Jeff Perkins (JP) was the originator of TribeNet (then called Tribe Vibes).
Here he is being interviewed by Stephen Thompson (ST – Tribe 274).
ST: What do you think is the biggest change since Tribe Vibes days?
JP: Effective military manpower is smaller now only one third of warriors (who are one third of the tribe) can be deployed, apparently in response to horrors that have been witnessed during a dark, dark age. Combined with the Mobilisation skill, this has led to many more hunters being available and has made transportation of food a bigger issue than it used to be.
ST: There appears to have been some sort of kerfuffle with a few man-eating tribes and some other alliances. From what I gather, it became a total war game. Did you expect Tribe Vibes to become a war game or did you have it in mind to be a civilisation game? Is there an effective difference?
JP: The original campaign always had those with military tendencies, and they add a valuable threat and thus depth to the game, a genuine motive for balanced development with an eye to defense. Too many, of course, and you could end up with a mayhem that would be difficult to introduce new tribes, and an environment which could drive the less military-minded out. At the tribal density I maintained it was never likely to become a war game, even with relatively scarce resources. But combat was an option which could, and sometimes would, occur. Civilization, with its victory conditions is more inevitably a war game. In the time span depicted in such games it is inevitable that conflict will feature strongly
ST: After reading through the full rules the first time, when I came back, I was struck by how dominant aggressive traits had become – probably a result of the combat mindset of that previous iteration. It seemed to me that the militarists had kind of hijacked the rules at the expense of the possibility for more cultural pursuits. Not that Tribe Vibes was a cultural mecca of course. I can’t remember if we had music or dance as a skill back then.
JP: Music, Art, Dance were introduced in primitive form, they provided small morale boost alternatives to Religion, plus some musical instrument construction. Nothing much happened with them. Cultural activity was mostly built into religious ceremonies, most of which used up some of the excess winter labour in the hope for vast rewards by way of increased population growth.
ST: The biggest change I saw was that warriors could do something other than hunt and fight …
JP: … And scout of course
ST: Yeah, that’s right. And scout. Very elitist. The first element I sent out in TN had equal actives and warriors. I did that out of memory. I needed people to herd the horses and it was stuck in my mind that warriors wouldn’t lower themselves to do such a task.
Another thing that struck me was how far the rules had evolved. There are far more skills to consider. I also found there were fewer encounters with NPCs, though that has changed recently now that there are so many special hexes around. Still, I miss not being able to tell visitors to bugger off. NPCs seem so much more rational these days.
JP: A few early NPC tribes were around and expected to be needed to promote some interaction – either to cooperate with or against. The growth of the player population reduced these to minor importance.
Special hexes (features) allowed for some non-standard interactions, many were never discovered. The random encounters provided a chance for something a bit more freeform to occur or for a player to pick up a few bits and pieces, add a skilled warrior or two to the clan (I think more than one tribe ended up being led by one of these acquisitions), or to disappoint the population by revealing their leader’s true nature
ST: One of the features of Tribe Vibes I really liked was the capacity for warriors to gain a personality due to them having individual skill increases. No doubt this caused you to role dice far more than was needed, but it was fun to see a guy go from Com 0 to Com 7 Lsp 9. How do you feel about this loss of ‘individuality’?
JP: Warrior skills did add character to a tribe and did mean no tribe completely ignored combat skills, but for the game to be viable timewise making those tribal skills was a very necessary step.
ST: Are there any ideas that you remember having that haven’t made it to TribeNet?
JP: In the simplification of combat, assaults on villages used to only allow one attacker/defender per yard at a time, making one of the prime advantages of the village a cap on the power that could be brought to bear. This would make assault without surprise or a breach in the wall very unlikely to succeed. It would also add a defensive advantage to building dwellings to minimize the perimeter.
Some research topics seem to have vanished, probably not fitting in with the subsequent models, whaling related things have dropped out of the mainstream.
There were many half-developed ideas that were just notes about things to be worked on at some point in the future.
ST: Generally speaking, what do you think of the way the rules have evolved?
JP: A lot of things can be modelled in different ways and reflect the personality, philosophy and operational limitations of the GM. Automation makes the game more sustainable, but of course cuts down on some of the freedom that manual processing offers. The game survives and thrives and I don’t have to GM it – so they have done an awful lot right.
ST: Did you ever imagine Tribe Vibes lasting this long?
JP: Not really. Old fashioned empirically-based theory around hobbies was that for most people about 3 years intense involvement on top of a job was the most they could sustain before burnout. A single, time-intensive game did not seem sustainable for self-employment, and commercial pbm companies came and went over time. On the other hand, most game mechanisms didn’t go overboard and were fairly stable for the long term.
Probably the most surprising aspect of the survival/rebirth of the game (apart from how old the players are) is to see a fortnightly turnaround surviving in the internet age.
ST: Yes. I once talked to my 20yo nephew about the game. Showed him the maps and explained the rules. He was interested but was put off by having to wait 2 weeks for results.
Wasn’t the game weekly at the start, or were the laws of physics different in those days and days shorter?
JP: The game was very briefly weekly. This worked ok with a few Sydney tribes and a couple of mad people in Melbourne doing a brisk turnaround with the mail, but soon became fortnightly.
