the concept of Tentacles has passed its prime. From now on it can only get worse.
There where also other signs. Greg stopped drinking beer, Sandy started teaching at the SMU Guildhall and would not be able to get vacation around the traditional Tentacles date any more, Loz Whitaker exiled to Canada and we only had a couple of pages left in the guestbook. Also, ending Tentacles was a great way to get the Australians back once again.
In general I could feel our guests grow tired of the same old same old. So instead letting Tentacles die a slow death we decided to do a last one: Tentacles Omega. It was the best Tentacles. To us there was no better Tentacles possible any more. It is the stuff of legends now…
I know that there is some dispute out there over this decision. Some voices argue that Greg et al are not really the core of what made Tentacles work – it was the social atmosphere of Tentacles and friendship between the attendees that Tentacles allowed to grow.
But we actually worked hard on a lot of details to create this special Tentacles atmosphere and Greg, Sandy and Charlie played an essential part in this. They helped form Tentacles. Tentacles was always much more then a castle, RPGs and crates of German beer.
Ironically it was the social atmosphere that started to conflict with our expectations about the content and programme of the show. Time was just too short for both things. At the same time the team felt with ending Tentacles we would also lose the team and friendship as well as the fun of organizing an event like that.
At the same time the team felt with Tentacles we would also lose the team and friendship as well as the fun of organizing an event like that. So during ‘Camp Fork’ (our annual Team Summerfest) we sat down and said: this is too much fun to give it up completely’. We asked what are the things that sucked at Tentacles? How can we fix them? We wanted more comfort so we said instead of a castle we need a château. We need more time to do gaming and other social stuff. So instead of cramming everything in a weekend we choose to make it longer. We wanted to make it very attractive for Greg Stafford, Sandy Petersen and Charlie Krank attend as often as they could. The overall result is THE KRAKEN.
CJ: Can you tell us a little bit more about the RuneQuest-Gesellsch af e.V., Germany?
Fabian: Yes. The RuneQuest-Gesellschaft e.V. is a registered German ‘Verein’. A Verein is a serious German institution much like a club but with a lot of regulation laws like bookkeeping, proper elections etc. See, we Germans even having a hard time having fun. (laughs) Our Verein was founded in the early 80s to support the publication of RQ in German and to create a focus for all RQ and Glorantha fans in Germany. Our main problem here in Germany is that these fans are spread out all over the map. The main activity of us was to organize an annual Con at Whitsun which was called RQ-Con and to publish a magazine titled Free-Int. The RQ-Con became Tentacles and Free-Int became Tradetalk. Now we are part of the international Glorantha and CoC tribe.
CJ: I love the idea of German boardgames event at The Kraken – I play a number of games, being addicted to Ticket to Ride, but playing many others. Can you briefly explain the German board games culture to those roleplayers here who may be dubious?
Fabian: First of all: most Germans do not realize boardgames are something typical Teutonic. You have to have international gaming buddies to see that. If you talk about games or gaming to fellow Germans they immediately think of boardgames. We are raised in Kindergarten playing boardgames. I remember playing ‘Mensch Ärgere Dich Nicht’ against my grandmother for tiny sums of money. (laughs) I think much that culture steams from the fact that Germans love strategy and competition – a very Prussian trait. In fact Bismarck and von Moltke invented ‘Kriegspiel’ (Wargames) to give officers tactical training. These where basically tabletop miniature games. I saw picture of them, they still exist somewhere in a museum. You will find a surprising amount of Germans knowing about the existence of Robo Rally for example. (laughs)
As an anecdote: I recently watched a BBC quiz show on TV. One of the competing teams looked liked a typical gang of gaming geeks they called themselves the ‘Strategists’. It turned out they are European Boardgame fans and their leader was working for the Public Transport Ministry or something – which causes a lot of insider joking in the show. Awesome group of geeks. They where asked what was a hot boardgame at the moment and of course they said Agricola. (laughs)
But then we Germans are also leading Aquarium technology engineers. Who knows that? Not us. (laughs)
CJ: Schloss Neuhause looks very impressive. Why did you choose it as the venue for The Kraken?
