Interview with Leo Normington Jr. of Maverick Games

Chief Games Officer James Carpio interviews Leo Normington Jr. President of Maverick Games about The Hunt and TSRs new partnership.

JC: I’m happy to have with us today, Leo “Maverick” Normington of Maverick Games here on Multiverse. Back in the land they called the early 1990s, Leo brought to the table an incredible skirmish game called “The Hunt”. This dystopian game was set in a dismal world where corporations would put trained killers into a maze to “Hunt” criminals and each other. To my knowledge, this game only presented itself in the San Francisco Bay Area, so as it had a huge regional following, there were few who got to have the experience.

TSR Games and Maverick games just recently partnered to bring back this classic game into the hands of the public. TSR has some cool stuff planned to relaunch the game, but we will talk about that later. Let’s find out a bit about Leo and his creation, “The Hunt”.

JC: Hi Leo, I wanted to say that I have been a fan boy of this game since 1991. I was one of the many addicted hunters who crowded the halls of DunDraCon and PacifiCon back in the day. Although in that time we have never officially met. So that leads me to my first question, who is Leo Normington? How did you start in gaming? What is your gaming pedigree?

LN: Hi James, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today. I am really excited to be talking about The Hunt and TSR in the same sentence!

Let’s see, some background. When I was a wee lad growing up in San Jose California, my family was big into classic card games and board games.  Games like Crazy Eights, Monopoly, Life, and Scrabble. When I got into middle school I found my first gaming group and we started playing all of the gateway RPG games; Tunnels & Trolls, D&D, AD&D, Star Frontiers, Gamma World, and Top Secret. I also started getting into more table top strategy games like Risk, Axis & Allies, Shogun (now called Samurai Swords), and D-Day. In high school I expanded my circle of gaming groups, I attended my first conventions, began working at a game store, and I went from roll-playing to role-playing. The campaigns I played in were RoleMaster, SpaceMaster, Champions, and Cyberpunk. I also spent multiple weekends table top gaming with Warhammer 40k and World in Flames. My card game addiction had of course spread to Magic the Gathering.

By the late 80’s I was playing in multiple gaming groups each week with intense long running campaigns where it wasn’t uncommon to have an entire game session with no combat, no dice, just character development. Even when there was combat it was the characters saving the world against unbelievable odds and we usually only won by a slim margin. The games were quiet, intense, everything you said had to be “in character”. We thought we were hardcore.

JC: Tell us about how the Hunt came to be? Were you inspired by The Running Man? How does one wake up in the morning and want to create a game about serving justice to criminals?

LN: The origin story for The Hunt is that I was running a Tuesday night Cyberpunk campaign in 1989 and I noticed that my players were starting to burn out, gaming was becoming too much like work. So for an upcoming game session I had them all make brand new characters, without telling them why. During the session their mains took a side quest which led them to an arena event. The event was their new characters competing in The Hunt. They got to get out some aggression. They got to be loud and laugh. Insults were flying and encouraged! They loved it.

The story of The Hunt probably would have ended there, but my very good friend Steve Gomez encouraged me to write the rules down and then together we created Maverick Games and got the game into print. Our goal was to make something easy to learn and fun to play with as few socially redeeming qualities as possible.

The Hunt has a lot of influencers; The Running Man, Cyberpunk, RoleMaster (crit tables), and Death Race 2000 to name a few. People have also referenced first person shooters computer games like Doom and Marathon as possible influencers, and I absolutely played and loved those games, but I think The Hunt actually came out first.

My gaming group still role-plays those deep campaigns, but every now and then we get out our favorite frosty beverages and snacks and settle our differences in The Hunt.

JC: Give us an overview of the game itself.

LN: In The Hunt you play a contestant (known as a Hunter) on a game show. All of the Hunters are armed to the teeth and then dumped into a maze with a bunch of criminals and each other. You get points for the creativity and depravity of your actions. The more violent, the bloodier, the more insulting, the more points you get. At the end of the game, whoever has the most points wins. You don’t even have to be alive to win.

JC: What are the rules like? Does it use dice? Minis, Maps?

