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Cats 1, Dolphins 0: An Interview with Keith Baker


During the course of my career in the games industry, I have had the good fortune to work with a huge number of talented people – sometimes more than once. Keith Baker is one of those people, and over the coming months I hope to feature others.

 

I first met Keith in 1995, when I went to work for a Georgetown, DC multimedia house called Magnet Interactive Studios. I was working on edutainment-infotainment products that included interactive CD-ROM adaptations of Donald Silver’s One Small Square nature guides; Keith was working on a CR-ROM game for a client who had a great idea about a water-ball orbital station where dolphins programmed computers using sound. That game never saw the light of day, and after we both ended up at Boulder, Colorado MMO shop VR-1 Entertainment in 1996, neither did several other projects, including an audio MUD (think multiplayer online interactive radio drama) and the highly-anticipated pulp-horror MMORPG Lost Continents.

 

Lesser souls might have given up and gone into insurance, but not Keith. In 2002 he won the Wizards of the Coast Fantasy Setting Search with Eberron, which made him a household name in the D&D community. Not content with that, he created the hit card game Gloom for Atlas Games, which has now turned into almost a dozen products and expansions. Now, he has founded Twogether Studios to get more of his games out into the world. The latest one, Action Cats, is a feline-centric storytelling game with crowdsourced images, which could make your moggy a star. Yes, I know: that’s just the way his mind works.

 

But enough from me: Keith is more than capable of speaking for himself.

 

 

 

Hi, Keith, and thanks for this interview. We’ve just seen how I would introduce you – now, how would you introduce yourself?

 

I’m Keith Baker, and I’m one of the luckiest nerds in the world. I got into D&D when I was in elementary school, and from that time I knew that there were people whose job was to make games and I wanted to be one of those people. Of course, I had no idea how to actually get that job. After college, I stumbled by chance into an opportunity to work at a computer game company — the long-defunct Magnet Interactive Studios – where I had a chance to work with many RPG legends, like Ken Rolston (Paranoia), Zeb Cook (Planescape), and, of course, Graeme Davis (Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Colonial Gothic). This was a great opportunity to hone my skills, and over the course of years I worked my way up to the position of lead game designer.
I worked for a number of other computer game companies over the years, and along the way I finally made inroads into the tabletop industry. I did freelance work for Atlas Games, Steve Jackson, Green Ronin, and Goodman Games. Finally, in 2002, I got frustrated with the computer games industry and decided to try freelance RPG writing full-time. I should have been doomed, but that was the year Wizards of the Coast announced its Fantasy Setting Search — eventually choosing my world of Eberron as the new setting for Dungeons & Dragons 3.5.
The first Eberron products were released in 2004, and the same year saw the release of my transparent card game Gloom. I’ve been tinkering on various projects ever since. In 2014, my wife Jenn Ellis and I founded our own game company, Twogether Studios. We released our first product — the tabletop RPG Phoenix: Dawn Command — in 2016. This year we’ll be releasing Illimat, a classic card game we created with the band The Decemberists, and we’re currently Kickstarting our next game, Action Cats!
 
