Most interviews with games industry figures tend to be about our latest game or “hot new thing” we’re working on. But what about the people behind the games we play and, hopefully, love? Little is said, or explored, of the actual person’s tastes, or how they got into the hobby, etc.
Face The Music is a new column in which I aim to explore a side that is rarely explored – music tastes of the people behind the games we play. What do they listen to? Bands they love? Greatest gig? Do they use music whilst they work, or whilst they game?
Each week I’ll be chatting to someone in the games industry about their musical tastes and this week I’m very pleased to be able to go down memory lane with Chris Pramas. Chris is a games designer and writer, who worked for a variety of companies as a freelancer back in the 90’s before joining Wizards of the Coast in 1998. Whilst at WotC Chris, along with his wife Nicole Lindroos, formed Green Ronin Games. Green Ronin have published a library of great games – Mutants & Masterminds, Blue Rose, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying, Dragon Age, The Expansion, Modern AGE and the fantastic Freeport setting which helped launch the company as the first d20 module compatible with Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition released at the same time as the D&D 3rd Edition rulebooks. I’ve had plenty of chats with Chris about music over the years, be they in Las Vegas bars or spit-and-sawdust pubs in London’s Camden Town, so knew the subject would be one Chris would be more than happy to chat about. So, without further ado, over to Chris…
What are your favourite bands and genre?
As anyone who knows me can tell you, it’s punk rock all the way. I got into it in 1985 and punk remains my favorite genre of music 37 years later. The appeal of rebel music has never faded for me, and the spirit of punk still informs who I am. When I started Green Ronin Publishing in 2000, I was putting the DIY ethic into practice. And is there better music to say fuck you to fascists? I don’t think so.
With over 50 odd years of punk rock and late 60s/early 70s proto punk, there are so many bands and styles that I love. Here are some perennial favorites. Apologies for the length but I have a hard time cutting such things down.
Articles of Faith, The Avengers, Bad Brains, Bad Religion, The Bags, Big Boys, Buzzcocks, The Clash, Conflict, The Cops, Crass, Cute Lepers, The Damned, Death, Dezerter, The Dicks, The Dils, D.O.A., Eddy Current Suppression Ring, The Epoxies, The Ex, False Prophets, Flux of Pink Indians, Government Issue, Hüsker Dü, Instigators, The Jam, Jerry’s Kids, Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, L7, Marginal Man, Menace, Mission of Burma, Naked Raygun, New Bomb Turks, New York Dolls, The Pagans, Pere Ubu, The Proletariat, Radio Birdman, The Ramones, Really Red, The Rezillos, Rocket from the Tombs, The Ruts, The Saints, Social Unrest, The Stooges, Subhumans (both UK and Canada), Suicide Commandos, Television, Tiger Army, The Tossers, Toxic Reasons, Void, X (both Australian and US), X-Ray Spex, The Wipers, and Zero Boys.
How many gigs have you been to? What was your first/last? Your favourite? What band/performer have you never seen live but would love to?
Man, I have no idea how many gigs I’ve gone to. Five hundred certainly, maybe over a thousand. My peak years were when I lived in New York City from 1987-1996. I routinely went to three shows a week and sometimes more. So many venues, so much local music, and—since it was NYC—nearly every band that toured the East Coast would come play. Bizarrely, Operation Ivy, came to NY State but not the city, so I never had the chance to see them. During this period, I was also part of a collectively run punk club/arts space called ABC No Rio and we had shows every week.
My first concert was in December 1982 in my home state of Massachusetts, when I went to see Rush at the Worcester Centrum on the Signals tour. This was during my pre-punk progressive rock phase and Rush was my favorite band, so I was thrilled to see them. My arena rock days did not last too long though.
There are any number of bands I wish I could have seen at all or experienced in their early years. The Clash and The Wipers for starters. I was in grade school when punk got its start so there was just no way I could have been in NYC in ‘74/’75 or London in ‘76/’77 or LA and SF in ‘78/’79. If I had gotten into punk in ’83 instead of ’85, there’s a whole host of bands I could have seen in their prime too or before they broke up. Ah well.
There are some shows I could have seen and have regrets about missing. In 1985 The Minutemen came and played Boston and, as I was new to the scene, I simply hadn’t heard it. When I read a show review in a local zine, I thought, “Shit! Well, I’ll catch them the next time they come through.” A few months later singer/guitarist D. Boon died in a van accident and that was a tragedy for punk rock.
In 1986 Hüsker Dü played at the Paradise in Boston. My friend Andy and I showed up in plenty of time and got in line to get in. Well, it turned out there were two lines, one for ticket havers and one for ticket wanters and we got in the wrong one. We switched lines when we realized our mistake, but it was no good. When we were 10 feet from the door, the club announced the show was sold. I am still bitter about that to his day!