A lot of online, fully automated games operate on a weekly cycle, it works quite well for them. More popular are games that can jump in any time you feel like and play for as long as you like with whichever other thousands of people are online at the time. I was interested to see how the two-week cycle would stand up in this age – and it works well actually. There is time to think, to discuss, to do other things. It’s like taking a vacation and finding yourself on “island time” where none of the locals is in any kind of rush to do anything and you are forced to slow down, relax and enjoy it. It also gives time to think things over more than once rather that reacting to the turn result reflexively
ST: So how did Tribe Vibes begin?
JP: I had been playing Terra II, from which some core concepts and mechanisms were taken (but not the inactives and not the naval rules.) I had a small group of role-players I GM’d for, and a Call of Cthulhu campaign had just ended (badly). Plans for the construction of a role-playing world in which mechanisms existed for running small units, tribes and villages were developed, but morphed more towards the tribal side. Chris Heithecker, down in deepest Melbourne, a contact from Terra II, provided encouragement, and a gang of local gamers provided the initial numbers. Some frizzy-haired person from work, who happened to live in nearby Lewisham, caught me doing some dice rolling and got caught up in it all. From there things spiralled out of control.
ST: I remember. I remember. Tuesday, April 9. 1985, I later found. When did you leave the game? I think I left soon after.
JP: I was back in Sydney and at Petersham CES after a brief sojourn at Tax out at Parramatta. Early to mid-1994 would seem around the right time
ST: Did you have a vision for Tribe Vibes? Was there ever an end point?
JP: There was no end-point, in mind, that was always meant to be as player-driven as possible. The research mechanism was always meant to be a way for them to (slowly) drive the game more in a direction of their vision than mine.
ST: I reckon this is the most innovative aspect of TN. One thing I’ve always been impressed by is how the game can be so player driven. Much respect has to be given to past and current GMs for this. I love the idea that the rules are a living document. It makes keeping them up to date a difficult job, but it never fails to spring surprises. Now that I’m personally getting to the research stage, I’m finding I’m becoming more interested in its potential. It takes the game into yet another dimension, one where the player has some freedom to design-your-own-clan.
JP: If they don’t have a clear idea, then Hunt 11, 12 is always an option.
ST: You know, in the 20 years or so I was away from the game (I came back in 2015) I often thought about it. I could never look at a pattern or a shape without overlaying colour coded hex paper in my mind’s eye. When my daughter was at the colouring book stage, I used to say she should use the ‘prairie’ colour or the ‘conifer hills’ pencil.
Did you have similar nostalgic experiences after you left?
JP: In some ways Cricket Manager expanded to fill the void for the following decade or so. And I had time to play some stuff myself. I keep having ideas for games occasionally, but have learned my lesson. For a long time I associated the game with being incredibly tired and depressed.
ST: That’s a shame given that it brought so much joy and inspiration to so many. I guess we often pass over what goes into being a GM – especially in those pre-internet days. We did rely on you quite heavily. And, as I recall, it wasn’t exactly the best time of your life personally. For me it was something that kept me going through boring DVA days. I guess for you it was another brick in the wall.
You mention Cricket Manager. That was something you played alongside Tribe Vibes. Did you continue to play games and/or design games during your exile in the US of A?
JP: Cricket Manager continued up to late 2006/early 2007. I’ve played each Civilization release (finding the current Civ 6 the least engaging, hopefully expansions will save it in a similar way to Civ 4) and various online games, some Hattrick, Battrick, Popmundo (music game), World of Warcraft, and currently Elder Scrolls Online. I designed a murder mystery game for family and friends. It had a variable number of players and a random solution, so I could also play without an advantage. That ran for a bit and led to the writing of a crossover play/game for a group of dubious actors, which resulted in the loss of the friendship after an oddly difficult fight about not getting credit for what they eventually decided to do.
ST: Since you’ve been back in the game, you’ve taken to coding/designing an Olympic Games module for TN. What’s that about?
JP: More details will be posted in Tribe News, as well as regular updates on Facebook.
ST: There must have been a few strange moments in the early days of Tribe Vibes. Anything stick out?
JP: A number of players had a small commune in nearby Enmore, I was invited along, they coerced some poor fellow into joining. This apparently involved alcohol, supermarket cola and possibly even solid food. I had lugged my chunky second hand Remington typewriter (with the tricky F key) and a ream of cheap Woolworths foolscap note paper. “Do him a turn,” they said. Orders were quickly submitted with little input from the owner of the shiny new tribe. The activities, movement and scouting were fairly straightforward, but, basically, people wandered off and had a good time while I sat there rolling lots of dice and recording how many hundred warriors went from Com 0 to Com 1, how many became scouts and how many leaders. Then everything was duly recorded on a record sheet and slowly typed up on the typewriter, with built in speed humps (and, yes, a traditional well-worn ribbon, even before the dot matrix days).
The people checking in periodically found things were done, a group duly noted a small increase in herd size, a satisfactory hunting return and large swathes of prairie. The primary skill was successful (I’m pretty sure he was bullied into Hunting), the secondary I don’t recall. I was glad it was all over. “Come on,” they encouraged, slightly menacingly. “Do him another turn.”
Thus the first quick startup was born.