Eberron still has a great many fans. Tell us how you came up with the idea. Are there any future plans that you can share?
I submitted seven ideas to the Fantasy Setting Search. Eberron was the last of them — one I added in just because it seemed like fun. It incorporates a few things I enjoyed. The first is the idea that since arcane magic in D&D behaves in a scientific manner (it’s reliable, repeatable, you can teach a spell to another wizard or create a new spell), why wouldn’t it be worked into society in the same way we use science? How would the world evolve with magic as a tool instead of in the hands of a few wizards? I blended this with two themes I enjoyed, film noir and pulp adventure. This was further influence by the fact that between 1999 and 2002 I’d been working on a pulp-themed MMORPG called Lost Continents – so I had pulp on the brain.
At the moment Eberron is in the WotC vault. I post Q&As on my personal website (keith-baker.com) every few weeks, but I can’t do any more with it until WotC opens it up. I think this will eventually happen, but I don’t know when.
Gloom is a unique game in  many ways: transparent cards as a mechanic rather than just a gimmick; a goal of making your characters miserable and other players’ characters happy; and a quietly twisted sensibility. How did you come up with the idea? What can you tell us about future expansions?
Gloom had two points of origin. The first was that I saw a deck of transparent plastic poker cards and thought If you can print on transparent plastic, I want to make a game that actually DOES something with that. The second was that my significant other at the time had a really hard time with games where she had to do mean things to other people — which meant that when we played such games with friends, she’d always do all the mean things to ME. So – as a longtime fan of Edward Gorey, the Addams Family, and similar things – I made a game where you do NICE things to other people. It was a purely semantic twist, but it worked.
As for what’s next for Gloom, we recently released Gloom in Space, a sci-fi twist on the concept. There are a few things in the works, but nothing I can talk about yet.
The Doom That Came to Atlantic City is another unique idea: it might be described as “Cthulhuopoly.” Its journey to the market was a hard one, but I’m sure anyone who has played the game would agree it was worthwhile. Once again, how did you come up with the idea? How long was it in development before you were ready to Kickstart it? What lessons can other hopefuls take from your experience? Do you have any plans for anything similar?
The original idea for The Doom That Came To Atlantic City came from my friend Lee Moyer. A talented artist and connoisseur of all things Lovecraftian, Lee created a strange blend of Arkham Horror and Monopoly. It was interesting, but not really a game… and as I was a budding game designer, he asked me to take a crack at it. We kicked around various ideas for years before hitting on the final formula: the idea that you were playing the Old Ones themselves, stomping around and destroying the city.
We didn’t originally plan to Kickstart it; we had a contract with Z-Man Games, and it was just about to go to print when that fell through. So we had a game that was basically ready to go to print. When Erik Chevalier came to us and wanted to kickstart it, it seemed like a fairly foolproof idea… but it turns out those fools can be surprisingly clever. Lessons learned: Never get involved in a Kickstarter where you’re not in control and you don’t know the person who is. I trusted that Erik Chevalier was being up front and was an honest person; neither of those things turned out to be true. He lied to Lee and me, and to the backers; he spent the funds on everything but making the game; and ultimately, we had to cancel the project. Cryptozoic came to the rescue, making the game and giving it to backers of the Kickstarter at their own expense. But I’ll never give my name or a game of mine to another Kickstarter campaign unless I know everything about the project and the people running it.
While Doom is a fun game, board games aren’t a primary interest of mine, and I don’t have any particular plans to follow up on it.
Phoenix: Dawn Command was Twogether Studios’ first release. What’s it all about, and what sets it apart from other titles in the increasingly-crowded tabletop RPG market? How do you see that market, and how has that insight shaped your approach to designing, producing, and marketing the game?
Phoenix: Dawn Command is a traditional fantasy RPG. A gamemaster guides a group of players through an unfolding story. You are heroes in a fantasy world besieged by a host of supernatural threats. The dead are rising to prey on the living. There are ghosts, skinchangers, plagues, mass hysteria. You are one of the only people with the power to face these threats, but you may not live through the experience.
But that’s OK, because in Phoenix, death is how your character grows stronger. When you die, you eventually return stronger than before — but you don’t return right away, you don’t return where you died, and you can only return seven times. So each death gives you more power, but it also brings you closer to the end. Phoenix uses cards instead of dice: while there’s still an element of randomness, this gives players more narrative control. You know what your character is capable of, so there’s never a wasted action. If you don’t have the cards you need to pull off a particular action, then you must figure out something you can do with the resources you have in the moment. Alternatively, you have a pool of mystical energy you can burn to push beyond your current limits, essentially buying success… but when you run out of that energy, you die. So in Phoenix, death doesn’t happen because you failed a saving throw or because an orc rolled a critical hit; it happens because you chose to make a sacrifice. Nine times out of ten, deaths in Phoenix feel like a triumph: it lets you have these amazing dramatic moments you just don’t get in stories where death is a failure.
With that said, the tabletop RPG market is a small thing. We overestimated both the demand and our own reach. Phoenix is a beautiful game, and I’m proud of both the design and production. But we have a lot of work ahead of us to get more awareness of it out into the world. We are going to be continuing to support it, but honestly we are still figuring out the best approach, especially given our limited resources as a two-person company.