In the early 90s, a DC band I really liked, Gray Matter, got back together for a couple of years. They were coming to Maxwell’s in Hoboken, NJ (an easy PATH train trip from NYC) and I was looking forward to it. I mucked up the date though and missed it. I ran into my bandmate Kangs the following day and they were surprised I hadn’t been at the show. This is the sort of thing they’d typically call me about beforehand, but they thought surely I would be Johnny on the spot for Gray Matter. D’oh!
More recently, I had decided to finally go to Punk Rock Bowling in Las Vegas. I’m not really a fan of these big festivals but enough bands I wanted to see were playing so I made plans to go. I also nabbed a ticket to see Television, the influential 70s band from the early CBGB scene, who to my surprise were playing a bonus show that same weekend. Unfortunately, it was scheduled for May 2020 so obviously it was Covid cancelled. I let my ticket ride to see what would happen and when it was eventually rescheduled, most of the bands I had wanted to see were not playing so I finally sold my ticket.
My most recent gig is something of a story. The last show I saw before quarantine was the World/Inferno Friendship Society with openers the Bridge City Sinners (a folk-punk band from Portland that I dig.). The singer of World/Inferno (known as Jack Terricloth) was my old friend Pete V from the NYC scene. He fronted a band called Sticks & Stones that I saw many times back then. So, I went to this show in February 2020 and it was a fun time. Then I didn’t see any live music for well over a year. During that time, poor Pete was found dead in his apartment, and this was a huge bummer for old NYC punks like me. Fast forward to November 2021 and the last show I saw was…the Bridge City Sinners, with The Drowns opening. It’s a little strange that the Bridge City Sinners bookended my quarantine experience in this way, but hey, they are a great live band.
In December I decided I just didn’t feel safe going to shows or doing in-person gaming. With Omicron in effect and America still stepping on its own dick with its Covid measures, I’ve decided continued vigilance is my best play. I am quite tempted by some upcoming shows though.
To end this section on a more positive note, here are some memorable gigs from across the years.
- In the summer of ‘85 I saw Black Flag at The Channel. First time I slam danced IIRC. The other thing I remember clearly about that show was meeting G.G. Allin, a notorious and thankfully dead performer and rapist whose shows often degenerated into him cutting himself and flinging his blood and shit into the crowd. That day though, he was totally mild mannered because The Channel had a dedicated bouncer watching him. His manager, “Upchuck”, gave me a flier for some shows they were putting on in New Hampshire, which I happily gave a miss. Coincidentally, 8 years later in NYC, I was working mere blocks away from what turned out to be his very last show. He Oded later that night.
- That same year the BYO Records tour came through with an absolute killer lineup: Youth Brigade, 7 Seconds, SNFU, and the Upright Citizens (from Germany). This was in a VFW Hall in Cambridge and it ended in a very punk rock way. The cops showed up to shut the show down on some pretext or other. We were defiant so they cut the power while Youth Brigade was playing. The band responded by singing the chorus to one of their songs: “What are we gonna do about the men in blue, what are we gonna do?” The whole audience sang along, doing a call and response in the dark while the cops tried to break up the crowd.
- After that period, I moved to NYC for college. Of course, I had to start hitting shows at CBGB, a storied venue I’d only read about at that point. My first show there was the Adolescents, Underdog, Sick of It All, and Breakdown. A great bill a couple of months later was Government Issue, Ignition, and Verbal Assault.
- In 1990 I traveled around Europe with my girlfriend Stacey and our friend Kathy. We were trying to get the most of our Eurail passes so we tended to move around every 2 or 3 days. We stayed a week in Edinburgh at the start and I’d hoped I might catch Oi Polloi there but no such luck. So, every city we’d go to, I’d try to find a punk show to go to. I had some near misses, like the Celibate Rifles playing in Geneva. I struck paydirt in Vienna. Bad Religion was playing with Austrian bands Seven Sioux and No Fish on Friday. This was the first time I saw Bad Religion and it was a great show with but two downsides. First, a stage diver smashed my camera, which meant no more pics for the rest of the trip. Second, the venue was far, far away from our youth hostel. By the time the show ended, it was impossible to get a train or bus back to the hostel. I ended up walking by myself from one side of Vienna to the other in the middle of the night, with only a paper map I looked at surreptitiously to guide me. I made it back without trouble and we finished the trip in Brussels. To my surprise and enjoyment, Oi Polloi played at ABC No Rio a few weeks after I got back.