LN: The Hunt is d6 based. I figured you probably already have dozens of them in your gaming gear, so let’s use those. The game comes with a map and counters. I have also played it on a battle mat and a 3d maze. The counters work great, but feel free to use minis, coins, cheerios, Axis & Allies figures, or anything else that you have lying around in your game library.

This is a beer and pretzels combat game so I tried to find a balance with the rules covering enough scenarios but also staying simple. You have a handful of Attributes (Initiative, Dodge, Movement, Size, and Willpower) that start with a value of 2 and you can spend character points to buy up to a max of 12. There are also a dozen skills that start at 0 and you can spend character points to buy up again to a max of 12. You can spend starting cash to buy equipment and drugs that can boost your Attributes and skills over 12. You can also buy armor to protect your squishy good parts. To simplify things there are only 6 armor locations; Head, Chest, Right Arm, Left Arm, Right Leg, and Left Leg.

You get 2 actions per turn. For example; you can run (2x your movement attribute) and then shoot, shoot and then run, use first aid and then melee attack your new buddy, etc. No you cannot attack and then attack again, nice try.

Ok rules lawyers, get out your pencil and paper, there will be a test on this later. An attack goes like this; you pick a target, you pick a weapon, you figure out modifiers (e.g. range and full auto), you roll your attack (2d6). The defender figures out his modifiers (including how much you made your roll by) and rolls a Dodge (2d6). If you hit, roll your damage (e.g. 12d6 for an AK-47), roll a location (1d6), and subtract the target’s armor. Look at the damage chart for the target’s Size vs. the damage that got through. The result comes in 3 flavors; nothing happened, you killed the target outright, or some attribute might take negatives. The target gets to roll against their Willpower attribute (2d6 possibly at negatives) to see if the attribute negatives happen or not. Each time damage is done to a target their armor value is also decreased, making the next attack that much more deadly.

Another key thing to keep in mind is that a 2 always succeeds and a 12 always fails.

Enough about rules mechanics. This is a game show and the Hunters are here for cash and prizes. Think of classic game shows like Let’s Make a Deal or a current hit like @Midnight, points need to flow quick and furious. You attacked him = points. You did something hideous to him = points. You had a smartass witty comment while doing it = points. The target soaked the damage up = points. The target said something witty back = points.

My advice to anyone running The Hunt is to kept things fun and moving. Spending 30 minutes arguing a game mechanic is a total buzzkill so don’t do it. Be super generous with the points. If you can’t find a rule for what a Hunter wants to do, make one up on the spot. Encourage things to get loud and obnoxious. Have some freaking fun!

JC: How long does it take to play?

LN: The average game is 4 hours. You can play a faster game by setting a time limit and declaring the winner based on points. You can also stretch the game longer with optional rules like, melee weapons only for the first x hours.

JC: You had a supplement, right?

LN: My all-time favorite gaming purchase is an AD&D supplement; G1-2-3 “Against The Giants”. I love that supplement. It added depth to the game. It was well thought out. It got me reenergized to play AD&D. I felt like I was getting my money’s worth. That is my high bar for a supplement.

Steve and I took The Hunt to conventions (e.g. PacifiCon, DunDraCon, Slugathon, BayCon, etc.), sold the game trough a dozen US distributors, and had a monthly newsletter (Guts N Glory). The feedback was amazing. There was a demand for more and so Overtime was born.

Overtime was a way to add content across the board, provide optional rules, answer questions, and generally share all of the stuff that we had seen at the live games and via the correspondence of fan boys (not just you James). We also wanted to prove to ourselves that we could do it again.

JC: Back in the 90s, you ran Hunt leagues if I remember correctly, a competition with trophies and certificates. I think I still have mine somewhere. What was the experience of having this sort of “sport” happening at conventions? Tell us about the league.

LN: We put on league tournaments at every convention we went to. It was our thing. Steve was our evil marketing genius and he would have us plaster the hotel with weird guerilla marketing fliers talking about The Hunt. It drove some insane levels of interest in the game. DunDraCon one year we had 80+ players playing in 8 first round games in the same room all at once. We would take a certain number of Hunters from each game and advance them to the next round until we got to a final table and a final winner. Yes, we even gave out certificates and trophies. It is unbelievably cool to me that you still have your certificate. The best of the best Hunters even got bagel dogs, because everyone knows that good food at a convention is worth more than gold.

