First thing to say is I am NOT the creator of DINO-PIRATES OF NINJA ISLAND. The whole idea was conceived of by a poster on ENWorld known as JPL. JPL posted a comment about the setting search that Wizards of the Coast (WotC) conducted in 2003.
Folks were chatting about their submissions, and JPL chimed in with a "Hey, I didn't submit my idea but here's what I would do:" and posted the original description of DINO-PIRATES OF NINJA ISLAND:
"A fantasy Asia, filled with warring island nations. Samurai mounted on domesticated raptors. Bigger dinosaurs hunted by quasi-Polynesian tribesmen. Dueling factions of shadow warriors. Privateers and bucaneers battling the servants of the Imperial Navy. Fallen kingdoms deep in forgotten jungles."
Obviously that sparked a wild and hilarious conversation, and a number of threads were spawned to discuss the possibilities of this crazy idea. Dark Jezter started up an "official" setting discussion and lots of folks contributed great ideas. Dragon Magazine printed the setting description in an editorial. There was a lot of enthusiasm for it. I spoke with JPL and asked him if I could run with the setting and try to actually develop it, and he gave his blessing. He keeps tabs on how it's going and I think he's mostly bemused that I'm still so obsessed with this idea he had.
Anyway, there was a short-lived Yahoo! Groups group but after the nine-days-wonder event passed, it became clear I would need to make this thing happen myself if it was going to happen at all.
At that time I was experimenting with a lot of game design. I'd published my Gun-Fu game, which took a lot of liberties with the d20 mechanics and which sold pretty well. I WAS planning to build a custom d20 branch, as it were, for DINO-PIRATES OF NINJA ISLAND, but then Green Ronin came out with True20 in 2006, and it was pretty much the sort of system I'd wanted to build anyway.
So at that point I felt like I'd found the seed of the game, and I ran a homebrew campaign just to flesh the world out and see what players would want to do with the concepts. After that finished up I went on to develop some one-shot adventures and ran those at various events, especially Gen Con in 2007 and 2008. Developing the system and the adventures for those events really finalised the basic structure of the game and the setting.
So then the question of distribution had to be solved. I needed to make it possible for OTHER people to run this game, but I didn't want to go to the expense of printing a book and distributing it. I have no illusions about making tons of money at this.
I'd already developed an online rules doc for d20 Modern, so it was natural to try and do that for DPoNI. That turned out to be really helpful from a game design perspective, as the True20 forums are a total hotbed of design genius. Having the rules up online where everyone can look at them has made it possible for dozens of great designers to collaborate with me on the ruleset. I certainly couldn't have pulled all the rules together without the help of those folks.
There's still a few tweaks that need to be made to the rules, but they're fully playable now. I am now selling the first DINO-PIRATES OF NINJA ISLAND adventure, SLAVE QUEEN OF THE RUINED CITY, over at Your Games Now, and there will be more of that sort of thing coming down the pipe this year.
So... obviously DINO PIRATES OF NINJA ISLAND features dinosaurs, pirates and ninjas. And an island or two. Digging a little deeper, what do you see as the core conceits of the setting?
JPL, the original creator, summed it up pretty well:
I've taken it all pretty much at face value and tried to come up with a setting where all those elements can reasonably co-exist.
For pretty broad values of "reasonable", I guess.
But here's the idea:
Imagine a tropical archipelago that ranges across the south-eastern edge of a vast Empire. These islands have been home for many centuries to assorted native nations, but over the past little while, these islands have also become home to more and more pirates. These folks band together in associations much like fraternities. They took names and inspirations for their groups from the great beasts that lurked on the islands. The DINO-PIRATES.
The Empire has always wanted control over the islands, but the natives have always resisted. So there's a lot of bad blood between the Empire and the natives, who are now supported by the pirates.
And just at the moment when the Imperial forces were gathered to strike, the eunuch sorcerers who ran the Imperial bureaucracy revolted. The only significant forces that resisted were the hundreds of ninja clans, whose loyalty to the Emperor could not be suborned.
The ninja may have been loyal, but they didn't have the power to fight -- some made brave last stands, but many fled to the islands to seek shelter. The Grand Masters of the various clans realised that their rivalry with each other had contributed to the disaster and so they agreed to create a neutral space where they could settle disputes peacefully.
Thus was created NINJA ISLAND.
It seems to me that the RPG world is going through a phase where it's re-evaluating a strong pulp aesthetic over the last few years, and publications, game lines, and even entire companies dedicated to producing a pulp-influenced gaming experience have popped up in a number of places. But, you seem to pre-date that fad. Tto what extent and how do the pulps influence you, and DINO PIRATES?
Pulp stories include elements that have become cliched -- like pirates, dinosaurs and ninja -- and expect the audience to treat them straight, without irony. And yeah, I like that.
In my review of Peking Opera Blues I talked about this, and I think the Hong Kong cinema aesthetic still comes closer than anything else to my vision of pulp story-telling. Perhaps Steven Brust, also. I just believe, fundamentally, that your stories can have dinosaurs, pirates and ninja in them and still be GOOD stories. IMPORTANT stories with honest aesthetic value.
I guess that sounds like kind of a challenge, which is part of the attraction for me.
Describe for us, if you will, your gaming background; what kinds of games have you run (or played in) in the past, what kinds of games (or what elements of the RPG experience) do you most prefer, and how have your past gaming experiences led up to what you're doing with gaming today?
I love running games. It's like being the conductor of an orchestra that's improvising its own symphony. It's social and creative and endlessly surprising. My job as a DM to create situations for my players to exercise their creativity and come up with really really cool stuff.
I'm always trying in my games to create truly involving stories, with characters who really go through honest emotional transformations and manage to do extraordinarily cool things at the same time. I'm forever tinkering with rules changes to see if THIS will bring about the kind of feel I'm looking for.
DINO-PIRATES OF NINJA ISLAND is kind of the culmination of what I've learned about running wildly cool games -- there's a lot of rules in there that in my experience serve to help players come up with cool stuff.