Uses This

1283 interviews since 2009

A picture of Grant Howitt

Grant Howitt

RPG designer (Rowan, Rook and Decard)

in game, windows

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Grant Howitt, and I write roleplaying games for a living. I'm one third of Rowan, Rook and Decard, a tabletop RPG design studio based in the North of England, and together we've produced games such as Heart, Spire, Honey Heist, DIE and all sorts of other guff. I can confidently say I have the best job in the world because the majority of it is sitting on my arse thinking about what a wizard might do and then encouraging other people to finish my working through playing the games I write. Some of the rest of it is answering emails and having meetings but I try to keep those bits to a minimum and focus on the wizard stuff.

What hardware do you use?

have a big black desktop computer with a glass side on it so I can see in, which mainly illustrates how dirty the inside is. The fan is incorrectly attached and it overheats something rotten whenever my graphics card gets up above a gentle trot. (I think it hits, like 80 degrees C in there? And that's just the hard drive. I don't think that's right.) Cyberpower (a Newcastle-based PC company) built it out of bits - my co-author Chris guided me through the relevant steps of picking out a computer, as he's got far more patience for this sort of thing than I have. I wanted to get it overclocked because that sounded exciting, but I was assured it wasn't worth the risk. We put a NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 in there, which runs most things fine. I like playing games to relax and I use the Xbox Game Pass to have a rotating cast of titles, so I want to be able to have a go at anything which takes my fancy. (At present it's Hi-Fi Rush, which is great.)

The PC came with a Razer Huntsman keyboard that makes an ungodly amount of noise when I type but it lights up pretty, so swings and roundabouts there. I have a spare keyboard on a shelf that I can use when I spill coffee on this one, and it's quieter, but there's a knack to making the spacebar function every time you hit it so it's not really worth swapping out permanently. (I think the spring's gone. Anyway.) There were multiple options for Razer mice available but I chose none of them because they all look like something the baddies would build in Command and Conquer so I use a ratty old Logitech one - it has two side buttons, which I like to use to navigate webpages and reload in video games, so I'm happy to have it. Plus the scroll wheel can be locked or unlocked which I find very useful for navigating long PDFs or scrolling silently when I'm supposed to be paying attention in meetings.

I use two monitors (a new MSI Optix MAG271C and an old AOC) which proves invaluable in allowing me to split my attention to the point of uselessness. The MSI one is dead nice and has a pleasing curve to it, and it's light too, and honestly if I hadn't spattered a load of paint on the screen a year ago it'd be perfect.

I have an ancient Tully desk that I got free off a friend of a friend when I was living in New York eight years ago, and I've used the blasted thing pretty much every day since. I do not like this desk. It's heavy, there's a bunch of dead space on it I can't reach, and I've treated it absolutely abominably so the surface is messed up with thousands of paint splots, scalpel marks, hacksaw scars and lumpy bits where I've screwed microphone stands into it. But it's mine. And it was free! I have another desk in my office - we moved recently so I've got a bit more space - that I inherited from my partner, and that one's made out of reclaimed scaffolding and nails and it's much nicer. I tend to use that one to build and paint miniatures rather than doing work. Both desks are absolutely covered in whatever junk is associated with what I've been doing for the previous month - decks of cards, antidepressants, cigarette papers, notes from playtests, plastic cups of felt-tip pens, cannabis, half-built toy soldiers, dirty mugs, mysterious cables, whatever book I'm pretending to read, mismatched fingerless gloves, etc. I believe that one's personal space is an extension of their mind, and my mind is a goddamn junkyard.

Sometimes I work with physical media, especially when I'm making one-page games, so I print out sheets on nice paper through the Epson XP-960 (which is fine as far as printers go but it kicks up a stink about my third-party cartridges every time I try to use it) and use Swann-Morton scalpel blades to cut stuff up and pritt-stick to stick it back together. I have a self-healing cutting mat I keep forgetting to use. I favour DIXON TICONDEROGA pencils, because they're dead good and the brand name sounds like a sort of off-road car, and Mitsubishi Uniball eye pens for day-to-day writing then Staedtler fineliners for any precise work.

For podcast recordings and interviews I have a Blue Yeti microphone that's served me well, and a pair of (again, inherited) Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones with sellotape on the sides to hold them together. (I don't like buying things. I like inheriting things for free, even if they're knackered. This is thanks to my father's influence, who built a shed out of all the crap he hoarded to store all the crap he hoarded roughly once every three years.) I had to buy a Bluetooth dongle to make it work but I like the sound quality, and the noise cancelling is great.

I have a godawful chair I got off some backwater POS website after my last one fell apart following six years of use. This one is significantly worse. There's a screw mounted upside-down in the centre of each armrest, so I think it lasted about a month before they wore through the pleather. It makes a noise like a dying elk whenever I shift my weight on it, no matter how much WD-40 I spray on the moving parts, which upsets my noise-sensitive autistic partner to the point where they rarely enter my office. When I sit in it, I have terrible posture that makes my back hurt. I hate this chair. I need to buy a new chair.

And what software?

I use Google Docs for about 90% of my work. Given that Chris and I write books together, it's really useful to have a document we can both edit at the same time and get instant updates to everyone involved. It also means that everything's stored online so I can get to it whenever I need. It's not flashy but it does exactly what I need it to do, and I'm happy for that. If we need a bit more room to think we tend to use Jamboards and scribble inscrutable nonsense at each other until it's time to stop working. We use Google mail and storage solutions too, with Hubspot layered on top of that to make navigating a joint email inbox easier. We used to use Google Groups tools to manage it and it was almost impossible - wretched program, hateful little thing, can't even delete emails properly. I like Hubspot a lot, actually, as much as a man can like an email program.

I experimented briefly with Affinity Publisher to do layout, but there's too much to learn and I'm too indifferent to learn it. I've found that Canva handles what little layout needs I have admirably. That and the scalpels. I use GIMP to edit images because that's what I learned on back in 2010 when I was a jobbing games journalist (no matter how much our in-house designer complains about it) and Spotify to listen to music while I work - lots of instrumental stuff, like Zoe Keating and Julia Kent especially. I use Chrome as a browser and have, at time of writing, 29 tabs open - each of them a task or a document I'm working on. This is a bad idea and it does nothing to increase my productivity.

Comms-wise, we rely on Discord to handle our remotely-distributed office. It's a nice platform which allows for easy communication, and the room-based nature of the voice chat gives us an excuse to hang out in there and chat sometimes - kind of like how we would in a physical workplace. We have two fifteen-minute check-ins a day, cameras optional but encouraged, and use that to try to keep momentum on what we're doing or at least complain to one another about something we're finding difficult. It took a while to get used to (I'm quite a solitary person) but I appreciate seeing humans a couple of times a day.

What would be your dream setup?

A private shed (with a toilet and a wee kitchen in it maybe) with a big heavy wooden table in the centre, a computer (any computer) with a view out the window behind it and three monitors, bookshelves full of RPGs and reference materials, a little covered balcony where I could sit and smoke, and sofa I could have a kip on. Oh and attached to it is a stationery cupboard that I don't have to maintain, but it's always packed to the gunwales with nice paper and sharp pencils and jars of tobacco. And I pay someone else to clean it.