- In 1994 I was back in Europe as a roadie for French band Scraps on a two-month tour. I saw so many bands and have so many stories about this trip, but one show really stands out. We had started in Lille, where Scraps is from, and toured south towards Basque Country. I was told we had a show in Tours, but it turned out it was only near Tours. After hours of driving, we pulled up to this farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. I asked why’d we stopped and learned that was where was the show was. It turned out that this couple from the band Escape lived in this house, and the shows happened in a cave out back. The ran cables out from a generator and we played this wild show in a frickin’ cave. Escape, of course, also played and I really liked them. Really, this was more like a party than a show. Punks came from all around, bring all kinds of wine (this was France, after all) and booze. Our hosts had giants pots of beans and these huge baguettes. We ate drank, rocked out, socialized, and crashed wherever we could find space. It was a grand total of like 40 people but what a time.
- In 2000 WotC sent me to DragonCon in Atlanta to demo a dreadful trading card game. Weirdly enough, one of the musically guests was the Misfits (well sort of, it was with their definitely-not-as-good new singer who turned out to be a ring wing jagoff) and seeing them at a convention was just really strange.
- A few years ago, I was in Fort Wayne for a distributor open house. There is not a lot to do in Fort Wayne, but it does have one cool punk bar called The Brass Rail. So, I showed up for the open house and discovered The Tossers from Chicago were playing that very night. They are a longtime favorite of mine, so this was an unexpected treat.
- The place I could never have imagined seeing a punk show was Royal Albert Hall in London. I went there in 2019 with my friend Cecil for a remembrance of Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks, who had died the previous year. The rest of the band played with a whole host of guest singers, from Dave Vanian to Thurston Moore, and Penetration and The Skids opened. I had really hoped original vocalist Howard Devoto would come out to sing the Spiral Scratch EP from the band’s earliest days but no such luck. I was happy to honor Pete, but I definitely felt out of place in the venue.
Do you listen to music whilst writing/designing?
I used to listen to music all the time when doing creative work. In one of the D&D books I wrote at WotC in the late 90s, I included a musical thanks in the credits for bands I had listened to frequently during the design process. In the last few years, I haven’t been able focus as well when the music has vocals. Listening while writing words has proved increasingly distracting. What I’ve been doing more recently is listening to old jazz records while I work. Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, John Coltrane, Charlie Mingus, Dave Brubeck Quartet, Miles Davis—that kind of stuff.
Do you use music whilst gaming?
I can’t say that I do. The table is loud enough already.
What are your top five favourite albums?
As you saw back in the first question, this sort of thing is hard for me! My answer today is:
The Clash “The Clash”
Subhumans “The Day the Country Died”
Mission of Burma “Vs.”
The Ex + Tom Cora “Scrabbling at the Lock”
Naked Raygun “Understand?”
The Damned “Machine Gun Etiquette”
Suicide Commandos “Make a Record”
Bad Brains “Bad Brains”
Dezerter “Underground Out of Poland”
Government Issue “You”
If you were stranded on a ship hurtling through deep space, which ten tracks would you want to have with you?
On a rocket in deep space, I’d clearly need “Cygnus X-1” by Rush.
“Through the void, to be destroyed
Or is there something more?”
If I only had ten songs total, I think I’d skip the 60 second ragers I do so love and go for songs that are at least 2:30. 🙂
The Wipers “D-7” (great song that is also on theme)
The Saints “River Deep, Mountain Hight” (a cover but a terrific one)
X-Ray Spex, “Oh Bondage Up Yours!”
Hüsker Dü “Turn on the News”
Articles of Faith “False Security”
Mission of Burma “Dirt”
7 Year Bitch “Knot”
Jawbreaker “The Boat Dreams from the Hill”
The Epoxies “Everything Looks Beautiful on Video”
And a non-music question – and plans/projects for the coming year that you’d like to talk about?
Yes! As we speak, we are Kickstarting a new RPG called Cthulhu Awakens.
This is Green Ronin’s take on the Mythos and uses our Adventure Game Engine, which powers our Dragon Age, Blue Rose, Fantasy AGE, Modern AGE, and Expanse RPGs. As I write this, we are over 700% funded and we’ve unlocked a bunch of stretch goals. You can check it out at the link and see what a great deal it’s become. The Kickstarter ends on March 23 so don’t wait!
In other news, the Modern AGE Mastery Guide has just hit our warehouse and is releasing imminently. This is a book full of resources and advice for both player and GMs to make your campaigns better.
The next thing to go to press will be Beyond the Ring for The Expanse RPG. This book moves to the timeline up to the point that the ring gates open up, and this gives humanity (and Player Characters!) unprecedented opportunities for exploration and adventure. That should be ready to go by the end of March.
That’s it from me. Cheers, Angus, and thanks for the opportunity to talk about music.