Darren J. Gendron on Monster Alphabet, The Commissioned 3v3 and Scurvy Dogs

Darren J. Gendron is the writer half of the Commissioned web comic, as well as the designer of Scurvy Dogs and the Commissioned3v3 card game. He also is the writer of Hello with Cheese and Monster Alphabet, a children’s book with 26 monsters corresponding to each letter of the alphabet.

Monster Alphabet

CG: Let’s start with Monster Alphabet by yourself and Obsidian Abnormal, how did you two go about selecting what each letter’s animal would be?
DJG: It sounds terrible, but initially I used a list from Wikipedia to just verify that there were enough legendary monsters to complete the alphabet. But from there, I picked the ones I liked the most, or had the most fascinating backstory to them. Doppelgänger was one of my favorite words, and I always like Fairies. And then there were a slew of dragons, Aztecan myths, and monsters that had Pokemon based off of them.
CG: Yes, the Aztecs were helpful for X and Q with the Xiuhcoatl and the Quetzalcoatl. Any idea of what you would have done without them?
DJG: Quetzalcoatl was a lock from the beginning. I know with X I was narrowing it down between a couple. I’m checking my notes. It’s just Xiuhcoatl there. I know there was a Chinese one, but I decided that we already had a Chinese legend for Z.
Phillipines Ibong Adarna mythical bird illustration from Monster AlphabetCG: Yeah, I’m struggling to even think of another X. Xorn is an X-Men character.
DJG: It was mostly written in a late-night email to my wife, who was pregnant with our son Franklin Powers Gendron at the time.
CG: Yes, you’re a father yourself. So did you write the book with Franklin in mind?
DJG: It was very much something that I wanted to make so that I could read to Franklin. The book is dedicated to him.
CG: What’s your favorite of the 26? Is it the Doppelgänger?
DJG: The Ibong Adarna. I didn’t know anything about it, and I’m betting a lot of people will be meeting this bird for the first time in the Monster Alphabet too.
CG: I like the petrification powers of its poop. What’s your son’s favorite?
DJG: The Raijū; he refers to it as “kitty”, but he’s 2, so that’s probably OK for now.

The Commissioned 3v3 Card Game

Commissioned 3v3 Card Game Kickstarter promotion promoting fact that it is funding on KickstarterCG: Now what was your card game that you had at Gen Con?
DJG: 3v3: The Commissioned Card Game with Commissioned being the name of the webcomic it gets the source material from and 3v3 being the name of the game mechanic we invented. Technically, “I” invented. I tend to talk in the royal we a lot when talking about our comics, but that was me and my lawyer will probably get annoyed if I don’t keep that part straight.
CG: Yes, so I played through a demo of it. How’d you come up with the two cards on the bottom, one on the top mechanic?
DJG: We knew we wanted to make a fighting game for Commissioned and at the same time, we were working on Scurvy Dogs, our board game. There’s a cargo card in Scurvy Dogs that’s for the Cannons. It’s the only card in the game that is either Cargo or a Cannon So it either gives a +1 Sea, or is stowed away as a 10-gold piece of booty We just made it a double-sided card so we could track the Cargo/Cannon status of it and that idea sort of stuck in my brain. So when we started boiling down the essence of what makes a good combat card game – Magic, Yu-gi-oh, Pokemon, VS – we had those three key ingredients: Attack, Defense and Special Abilities. They each have their own flavors of score keeping and resource management. And I wanted to tear out the resource row. I was playing a lot of Dominion at the time, and I loved the idea of not having long-term hand plans.

Card art and diagram showing playing style of Commissioned 3v3 card game

In Commissioned 3v3 Each Hand is Arranged to Create an Attack, Defense, and Special Ability

