Dave Gentzler

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his interview was realised in autumn 2003.


[Philbarfly] Dave, you said that "Luke was usually drunk by 9 AM most days, his recollections may be anything from wildy inaccurate to just plain hallucinations", Did he use to drink the Gringe Commander Beer ? Now, you must tell us the true story of Guardians...

[Dave Gentzler] Luke likes beer. Not as much as Keith, mind you, but he likes it a lot. The kind of beer they drink isn't the kind you see in teevee commercials. They favor this thick, black, glob that resembles mollasses. Not being a drinker, myself, I apparently miss the appeal of this, but since I have some peculiar culinary habits of my own, who am I to criticize?

[Philbarfly] How were you involved in the Guardians adventure?

[Dave Gentzler] They were short on playtesters one week and I got invited. It was pretty much a fluke. When I got there I picked up the game very quickly and began using my Evil Cardbreaking Mind to break the game. Luke was impressed with some of the combos I came up with (I believe the quote was "Yikes! That needs fixed") and I got invited back.

At this time Guardians was being developed in Lititz, PA, while FPG was in Pittsburgh. Quite a distance away. Luke was spending more and more time in Pitt and it was obvious development would have to shift there as FPG Games solidified. After working on the game for several months, Luke asked if I'd be willing to move out to Pitt and the rest, as they say, is history.

[Philbarfly] Had you a background in games at this moment ? Which CCG you played before Guardians?

[Dave Gentzler] When I joined as a playtester I had no professional gaming experience. Actually, I was managing an adult video store and writing porn reviews for Adult Video News magazine (really...not a joke. I swear). I had created some games (board and card) that were big hits locally, but nothing pro. I played everything. This was at the heart of CCG mania, so anything that was published, I tried it. I was (am) also an avid tabletop miniatures player and enjoy boardgames...an all-around gaming goober.

[Philbarfly] What sort of missions were yours at FPG?

[Dave Gentzler] Haha.... Everything Luke didn't do, I did. I was the internet representative, I wrote stuff for the various gaming mags, did game development, did ads for various publications, proofreading, playtesting supervision, press checks, convention coordinating, promotional stuff. FPG was small enough that I even got a say in layout and art design.

[Philbarfly] Please tell us how you realised The Traveler's Guide to the Mid Realms ? How long did you travel in these strange countries?

[Dave Gentzler] At the height of the CCG boom, it seemed like everybody was spitting out a player's guide. The problem, as I saw it, was most of them sucked. They were quickly-written, light content ways to milk some extra cash out of their player base. When Luke said "Hey, write a player's guide," I knew I wanted the Guardians book to be the best one around, way useful, plus lots of extra goodies and info. I wanted it to be FUN. You don't even have to be a Guardians fan to enjoy that book, which is cool. I am very flattered that FPG gave me such leeway. Here I was, a guy who had no published material (other than AVN reviews, hehe) to his credit, and they just turned me loose on the project and said "Give us a good book. Oh, and include a card list."

[Philbarfly] How was the ambiance at FPG ? And your relation with Luke and Keith? Have you some funny anecdotes to report?

[Dave Gentzler] Well, we have to be clear here. Guardians was created in two very distinct places. Primarily, work was done at Knightsbridge Studio, Keith's place in Lititz. Quite possibly the coolest place a guy could ever hope to "work" at. I really can't describe it adequately with text. Just call it the ultimate cool, laid-back artist place. The room oozed creativity, even when Evil Baron Stoner walked in. Keith, Luke and myself were an astounding team. When all three of us were in the room, we almost gelled into one collective creative mind. It was the best time I have ever had and got paid for it.

The FPG offices were in Pittsburgh. While not quite the den of coolosity (a word I just made up...feel free to use it) that Keith's studio was, still an amazing place to work. A collection of awesome people, all friendly, creative and interesting (as artsy people tend to be). It was after I moved out there that I met Brom, Warhola, Joe Jusko... FPG, until the end, was paradise and Mike was the best boss a guy could have. It's really a tragic shame how it all ended up.

[Philbarfly] Luke said that in the Mid-Realms, you are Tweezle; Is that true ? What are the avatars of Luke, Keith, other people...?

[Dave Gentzler] I created Tweezle for the player's guide. I wanted a continuing character to tie the various bits together, and who better than Ploogak's official Royal Scribe? The name just sorta fell out of my head one day. Only much later did I find out there's a character in the Teddy Ruxpin world with the same name. (Teddy Ruxpin was a talking toy doll thingamabob that was a HUGE fad in the US one year).

