Tuesday 22 March 2011

Interview with BEAN! creator, Jeff Freels

He goes by the name of Grumlahk in the rowdy halls of Trollhalla, but others will know him as Jeff Freels, the artist and writer of BEAN! The D2 Roleplaying Game, which recently released its second edition. Jeff is a stalwart in the industry and has done work for games such as Tunnels and Trolls and his Fabled Worlds system, as well as a bunch of retro videogames.

Aside from RPGs, Jeff has a huge portfolio of art ranging from adverts and business logos to comic strips.

I contacted Jeff to see if he would answer some questions for Trollish Delver and he graciously obliged. Among other things Jeff talks about his love of Tunnels and Trolls, the difficulty of being a blind artist and how he came up with the idea for BEAN!

How did you become involved in Tunnels & Trolls as a player?

I was introduced to RPGs in the 80's, but never had the money to pick up all the different games that were making the scene. My friends and I became pretty adept at modifying the rules of Dungeons & Dragons to be quicker, and more versatile to play the kinds of things we were interested in. Many years later when the Tunnels & Trolls Tin Box came out I picked it up and fell in love with the simple yet versatile rules and the whole DIY liscense to really take off with your own creativity. It really felt like I was home.

What made you decide that you wanted to start doing art for Tunnels & Trolls?

It was that DIY feel of the game where regular people were encouraged to contribute so that everyone could be involved and make the game richer. I contributed a cartoon to a fanzine, and was asked to do more and more illustrations for various projects. People got to know my work, and I've been very fortunate to work with some really talented people bringing their monsters to life on the page.

You're actually legally blind, so how do you manage to do these awesome pieces of artwork? It must be difficult.

I'm guided by spirits... how's that for a short answer? You're right, it's quite difficult. Since my eyes fell apart I've had to relearn how to draw, and I use a computer with super large magnification and special magnifying lenses for my good eye. This is why you'll see a lot of thicker lines in my work. Partially I like the flow of lines that move from thick to thin and the expressiveness therein, but a lot of it is because I just can't work with thin lines anymore. We do what we can, eh?

What is your proudest moment as an artist?

I think the moment when I realized that my game BEAN was taking off. It's really quite validating to have something finally work, and to be appreciated by so many people. Best of all, my artwork makes the game accessable and helps to draw people in while encouraging them to draw on their own creativity. Even the most psychotic Beanfolk have this "come aboard" feeling to them. It's really very difficult for me to think of the artwork and the writing as seperate facets because it just feels like such a holistic project ot me.Because I've been able to create something that can take on this life of its own, this was probably my proudest moment as an artist.

BEAN! to me is a love-letter to Tunnels & Trolls. Would you say that's accurate?

That's very poetic, and a wonderful way to express reverence for that unbridled creativity and community that comes from Tunnels & Trolls, and Risus too for that matter. Gaming is at its most magical when it's about connecting with others and seeing where your collective imaginations can take you. BEAN is of course an expression of those games that came before it and inspired its creation. So yes, I think that's a beautifully accurate description.

A fantasy world inhabited by bean people is pretty unique. What inspired you to come up with the idea for BEAN!?

It was a theme that evolved from just muddling over the idea of making a working gaming system with beans. Beans on the table led to beans in the writing, and eventurally to the characters themselves. It just kind of happened, really.

Is BEAN! your game of choice on game night, or do you play others?

BEAN has certainly become my game of choice. The system is so versatile and quick to adapt to absolutely anything you can imagine that it's something you can just pick up and run with for quick sessions or intricately planned scenarios alike, and so it works really well for whatever I want to do.

Who are your roleplaying heroes who inspire you in your work?

Ken St. Andre has been instrumental in making RPGs accessible and fun. I think his influence is obvious in my own work. He's got a big heart and he's been a good friend to me.
S. John Ross, the creator of Risus: The Anything Role Playing Game, showed the world that you can create characters in 30 seconds for a game that's as serious or as silly as you want. He's also a really nice guy.
Dave Arneson expanded wargaming into fantasy gaming with individual characters and did a lot to encourage others to go out and develop their own game systems. He was a pioneer who encouraged others to continue their own explorations and I think we all owe him a lot.

What material are we likely to see released for BEAN! in 2011?

"World of BEAN!" is the next big project I've been working on. It's an atlas of BEANworld that also descrobes the inhabitants and major points of interest in the world. It'll be a fun source of inspiration for those who want a ready made setting for their adventures.

And finally, why would you recommend people give BEAN! a go?

This isn't the kind of game that you have to spend days studying to learn to play, nor is it a system that demands a huge financial commitment. You can play whatever kinds of characters you want to in any setting. BEAN is where it's at!

Many thanks to Jeff for taking part in this interview. You can buy BEAN! Second Edition now and don't forget to check out Escape From Khosht, a free solo illustrated by Jeff.

Visit Jeff's website at Jeffwerks for more of his awesome art.


  1. Hats off to you Mr Freels!
    A creative genius and a jolly good chap to boot.
    I salute you sir!

    Sid Orpin

  2. Um, I never imagined for a moment that Jeff envisioned the player characters as beans. I just assumed that was a nice stylised touch. I've played (and enjoyed); I was certainly no bean!


  3. Awesome game and interview. :)

  4. Hogscape, I have no problem imagining my PC as a bean. My first Bean character was named "Hue-Man" after all.

    Bean has been lucky to have not only a super-talented creator and artist, but it seems to have inspired the best work from some very clever writers. Bean is a winner, any way you look at it - and so is Jeff, who sees worlds more than most people, including I.