DJG: It made for a really fast game that felt different to anything we’ve played before. Ralph Pripstein, one of my playtesters, was getting obsessed trying to figure out what to say it’s like. People kept asking him during GenCon, and we get that it’s part of the language of pitching a game.
CG: Haha. Right.
DJG: It would be great to say it’s “Checkers meets Arkham Horror,” and let people suss it out in their head, but 3v3 is quirky in its simplicity. It’s like MTG, minus all the key details that make MTG into MTG. Or it’s like War, only there’s layers of strategy.
CG: I think it is a lot closer to Top Trumps. Am I right in thinking that you never play to your opponent in The Commissioned 3v3? You assemble the best hand out of the random one you’re dealt, right? And you don’t really know or can’t plan for what your opponent will pick besides knowing maybe whether he or she favors offense or defense.
DJG: For tournament-style play, we’ll incorporate a small sideboard. But really, we’re opening with 350 different cards, and you only have 30 in your deck. You draw three and you play three. There are no leftover cards, no resource row. Because the game plays so fast and one deck stumble can mean a win or a loss, we tend to play Best of Three. I did see a lot of people wanting to reshuffle and go again, especially since the matches are usually decided by 2-3 points. Rarely do you see a deck stumble so bad that someone wins 10-4 or 10-3.
CG: How do you tend to do yourself?
DJG: No comment. Actually, I should be fairly proud of the fact that I literally wrote every rule, and I tend to lose about two thirds of the time.
CG: Haha. How does one get Commissioned 3v3 and for how much?
DJG: We’re in the Kickstarter phase right now, which means we’re shipping the 250-card starter to your door for $35 (if your door is in the USA, Canada or Mexico). With the first two expansions, it’s $50. And if you want to play it right NOW, we’re starting to release Print-and-Play decks for free. It’s really a game that you need to play before you decide if it’s for you or not. Here’s the first two Print-and-Play decks. The Kickstarter will last until Sept. 18. After that, we’ll be selling it through the online store for CommissionedComic.com.

Scurvy Dogs, Gen Con 2012, and Dragon*Con

Board Game Cover with Pirates and Privateers for Scurvy DogsCG: Great. Now what about Scurvy Dogs?
DJG: Scurvy Dogs will be available in stores this holiday season. We have the shipment of the first printing getting to my warehouse this week, and I’m actually finishing up the distributor paperwork tonight We got a TON of positive feedback on it at GenCon – it looks gorgeous, it plays great for game groups, and again, it’s another game I created that I lose at a lot.
CG: Are all these projects things you’ve done with Obsidian Abnormal?
DJG: O took on all the art duties for Scurvy Dogs’ retail version. there’s three LE card that he didn’t draw, but other than those, we’re talking over 200 unique illustrations done by him. I am biased, but it’s one of the most gorgeous games I’ve ever seen. We actually had a retailer thank us for the box design – that it was so pretty he didn’t think he would have any trouble selling it off the shelf.
CG: That’s great to hear. So speaking of Gen Con, how was it for you? Was it your first year exhibiting?
DJG: That was indeed our first year, and it was amazing. I had to buy a sword just so that I’d have a trophy to remember it by.
CG: What’d you get?
DJG: I got a replica of Mugan’s sword from Samurai Champloo. It was something I’d been promising myself I’d get one day. For games, I had to get D-Day Dice, and Star Wars Minis.
CG: As an exhibitor you’re busy of course during the hours when the Vendors’ Hall is open, but did you play any games after hours?
DJG: Each night my staff busted open a new game, limiting it to whatever we bought that night. First night it was 3v3, though. We needed to sharpen up our decks. Second night was D-Day Dice, then some Infinity (that wasn’t bought that day, but Ralph wanted to show off his models).
CG: Are you into all sorts of gaming then?
DJG: Especially with my gaming group, which is also my playtesting and design staff – we love cracking new games and learning new rules. I can’t remember which game was Friday night, but Saturday was Star Wars. Seriously, what happened to Friday? That was a four day show, right?
CG: Right! I don’t know if your days stretched into the night and 3 AM too?
DJG: We tried to be old men and shut it down around 1 AM. Our hotel was outside the beltway, so it was a 15-minute drive in each day, plus a parking spot hunt. Next year, we’ll switch over to an adjacent hotel and give up on sleep. So I have to ask – during your 3v3 demo, what deck did you have and how did it go?
CG: Gotcha. I think it had Dwarves in it. Maybe my opponent’s did as well. Maybe a Jezebel or a card that referred to a Jezebel?
DJG: Jezebel is one of the characters, yeah.
CG: I think the learning curve was 3-5 minutes, but I could see how it could play fast.
DJG: Dwarf is one of our beefier attacks. Half the joke is that really is his character’s name; he’s Dwarf the Dwarf. There’s also Elf the Elf, and Weretiger.
CG: The Weretiger?
DJG: It’s the comic within the comic. Commissioned is about O’s life and he’s a DM his friends are terrible at naming characters. So it’s The Adventures of Dwarf, Elf and Weretiger. But Dwarf and Elf hate Weretiger, so their cards really don’t mesh with his.
CG: How many of the people that stopped by your booth seemed familiar with Commissioned though?
DJG: We definitely made the game fun if you’d never heard of Commissioned. But for those that do know the comic, it’s every reference they’ll want. Because it’s so gamer-friendly, I don’t know if we’ve ever had as good of a fan turn-out as we’ve had at GenCon. Dragon*Con last year came close – but that was with us flying O in from Colombia.