Illimat is another unique idea, and has done very well on Kickstarter. What’s it all about? How did you come to work with Portland indie band The Decemberists? When will it be available?

 

Many years ago, the band The Decemberists did a promo photoshoot where they were a secret society playing a mysterious game. They made a board for this nonexistent game, took some pictures, and never did anything with it. Fast forward to the future. They’re Gloom fans, and we cross paths over Gloom. They say “We’ve got this weird board… could you make a real game out of it? And could it feel like it might be a hundred years old and people have just forgotten about it? And be a little like a card game and a little like a Ouija board?” And I, of course, said “Yes.”
Illimat has the bones of a classic card game, drawing on games like Cassino and Scopa. But it’s new and different, and has a dynamic twist that will appeal to modern gamers. It’s played on a cloth board, but the game box itself is also a component. You set the box in the middle of the board, and its orientation determines the seasons of the different fields on the board, which in turn determines what can be done in those fields. As you play, you can change the seasons and thus interfere with your opponents’ plans.
I’m very happy with Illimat. I feel it accomplishes all our goals. It feels familiar and compelling to anyone who’s played a classic card game, but it has twists that make it unlike any of those games. And it’s visually beautiful and enigmatic. We expect it to be available in early October.
Action Cats has just been announced. Could I really get my cat (if I had one) featured in the game? Where did this idea come from?
Action Cats is a simple storytelling game. Each card has a picture of a cat on one side and two story prompts on the other side – the beginning and end of a sentence. So one card might say “This cat is a famous game designer…” and “… and would like some appreciation for that.” Each round, the judge takes the top cat and tells everyone what its name is. Everyone else combines two cards from their hand to create a story about that cat, and then presents their story. While you can just let the card text stand on its own: “This cat is a famous game designer”, you’re encouraged to elaborate on the story. Which particular games did this cat design? Did he create Settlers of Cattin’? Call of Cathulhu? Why does he (or she) feel so underappreciated? Like Gloom, this is where the real fun comes in… and the pictures themselves give a lot of inspiration for colorful stories.
This began as a simple idea I just put together to play with friends. I took pictures of my friends’ cats and did a print-on-demand deck. But we had so much fun playing it that we decided to make it a real thing. It’s a simple game, but it’s fun, family-friendly, and great for people who have little experience with games, but who love a cute cat picture. We’re running the Kickstarter campaign now, and we’re keeping it very simple. Anyone who backs the game can submit pictures of their cats, so your cat could be in the game! We aren’t doing any complicated add-ons, and we’re printing the game domestically — so we expect to have the game in the hands of backers by the end of the year! The Kickstarter only runs until August 1st, so if you want to get in on it, act now!
Is there anything else we should know about Twogether Studios? What does the future hold?
Jenn Ellis and I officially launched Twogether Studios in 2014. I’ve been making games for decades, but while I might love game design, I have no head for business. Jenn’s history is in product development, and she’s the people and products side of Twogether: I come up with games, and she makes them real. While our products – Phoenix, Illimat, Action Cats – are extremely diverse, they’re all games that bring people together, and they all share an element of whimsy and creativity. In the immediate future, our focus is on supporting Phoenix and getting the other games into the hands of backers and stores, but we’re always thinking about our next project!

What is your favorite monster from all of mythology and gaming? Why?