The whole thing was barely organized chaos. Lots of yelling and laughing caused us to get some serious glares from the “hardcore gamers”. At one convention our bagel dogs were shut down because we weren’t allowed to have our microwave plugged in. Guess what, frozen bagel dogs are still better than some of the food at conventions.

To me the most amazing thing about the “sport” is that a quarter century plus later there are people that still remember playing.

JC: You had shared with TSR that you had a few offers to buy your IP, can you tell us a little bit about that? You mentioned that one company wanted to include dinosaurs?

LN: The Hunt and Overtime are my creative babies. I didn’t get rich making these games. We made enough selling The Hunt to cover our costs and make Overtime. We made enough selling Overtime to cover our costs and have a big party for our friends. The good news is that becoming rich wasn’t my goal. I am a gamer and I have played probably hundreds of different games over the years. I wanted to see if I could do it. Could I create a game that gamers like me would have fun playing? Could I figure out the industry and the process to actually produce, market, and sell that game? I am super proud of what we accomplished. Maverick Games is still listed on my resume (check me out on LinkedIn to prove it).

I have had a couple of conversations over the years to buy the IP.  The one I most remember was at some point in the mid-90s, someone reached out and offered to buy me out 100% for a decent sum. At the time I could have used the cash, but as I started talking to the guy about what he wanted to do the ideas got crazier and crazier. I killed the deal when he started talking about putting dinosaurs in the maze. Who knows, that guy may have been a genius and I was a moron for turning him down. The truth is I just didn’t want to let go of my creation, I wanted to treat it well and maybe even expand it one day.

JC: So, 26 years later TSR Games comes knocking on your “virtual” door. What were your thoughts when we approached you? Be honest.

LN: You want honesty, oh shit, hold on to something! I am kidding.

James, you and I have been chatting about The Hunt in emails for years so this didn’t all just happen completely out of the blue. In the last couple of months, I have had some great chats with you and the other TSR Games folks and I totally respect what you are doing. It is clear that you are real gamers with the same passion for games that I have. You have brought back TSR Games which is a company that meant so much to me as a kid. The work you have been doing is high quality and high value. I feel there is a great opportunity to help each other out and get some fun games into the hands of the gaming community.

JC: Now that TSR is a business partner to help get the game back into the spotlight, what are your thoughts about the future of The Hunt?

LN: I am super excited to have TSR as a business partner. I think we have a great opportunity to get The Hunt and Overtime into the hands of both longtime fans and folks willing to try it for the first time.

The next step for The Hunt is … should I let the cat out of the bag? I mean they did read this far down. Fine.

I have been working on The Hunt the Card Game which takes the core of The Hunt and puts it into a quick and easy to play card game. Don’t worry the gore and fame will still be right there in the box.  With help from TSR Games, maybe we will be able to produce and release this at some point in the future.

JC: Leo, I want to thank you for your time. Soon TSR will pull the trigger on our website to make the game readily available. Anything you want to say to future Hunter? Anything you want to say to the readers of Multiverse?

LN: Thank you James and thank you to Multiverse for letting me wax poetic about The Hunt and Overtime. This is a game that I am still immensely proud of 26 years later.

For future Hunters I hope that you have a ton of fun taking out your friends and the other criminals in the maze. May your aim be true and your clip never empty.

 

JC: Thanks again.

Keep an eye out for The Hunt on the TSR Games website. You can pick up a two pack of The Hunt and the supplement “Overtime” and begin playing this great game now! Go to the TSR online store and have some fun. Stay tuned as we will have a live interview with Maverick Games via our partners Mythwits and a demonstration of The Hunt on Twitch and YouTube via Show Us Your Crits! Not only that, later this year we will begin a Hunt League at conventions around the United States (and possibly elsewhere). For information on the league please feel free to contact TSR Games and we will get you the information on where to sign up and what it entails.

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