with Chris Birch of Modiphius Entertainment
By Martin Tideswell
Roleplayers’ Chronicle catches up with Chris Birch, head honcho at British Games publisher Modiphius, to talk forthcoming releases and his plans for taking over one of the UK’s best-loved conventions…
Whisper it quietly, but there’s a new Sheriff in town looking after one of the UK’s oldest and best-loved gaming conventions. London’s Dragonmeet celebrates 15 years in December and the man who has taken over the reins has big plans to grow the brand.
Chris Birch is the founder and driving force behind Modiphiüs – a publisher which is becoming a big noise in tabletop gaming. From the ‘WWII & tentacles’ RPG, Achtung! Cthulhu (recently voted Best RPG at UKGamesExpo) through to a revitalised Mutant Chronicles and even a co-operative tabletop game based on the classic British children’s TV series Thunderbirds, Modiphiüs is in a rich vein of form.
But this is, however, no ordinary gaming firm – focused purely on producing winning tabletop creations. This is in no small part due to the fact that top man Chris, aged 46, has a creative background which perhaps leads him to think outside the box – more so, even, than his counterparts at other gaming companies.
Music and fashion were always his passion (there’s a song in there somewhere). His career began organising rave parties with top DJs during the dance-mad days of the 1990s. After that, he launched his own clothing brand – Joystick Junkies – which was focused on apparel for gamers, from t-shirts to hoodies. His first foray into game publishing was when he approached Cubicle 7 and suggested they create an RPG based on classic British comic book series Starblazer, of which he was a big fan. They asked Chris to write it and, with the help of his long-time gaming pal Stuart Newman, the Starblazer Adventures RPG was born.
The success of that project led Chris, via Kickstarter, to breathe new life into Mutant Chronicles – described by Chris as a dieselpunk RPG that he loved back in the day, with ‘big guns and even bigger shoulder-pads’. Since then Chris has created Achtung! Cthulhu – giving players the chance to battle monsters of H.P. Lovecraft’s Mythos while simultaneously giving those evil Nazis a bloody nose. Or, perhaps more likely, dying while trying.
As with so many of us 30 and 40-somethings, it was Dungeons and Dragons which first hooked Chris into gaming and he still has some love for the granddaddy of all RPGs.
He said: “I think games designers and companies sometimes fall into the trap of making RPGs too complicated as they try to give players every possible option for their characters. D&D has a super simple system – or rather, the early version that I played did. It had very few rules and, despite the obvious flaws, it was a winning formula.
“To this day I can still remember my first D&D character. His name was Brandon and he fell down a pit trap and got killed in the first chamber in the adventure In Search Of The Unknown (Dungeon Module B1). I was distraught – so much so that every character I’ve had in every game since then has been called Brandon.”
That includes Sergeant Brandon Carter, no less, one of the heroes (and now miniatures) of the Achtung! Cthulhu universe.
I asked Chris why he thought WWII was such a compelling backdrop for Cthulhu.
He said: “The Cthulhu Mythos is so deep and rich and sits well with that period in our history when there were some genuinely sinister and ghastly things going on.”
Talking to Chris is like chatting to someone who was sitting with you while you watched all the classic sci-fi shows and films and read your favourite works of fantasy fiction. His incredible enthusiasm for gaming is evident as he hints at some of Modiphiüs’s future plans – which could include the company expanding into new areas, as well as events.
What gamers can expect is at least three more big RPGs, a graphic novel, an Achtung! Cthulhu board game as well as the eagerly-awaited Thunderbirds board game – for which Modiphiüs has partnered with Matt Leacock, creator of the hugely successful Pandemic and Forbidden Island games.
Modiphiüs’s philosophy (or perhaps Chris’s) when it comes to games, appears to be that simple playability is key. As the blurb for the company’s in-development Expeditions RPG states: ‘We’ve not been playtesting for 27 years, developed the most unique rules known to man, created a world not already created a gazillion times by other companies – we’ve just put together some cute systems that, we think, will help you have an amazing time’.
I asked Chris if he’s still involved in the writing process, and he was brutally honest in reply.
Chris said: “I tend to leave it to the experts because they make me look terrible by comparison. We’ve been very lucky in recruiting some terrific talent across our game systems – people who are extremely knowledgeable about their subject areas, such as World War II, and brilliant writers and designers. I leave it to them these days.”
Part of Chris’s (and Modiphiüs’s) plans for global, or perhaps gaming, domination is the growth of the small, but perfectly-formed Dragonmeet convention which Chris – along with music business entrepreneur Jonathan Rowlands – has taken over the running of, from Cubicle 7.
Chris explained: “Dragonmeet has been going now for 15 years and there’s a lot of love for the event, but it has never really been grown.
“Because of my background, planning events such as a convention don’t hold any terrors for me. Delivering an event such as this is actually relatively straightforward.
“We’ve already introduced a few changes – such as the Early Bird ticket offer (expires at the end of June) and extended opening hours (10am to 11pm) and visitors to Dragonmeet this year can expect a lot more for their money.
“They’ll get all the expected RPG opportunities, in fact there will be more. Along with more traders, guest speakers, industry panels, tournaments, demos, cosplay, an art show and a charity auction.
“Last year Dragonmeet attracted around 800 people, which is pretty healthy, and that included 50 or so traders. I’d like to think we can at least double that.”
*The Dragonmeet convention takes place at Kensington Town Hall, London, England, on Saturday, December 13. More details at: www.dragonmeet.co.uk
Author: Martin Tideswell is a married, 42-year-old father of two who comes from Stoke-on-Trent, England. He’s been a journalist since 1989 and a Dungeons and Dragons fanatic for more than 30 years after being hooked by the UK adventure The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh. He has written extensively for the Pathfinder RPG system under the banner of Raging Swan Press. A winner of the D&D Red Steel tournament at Gen Con UK, he was also a finalist in the D&D UK Open Championships. Martin also won the Cthulhu Masters Tournament at Gen Con Indy in 2012 during his first visit to the States and was a finalist in the inaugural Cthulhu Masters UK tournament a year later. He is now wondering how he and his family are going to survive Gen Con Indy this August… now that he doesn’t have his Yoda and room-mate from two years ago – Roleplayers Chronicle boss man Aaron Huss – to guide him.