Contrary to what you may have heard on the street, I was NOT the visual inspiration for Tweezle!

When we decided to do the Cheesy Con Souvenir I realized we had no art for the guy, so Keith suggested I go through the sketch binder and find an unused piece and he'd flesh it out enough to use on a card. While digging, I found a set of unused gnomes that Ploog had sketched. I pulled one that I liked and there ya go....Tweezle. Keith did the art for free as a favor, which is why if you look real close, there's no background. The background was photoshopped in by Jay (who designed the players guide), and is taken from the Ruins side of a Stronghold card. Now you have the true story. Keith and Luke had fun at cons telling people that I was the visual, because they knew it got a rise out of me. Over time, I used the Tweezle character a lot for articles and stuff. He became my alter-ego in the Mid Realms.

[Philbarfly] Luke explains some of the cards but not all, have you some comments? Could you tell us some more private jokes within the cards?

[Dave Gentzler] Jeepers, it's been a LONG time. The main set was done when I came on board, so any of my observations will have to do with the expansions. These will be random, just off the top of my head as I flip through the binder.

Rotten Guy: Brom took the name way too seriously, turning in a literally rotten guy. The character was supposed to just be a scoundrel-type and fit in with the other "guys" from the set.

Soooooooul Mirror: Originally just "Soul Mirror," but we're big fans of 70's Soul Train re-runs. Seven o's...no more, no less.

War: I wanted to make this card do absolutely nuthin', but was overruled. Again, a music reference.

A funny thing about Dagger Isle was that the art got shuffled around quite a bit, so several cards were re-named to fit art we had laying around, while others (Petrified Heart, for example) had art whipped up for them in an afternoon. One of the artists (I will not say who, but his last name starts with "A") turned in less than stellar work, repeatedly, so we had to adapt accordingly. Luckily we had a LOT of pirates laying around.

Buster Scrimbo was a last minute, digital painting by Keith (there is no physical original) and is one of my favorite Keith pieces.

Reverend Smilin' Jackoid bears more than a little resemblance to Brom.

Drifter's Nexus in general: The Nexus gave us license to do anything we could come up with, now having a time-travel hub to justify it. The game shifted away from its original classic Fantasy setting to "anything goes." This set has some of my favorite cards in it, and saw us pushing to see just how many blatant racial slurs we could get away with before catching heat. I think Drifter's is almost perfect. Den's art is astounding and the set has just the right "feel."

Black Locust: You'd think the name would have given Mr Shaw an indication on where to go with this one, but the locust he submitted was, in fact, green. The orginal is laying around my desk here, somewhere. An obvious poke at the monetary insanity the MtG Black Lotuses had acheived. 

Etherwave Magna Lock: sounds like a feature of Tyco slot car racing sets, doesn't it?

Golden Fleecer: Brom paints Keith's portrait. Check out the facial features.

Mighty Tiki God: I was in a hotel in Atlantic City for a video convention and was watching MTV in my room. There was this program on, and live viewer text scrolled along the bottom while videos played. Well, I see this "I AM THE MIGHTY TIKI GOD, ALL BOW BEFORE ME" scroll by and just cracked up laughing. I decided it had to be a card. I didn't realize (not being a regular MTV watcher) that the Tiki God was already an established thing on MTV. A shame the art is a TOTEM POLE.

Sewage Back-up: Check out that upside-down writing near the ceiling.

Small Mox: I cannot tell you how much I wanted to physically destroy this painting and how hard I railed against using it.

Shin Chios: Ms Lennox is ready for her close-up...

Tree Ogre: What happens when you send the artist the wrong guide sketch. See "Polar Ice Ogre" from the main set. Keith didn't even notice til I showed him the finished piece, at which point it was too late.

A bunch of the female bodies painted by Keith in this set were modeled/posed by the sister of a friend of mine who was an aspiring model. A few years later, going by Brooke Richards, she became Playboy's Miss December, 1999.

Necropolis Park: The name is mine, said as a joke one day on the phone as I tried to describe the next expansion to a playtester. "Evil dinosaurs meet Egyptian undead...a sort of Necropolis Park." Keith loved it and ran with it.

Evil Baron Stoner: Last-minute name change. Brett Stoner was the guy who got me involved with Guardians, and Evil Baron Stoner was a joke from the Guide. The art we had looked sorta like a Baron. Problem solved.

