WARPLAND: Weeks after launching his new OSR dark fantasy RPG Warpland, this game designer from Buenos Aires, Argentina, talks about the new release, his creative process and how art has influenced the way he works.
Two years ago, Gavriel Quiroga dedicated himself entirely to role-playing games, experimental music and poetry. First, he wrote the acclaimed NEUROCITY, a dystopian nightmare set in a subterranean city complex watched over by a supercomputer named I.S.A.C., after which came Warpland, a primeval science fantasy role-playing game, inspired by Heavy Metal comics and fuelled by psychedelia. In Warpland, Humanity lives trapped in an Iron Age, where knowledge and science are anathema and only a few brave ones dare to explore the ruins of forgotten temples, searching for ancient artefacts. Gavriel is about to Kickstart a campaign for Ascet, a card game about monks seeking enlightenment, while being lured into temptation by demons, and he also has been working on a yet undisclosed new role-playing game.
Red Room: NEUROCITY is dark and partly Kultish. Is this what we should expect from Warpland?
Gavriel Quiroga: I aimed at a Paranoia/ Kult hybrid setting for NEUROCITY, but Warpland is a different animal, though. I think you will enjoy it. I made a huge effort for that world to make sense!
RR: Is it a science fantasy setting?
GQ: I guess it is a science fantasy and sword & sorcery mash up. My friends say it is He-Man on a bad acid trip in the middle of Patagonia.
RR: You are from Argentina, right?
GQ: Yes. I was born here but most of my life I have been travelling in Asia.
“I guess it is a science fantasy and sword & sorcery mash up. My friends say it is He-Man on a bad acid trip in the middle of Patagonia.”
RR: Is there a role-playing scene over there? I know there are lots of people working in RPGs in Brazil, but I know nothing about what’s going on in other South American countries.
GQ: The scene here is big, but it is dull and lacks courage. Most are just content with playing official mainstream RPG products. Brazil has the edge. With Diogo Nogueira as the spearhead. There is zero interest for my work in my own country!
RR: For most people the hobby is still Dungeons & Dragons and then all the rest, isn’t it?
GQ: Is it? I don’t know. I feel so alienated from those products that they feel from another dimension. Everyone I know is into the OSR independent scene. I love it.
RR: When was Warpland officially released for non-backers?
GQ: In the middle of June, but people are starting to play it only now. The setting is a bit demanding.
RR: So this is the right time to target new customers, is that so?
GQ: Yes. I’m growing awareness beyond backers, before moving to my next project, Ascet, a card game where you interpret an ascetic monk that seeks enlightenment, while demons try to lure him with temptations. Pre-launch Kickstarter will start in less than ten days.
RR: Have you developed any other games besides NEUROCITY and Warpland?
GQ: No! I have lost friends and fell into a profound vortex of chaos and depression because of these works. They are not products. I really have something to say. Every time I do this I need to bleed myself before I am finished. It is a nightmare trip.
“I have lost friends and fell into a profound vortex of chaos and depression because of these works. They are not products. I really have something to say.”
RR: You really did put a lot of effort into these projects…
GQ: I walked endless nights my friend!
RR: But they do look great! They have aesthetic references in common, but you are not a visual artist, are you?
GQ: No, I am not. I work with a big team of illustrators that are patient enough to work with me. I am a poet and an experimental musician in the underground Buenos Aires scene.
RR: There is a playlist for Warpland, is that correct?
GQ: Warpland’s playlist features two official soundtracks, one by me and another by other artists. And we are launching a dungeon synth album for Warpland soon, with several great musicians from the scene. It also includes an adventure written by Walton Wood.
RR: People I have talked to about the independent role-playing market have mentioned how difficult it is to promote new games. What has been your own experience so far?
GQ: It is like waving in a crowd. You only get a chance if you have a visually distinct product. Half of most social media groups don’t allow independent creators to advert. I guess it is understandable because they need to control spam. I know I can only compete for attention if I make something that is both good and original. And attention is the most expensive thing nowadays.
RR: There’s much more people writing games now. Probably those numbers increased while Covid restrictions kept us at home.
GQ: Yes, there are. There was a popular phrase from the New York ‘no wave’ scene “everyone here has a band”. It has to do with movements and creative forces, people feel that inertia, and want to be part of it. It is a good thing.