Fabian: We said we need a Schloss now instead of a castle. It is of course a logical historical development. (laughs) Also a Schloss is more comfort. So we started looking around for something that could be rented. Most of these place are museums or ruins now of course but in the East of Germany you still find these cultural gems. They are bought by private individuals who restore them and rent them out. Schloss Neuhausen is such a fine example and perfectly suited to our needs. They have a fantastic management keen on a new event. We found the place by accident and sheer luck though. All honour and fame for finding it belongs to Pummel.
CJ: I notice this is a broader gaming event than TENTACLES which was very much Gloranthan and Chaosium focussed? Is that correct?
Fabian: Yes, very much so. We softened our policy, imposed by our Verein regulations to support RQ and Glorantha, a little because there are so many great games out there now that our fans play which have been influenced by the classic game designs of Greg, Sandy and Charlie. What we liked about Tentacles a lot is that we attracted many creative and innovative heads of our hobby. There was constantly something created or planned: publications, artwork, FreeForm games, tabletop games, rules innovations, new settings and even whole new RPGs. People challenged us by bringing new RPG systems for traditional settings to play at Tentacles with an avantgarde crowd. By obeying our regulations strictly in order to maintain a sharp Tentacles profile we often felt conflicted with this. Especially with games you play in between Freeforms or Tabletop games like Lunch Money and other fast paced card games. With THE KRAKEN we openly welcome this creativity now. We actually plan events where we create games and gaming material and test them. Want to test upcoming German Boardgames? Maybe THE KRAKEN is the place to be…
CJ: The website http://www.the-kraken.de/ is still under construction – when will it go live? And can you give us some price ideas yet?
Fabian: We are working on getting it online. But our graphic department has a high quality benchmark. I hope to have the site live in a couple of weeks. We basically offer 2 booking categories:
- The Full Kraken (5 Nights including 4 meals a day, soft-drinks and towels) starting at 315,- EUR
- A Piece of Shrimp (3 Nights including 4 meals a day, soft-drinks and towels) starting 200,- EUR
You can upgrade The Full Kraken with an Extra Day to take in special surprise events with our Guests of Honour.
CJ: Will there be a BOOK OF THE KRAKEN as in the BOOK of TENTACLES publications?
Fabian: We plan to publish a fund-raiser book or magazine but we are still carving out ideas for this…
CJ: Obviously you have family and life commitments outside gaming. Do you find it harder to find time to dame than say ten years ago? Does it colour your perspective on your hobby?
Fabian: It does. I used to do my gaming at Tentacles. I hardly find time or players to play RPGs. Most gaming I do is computer games. I play ‘Age of Empires‘ a lot on-line with my best buddy against some crazy skilled US or Korean kids. (laughs) I also own an iPhone now and use commuting times to play golden classic like ‘Monkey Island‘. But I am bound to organise a board gaming night in my neighbourhood.
CJ: I’m interested in how you first discovered gaming! What brought you to the hobby?
Fabian: My older brother invented a die based tabletop game with playmobil miniature armies that I played with him. I also got hooked up with the Steve Jackson & Ian Livingston Adventure books in the public library. When my older brother told me about the German RPG DSA (Das Schwarze Auge) that he played with a neighbour kid I was intrigued. My brother never really played it again. I later found the DSA boxes in a toy store in Frankfurt and it became a Christmas wish. But my real introduction to gaming was visiting my first convention at the age of 13 or 14. I heard a local radio story about the con and asked my parents to bring me over the weekend. They did and let me stay all by myself. It was a great experience. It was also the first time I played ‘Civilization‘. From then on I became a regular convention attendee. The next Con I visited I was lost cause I could not figure out how to get into a RPG game but the convention organizer helped out. A RQ GM was looking for players. I was in. I just wanted to play. You could fight and use magic! And the cultures and religions of Glorantha! Every year I made it back to this show to play RQ with this GM. His name is Andreas Müller and I owe him for introducing me to great gaming. This is how I eventually made my way into the RQ world.
CJ: You are well known for your Gloranthan activities – but what other games interest you? What is your shameful gaming secret, the game you enjoy but don’t like to admit to?
Fabian: I dunno. I think the most shameful gaming secret is that I am hardly a gamer. I do not play much. I never played or run a campaign. I am more a one-shot GM. And I am totally not up-to-date with my reading of Glorantha material. I naturally missed most Glorantha panels at Tentacles being busy and needed elsewhere. (laughs) Even going back to the RQ sources would be worthwhile because my English has improved a lot. See, I learned speaking English by doing Tentacles. (laughs) Does loving to play ‘Axis and Allies‘ constitute a shameful secret? I got a great German strategy by reading Churchill’s War Memories. (laughs)
Fabian: CJ: OK I have to ask – which Gloranthan game is your favourite? And why? Don’t limit yourself to RPGs!