Footlocker of Conflagration: One of my faves, because it solves the number one gripe about the game (lack of Shields when you need them).

Judge Dredge: Thought we would get in trouble for this one for sure. Parody is one thing, this is just Judge Dredd with a plunger.

The "Mayors": These came from my known love of fast food, but I rallied HARD to NOT have them included in the set. I thought (and still think) they are way too silly.

The Minx: The face is a girl who worked in the FPG art department, who later went on to marry FPG boss Mike Friedlander.

The Ol' Switcheroo: We had an joke in-house contest to see who at FPG could come up with a better painting, this was so universally hated.

By Necropolis, FPG was in trouble and the Guardians team knew it (hence the "Omega" symbol on the cards), so we really didn't have the energy and enthusiasm that was present on Drifter's. Art that would have been trashed was used. Egos flared among artists. Luke and I were in Pitt while Keith was back in Lititz, so we didn't have the ongoing "spark" as we had in the past.

[Philbarfly] Which are your prefered cards and why ? The worst (if any ;-) ? Have you some advices for Guardians players (except buying The Traveler's Guide, I mean) ?

[Dave Gentzler] It's been so long since I played that I couldn't really say, anymore. When I go back and dig through my stuff, like I just did, I realize how much fun the game was and get all nostalgic and misty and stuff. Only many years after FPG collapsed, talking to Luke (who had the real financial numbers) did I find out just how well Guardians actually did, and how well it COULD have done if handled by a different company. It outsold L5R while it was around.

[Philbarfly] Just before FPG disappeared, we heard of projects (deluxe box, new expansion,...). Were you involved? May we have informations about these projects ?

[Dave Gentzler] I wrote a new rulebook for the Deluxe Set, very clear and tight. It was going to have two starters, the new rulebook, a few expansion packs and a playmat, with a tutorial and all. It would have done well.

The new expansion: The reason nobody you have spoken to knows anything about this is because I made it up one day while on the phone to Scrye. We were talking about upcoming releases and I was asked what the next expansion would be. Knowing there wasn't going to BE one, I just said the next set would be mostly aquatic. I don't remember if I actually said "Seven Seas" or CJ Burke later came up with it. In my mind, tenatively, it would have been a split of an underwater kingdom and some sort of arctic locale. Of course, I hadn't told Keith this, and it was his game and all.

[Philbarfly] You are credited with Luke for the rules of Dark Age Feudal Lords, how did you work with Luke or Brom?

[Dave Gentzler] I did a whole lot more on Dark Age than the paltry "lead playtester" credit I got. Brom moved to Pitt during Dark Age's development and was a very cool person to get to know. Very flexible, very easy-going. One of the most interesting nights of my life was attending a Marilyn Manson concert with Brom and his four-year-old boy and some other FPG crew. Luke ended up in the mosh pit. I added the location element to the game. The original version was just "my guys fight your guys for no real reason."

Dark Age, the game, was originally a combat rules set for a RPG/miniatures game. The original concept was 54mm figures with specific interchangeable bits. Brom owns all the rights and now it's a miniatures game. You also see the art showing up on lots of RPG covers nowadays.

I did the second Dark Age game, The Brood, pretty much on my own. It was based around growing these mutant creatures in big vats of goo and was 100 percent compatible with the first game. Unfortuantely, there are almost no traces of the game's existence today, All my files were on my FPG computer, which got locked away from me at the end. I put a lot of work into that game, and it cheeses me off that it just vanished like it did.

[Philbarfly] How was the end of FPG ? What have you done after the end of FPG ?

[Dave Gentzler] The end of FPG was just ugly, with much backstabbing, blame and lies being tossed around. The gaming division was dissolved before FPG proper, so I had left Pittsburgh before the final collapse. Some bits of the story have changed dramatically over the years, so I can't really give a definitive account of the very end. I moved back to where I had come to FPG from, southcentral Pennsylvania, and that was pretty much the end of my involvement with the gaming biz until recently. I have primarily worked as a proofreader since then, with other odds and ends toosed in as finances have warranted.

[Philbarfly] What are your occupation and projects at this moment ? Which games do you play ?

[Dave Gentzler] I just finished freelance work on a game for Sabertooth, but the release of it is still kinda up in the air. Nowadays I am a serious Warhammer Fantasy Battle junkie. I also play computer RPGs like Icewind Dale, Baldur's Gate and such and dabble in RTS like Age of Kings, but my primary focus, gamingwise, is Warhammer Fantasy Battle.