“I know I can only compete for attention if I make something that is both good and original. And attention is the most expensive thing nowadays.”
RR: When did you start with role-playing games?
GQ: I was 14 years old. We only had the Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, second edition, and we somehow made it work without having a clue or guidance. Great times! We played on recesses. We got bullied for being nerds, but we kept on playing.
RR: Was that still in your home country?
GQ: Yes, in Buenos Aires. I am trying to collect the books. They were a bit hard to find in those days. Then I found World of Darkness, and we started playing in a homebrewed fantasy setting using a variation of WoD’s system.
RR: Was that in the mid-1990s or later? I remember when everybody was playing Vampire, the Masquerade, but I am probably a bit older than you are.
GQ: It was in 1997. There was a popular role-playing Vampire, the Masquerade scene in Buenos Aires, but I was only marginally part of it.
RR: And from World of Darkness you moved on to Kult, I suppose?
GQ: I bought Kult on a visit to Madrid. Never found anyone to play with. Read it extensively. Love it! I wrote adventures and mechanics for it, even though I did not have a playgroup.
RR: Was that the Spanish translation? I purchased it recently, in a very good condition, I might add!
GQ: Yes. But it was not the current version. I think it was the second edition.
RR: Was it the one with the black and white cover?
GQ: Yes. It is awesome!
RR: Probably my favourite RPG cover ever!
GQ: Probably my favourite RPG creators. I’ve read and listen to their interviews.
RR: Yes, I also enjoyed those interviews, they were very informative. In the old days I knew nothing about them. Have you read their novel?
GQ: Yes, Jonsson and Petersén… I have not read it. Do you recommend it?
RR: I think they are in the process of rewriting it, or maybe the rewrite is being translated into English, I’m not quite sure about it. Well, they are better at writing games than novels, but it’s an excellent mood setter, especially for the old Kult. It is set in Berlin.
GQ: That’s OK, you can always read Clive Barker. It depends how your brain is wired. There are few great poets that could write a novel. I guess a similar thing happens with this format. Like a collage and a kaleidoscopic vision of a world with its characters and singularities; it’s the only way I know how to write.
“Like a collage and a kaleidoscopic vision of a world with its characters and singularities; it’s the only way I know how to write.”
RR: Which were your most important influences in literature, movies and music?
GQ: I am sincerely open and eclectic to all genres and most art forms. There is always something that picks my interest. I have a strong foundation that was built by the 1970s comic scene in Argentina, which was amazing and strongly influence by the Heavy Metal magazine. For literature: Kafka, Borges and Dostoyevsky. For cinema: Kubrick, Tarkovsky and Kurosawa come up to my mind as fundamental.
RR: I forgot to ask you about music influences, those surely are important to you.
GQ: Same thing. I listen to classical, doom, minimal tech, 80s rock, cumbia, trap and ambient depending on the mood and mind-set. I am very picky and usually respect the privilege of silence, when I am not in a social atmosphere.
RR: That’s really an eclectic taste! What about role-playing games, any other that was important in your gaming life, besides the ones you’ve already mentioned?
GQ: Black Sun Deathcrawl had a profound effect on me and the possibilities of being an independent creator. I think it is a worthy precursor to Mork Borg, the sense of the immediacy of the world ending soon. There is also an obscure splatterpunk science fantasy French RPG called Mantoid that I also love. And I am positively jealous and fond of Mothership.
“I am sincerely open and eclectic to all genres and most art forms. There is always something that picks my interest. I have a strong foundation that was built by the 1970s comic scene in Argentina, which was amazing and strongly influence by the Heavy Metal magazine.”
RR: That was a big hit. And yet it seems so simple. What do you think made it special?
GQ: The concept and aesthetics are so dead on that it brings tears to my eyes. It takes great talent, vision and effort to pull it off so perfectly. You cannot fake that with money, it is pure heart. And there was a vacuum in the industry for that concept.
RR: The same applies to Mork Borg I suppose?
GQ: Of course, same thing. I am a fan of Mork Borg. Warpland has a Johan Nohr illustration on the last adventure and the first line of the Tenet “What was written must be destroyed” is a wink to Mork Borg.