Without doubt I am an avid fan of HeroQuest. it totally is what I love about roleplaying games. If you interested why you can read it here:
But I also loved the old RQ3 and its simulated combat.
CJ: Yes, much the same here! I enjoy RQ2, RQ3, MRQ and HQ 1+ in different ways!
Over the years you must have met many of the other stars of the gaming world, any gossip?
Fabian: I became friends with a lot of designers and authors and have very fond memories. Especially the Chaosium canon of stories are a gamers delight. How Chaosium got rid of a warehouse full of unsellable Mythos cards and how Charlie Krank finally offered to roll dice over the publishing rights of Call of Cthulhu belong to my favorites. Also a great story is how Robin Laws reprogrammed a cash register computer to do word processing to write RPG material at work is a fun story or how Rob Heinsoo sold Tentacles to his D&D buddies and made them turn pale in shock. I guess you have to come to THE KRAKEN to hear these. We will have plenty of time to do things like these. Maybe we also revive the Joke Round where we tell international jokes. (laughs) Have you ever heard heard Greg Stafford tell a joke? He is a master storyteller.
CJ: What was your worst moment as a con organiser? And your best?
Fabian: I think they are one and the same. The worst and best moment was when we gradually found out that the Friday starting night of Tentacles had to be shared with another group. The castle management told us it was some kind of German-French student friendship exchange BBQ. But with every phone call I got things changed a little. (laughs) The next thing I knew was the the German Chancellor Schröder was a special guest. I asked to get a picture taken with him and that was okay. But in the end we had to relocate for a couple of hours because it was a full scale Head of State summit meeting between Schröder and Jacques Chirac at Castle Stahleck.
We ended up a couple of kilometres up the Rhine in anther youth hostel waiting until their BBQ was over and we could get back to start Tentacles. At the same time I organized Greg Stafford as a surprise appearance. He decided last minute to come and I did not told anybody. So I had to hide him the whole time until the SFX special effect show was to happen in the night. There was an almost unlimited supply of wine bottles and beer barrels and the most amazing food. I seem to remember seeing a swine or cattle roast on a stick. You know they barely eat at these summits! (laughs) I tried drinking a glass of beer but I never had time trying to get everything back on track. Someone always plucked away my beer.(laughs) I will not disclose who!
Eventually Greg appeared in smoke and lighting and it was a blast. The party ended around 5 or 6 in the morning with me gazing hungrily at the leftovers. It was like at a proper party. The only things left was a cold sausage and some potato salad! (laughs)
There is also the story of certain drunken Englishmen trying to escape from Castle Stahleck and breaking in again but you have to ask me in person to hear that story… (laughs)
CJ: Your fondest memory of Tentacles?
Fabian: The above and falling in love with my girlfriend at Tentacles. Also seeing Sandy Petersen typing up the characters for his CoC game he forgot to bring on the German keyboard of my computer in my teenage bedroom with his wife sitting on my bed knitting. But in general I would say becoming friends with some many great people from around the world.
CJ: And how did Tentacles come about in the first place?
Fabian: Tentacles developed out of our club meeting the RQ-Cons. The club got the chance to book Castle Stahleck ( not an easy feat) for Whitsun 1996 and since I was living in the region I and 2 other club members where chosen to organize the next RQ-Con. RQ-Cons used to be held all over Germany to give all members a fair chance to attend and even out travelling times. So every year the organisers changed as well.
So the first Tentacles was actually labeled RQ Con, and someone said “we need a title.” So it was called ‘Rheingold Queste’. But after the first Con at the castle we decided to stay. I volunteered to host it again, and the next title we had was ‘Tentacles over Bacharach‘ since all games we played included monsters with Tentacles! So we moved away from the name RQ Con and Tentacles became what it was.
CJ: Thank you Fabian! I have organised a couple of min-conventions for the Ars Magica roleplaying game and I know just how much effort went in to them, so Tentacles must have been a huge endeavour. I am really looking forward to hearing more about The Kraken, and am very grateful for you for talking so much time out to share with us your memories and plans. Looking forward to the launch of http://www.the-kraken.de/