Mustachioed Darren Gendron at his booth with a comic version of himself drawn by Obsidian Oracle

Scallywag Darren J. Gendron at Gen Con 2012

CG: Speaking of Dragon*Con now, what are your plans for it this year?
DJG: We’ll be at table B-16 in the Comic Alley in the Hyatt (and that’s we as in O and I both) and we’ve got a panel Sunday night at 7, in the Crystal Ballroom of the Hilton.
CG: What’s your panel?
DJG: It’s the Webcomics panel, so it’s also people like Jenny Breeden, sans leaf blower. “A behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to produce a successful web-based comic strip series, given by both new and established webcomic artists.”
CG: Now do you dress up for Dragon*Con?
DJG: Well, I have to wax the mustache. I’d be unrecognizable without that. And the bowler hat is also a must.
CG: I see. I thought that was your everyday dress!
DJG: Generally, I try to dress as fancy as possible: shirt, tie, slacks. Eventually I’ll go back to wearing a vest too. It’s just hard to find a good vest in my size, so I’ve been dropping some weight.

Darren J. Gendron’s Background as a Gamer

CG: How did you get into gaming in the first place?
DJG: The fuzzy early memories stages of my love of board gaming goes way back. My parents are gamers, and still have domino groups and left-right-center games. But I’m also a bit of a power gamer. I’m banned from playing Monopoly with friends and family and just under 10 years ago, I got into Heroclix and Mage Knight. It was there I met Ralph, who also is a power gamer. Alex Chambers I met through mutual friends playing Mordheim and 40K. Between the three of us, we can be miserable to play against, but for making games, it’s a great trait to have.
CG: So what are your main armies?
DJG: 40K, I have a Tau mobile brigade for when I’m shooting to win, and a Kroot horde for when I just want to roll a lot of dice. Mordheim, I have a damn near broken Vampire leading a warband. We haven’t played that in a couple years, mainly out of fear of that vampire.
CG: Haha! Isn’t there a Vampire Hireling you could cheese it out with?
DJG: Her toughness is maxed out, making her nearly unkillable. And if anyone equips holy water, I make an abject lesson of their warband. I do love how that game allows for lower-ranked warbands to rack up better experience for just surviving against way over-leveled group.
CG: Did you ever get into role-playing?
DJG: Occassionally. That’s probably the softest spot in my gaming experience though. I’m usually far more interested in the tactics and dice than the story going around, which is why our group really got into Descent a few years back. That’s actually what we were hate-playing when we started building Scurvy Dogs.
CG: Hate-playing?
DJG: It’s a fun game, but if you don’t get a good start it’s a miserable game for either the adventures or the dungeon lord. And we’d play it over and over, trying to figure out why it was doing that. Descent’s newer rules actually did a good job of fixing that, though, so now we sort of fear and respect that game. If it’s balanced, we could easily lose a month or two of our lives to it. Lately, because of the workload of finishing 3v3, we’ve been avoiding deep games and going for lighter fare. I know that the Mage Knight board game and Fortune and Glory are next up on the docket for us. And we’re starting to build up our next couple Scallywags International games, but they won’t be tangible things until at least 2013, and maybe not until 2014.
CG: Alright. Maybe we could touch base again then! Thanks, Darren!
DJG: Thanks!

Commissioned 3v3, Scurvy Dogs, and Monster Alphabet artwork copyright Scallywags International, used with permission.