Interview with Lucian Kahn Designer of Dead Friend

Joseph:  As you may have seen, I recently spoken briefly about Dead Friend: A Game of Necromancy by Lucian Kahn. In short, I loved it (for a slightly longer version of this sentiment, read the article here. So it was a great joy to be able to interview Lucian about the game, what’s next, and other things besides.

Lucian Kahn (he looks so innocent. Him a nercomancer? Surely not!)

Joseph: Give us the elevator pitch for Dead Friend: A Game of Necromancy.

Lucian: Dead Friend is a storytelling RPG for a necromancer and a ghost. One player is alive, the other dead. You used to be best friends, but your relationship went horribly wrong. You’ve got Tarot cards, a grimoire of spells, and a giant pentagram. Discover your past together, evoke the dead, and battle out your issues!

The game tends to go one of two ways: spooky emotional or spooky funny. Either way, it solves the problem of what to do when only one person shows up to RPG night.

Joseph: What got you interested in this topic, and this way of expressing it (as a game)?

Lucian: I’m interested in games where the players have asymmetrical goals. I got the idea a few years ago for a game where a dead person is trying to kill a living person, while the living is trying to bring the dead back to life. So I started writing a game around that concept. Then I thought it would be more immersive for the players if the form of the game mimicked the content, so I turned the whole experience into a ritual.

Joseph: What games would you say had the biggest impact on your development process?

Lucian: I started writing Dead Friend about three hours after first playing Fall of Magic, inspired by the open-ended story prompts. The Quiet Year encouraged me to think about the community surrounding the two characters, as well as use cards to randomize story elements. Shooting The Moon showed me that it was possible to create a two-person GM-less one-shot tabletop game, and also helped me establish nuanced conflict between characters.

Outside of games, Dead Friend was heavily influenced by the rituals of Aleister Crowley and, strangely enough, the Passover Seder.


Joseph: What would you say is the game you most admire and wish you had designed?

Lucian: I recently played a freeform LARP at Dreamation called Deranged, about the lives of the 19th century German Romantic composers through the warped perspective of the dying Robert Schumann. That game achieves an incredible level of emotional nuance and aesthetic power, and it’s also super fun.

Joseph: This is your first published game. How does it feel crossing that first finish line?

Lucian: I’m mostly excited to hear everybody’s ghost stories! I’m your typical DnD bard — I’m happy as long as I’m entertaining people. Whenever someone tells me about a great session of Dead Friend, it brightens my day.


Joseph: What would you tell outsiders interested in becoming designers?

Lucian: Aside from the obvious advice to play a ton of games, I would say to write up that first draft, get as many playtesters as possible, and really listen to their feedback without getting defensive. I’m so grateful to my playtesters for helping me develop this game into something I’m really proud to present to the world. I was lucky enough to find almost 40 people who were willing to play drafts of this game and give me constructive criticism, and all of it found its way into the final product.

Joseph: When did you first become interested in tabletop RPGs?

Lucian: My mom told me when I was a kid that I should never play Dungeons and Dragons because people believed it was real and actually killed each other. My actual introduction to RPGs would have made any 1980s Satanic Panic parent pass out — I was at performing arts camp, age 15, and some goth kid approached me and asked me to join a top-secret game of Vampire: The Masquerade that was constantly in session, I mean 24 hours, you could just go up to any player in character. I got into tabletop Vampire from there.

Joseph: What’s next for you? Any projects currently under development?

Lucian: I’m currently working on another tabletop game called Grandma’s Drinking Song based on my family’s stories of bootlegging alcohol in the Bronx during Prohibition. The only way to heal is to sing.

Learn more about Dead Friend: A Game of Necromancy in Joesph’s review and pick up a copy of the game on DriveThruRPG here.


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