 

It’s a hard choice, especially because gaming often messes up the myths – such as the rakshasa that can be killed by an enchanted crossbow bolt, thanks to Kolchak the Night Stalker. I have a fondness for D&D‘s medusa thanks to my novel The Queen of Stone, but again, that’s a very different entity from the gorgon sisters of Greek mythology… though I do love the name “Euryale”, and I’ve used it in a few different places. I like exploring aspects of creatures that often get overlooked. In the case of the medusa, I liked thinking about what it means to have living hair. Can the medusa control her hair, or is it like a cat’s tail, an instinctive indicator of mood? Can she see through the eyes of her hair?
But if I had to pick just one, I might pick the Yule Cat of Iceland. Because it eats children if they don’t get new clothes for Christmas, which is the best excuse ever for why you should be GLAD you got socks as a present.

 

What do you read for inspiration? For fun? 
I love mythology and folklore from almost any culture, both for entertainment and inspiration. I’ve enjoyed some modern reimagining of such stories, such as Kat Valente’s Deathless. History is always useful; at the moment I’m reading The Great Game by Peter Hopkirk.
What do you watch for the same reasons? What do you never get tired of re-watching, and why? 
I’ve been watching Game of Thrones. It has its ups and downs, but it’s generally fantastic fantasy. I’ve gotten a little worn out from all the superhero shows, but I loved Legion, and I’ve already re-watched that, some episodes more than once. I love the writing, the cast, and the general approach of being a show set in a world of mutants that’s not in any way a superhero show. I loved both Fargo and Mr Robot, again because of the plotting and writing. And I’ll always go back to The Middleman for a laugh.
Re-reading, same question?

The Dictionary of the Khazars (Milorad Pavic) and the Irish epic The Tain. I enjoy the style of each, and there’s always something new in The Dictionary of the Khazars. And if I’m working on something for Eberron, I’ll often go back to The Big Sleep, which I definitely prefer in written form.

Many thanks to Keith for taking the time out for an interview in the middle of so many game projects! You can find him online here:

What are you still doing here? Go and check out Action Cats right now!

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2016: The Year in (belated) Review

March 10, 2017 Leave a comment

Here it is, March already. How did that happen?

While a lot of the most popular posts on this blog are about the old days (and especially my Games Workshop days), I also like to keep readers up to date with what I’m doing now – so go to My Books and BUY! BUY! BUY!

Ahem.

Anyway, here’s a brief look at what came out in 2016.

GAMES AND BOOKS

Dawnbringer
Danish game developer Kiloo is best known for their hit mobile game Subway Surfers. They hired me to help develop the setting and characters for this high fantasy swipe-and-slash game for iOS and Android. You play a fallen angel battling demons in a ruined world, and searching for redemption along the way.
Kiloo’s Dawnbringer page
My earlier post about Dawnbringer

Of Gods and Mortals: Celts
The first army supplement for Andrea Sfiligoi’s mythological skirmish game, and yet another chapter in my ongoing love affair with Celtic history and myth.
Ganesha Games’ Of Gods and Mortals page
My earlier post about Of Gods and Mortals: Celts

The Investigators of Arkham Horror
I contributed five stories to this gorgeously-presented collection based on Fantasy Flight’s acclaimed Cthulhu Mythos boardgame.
Fantasy Flight Games’ page
My earlier post about The Investigators of Arkham Horror

Nazi Moonbase
All the Nazi super-science conspiracy theories I could find, collected and wrapped up in a unifying narrative that also explains the urgency behind the Cold War space race.
Osprey Publishing’s Nazi Moonbase page
My earlier post about Nazi Moonbase

Cthulhu Confidential
I edited the text of Robin Laws’ thought-provoking solo Cthulhupulp game, where the Mythos is arguably the least of the horrors.
Pelgrane Press’ Cthulhu Confidential page

 

ARTICLES

Pyramid 3/92: Zombies
I contributed “The Viking Dead” on Icelandic draugur and haugbui, as well as a systemless look at several varieties of “Indian Ghouls.”
Buy it here

Pyramid 3/87: Low-Tech III
“Tempered Punks” contains some systemless advice for dealing with gadget-happy players whose modern knowledge wrings unbalancing power from old-time technology.
Buy it here

Fenix, Kickstarter special edition
I contributed a systemless article titled “Mummies: A New Approach” to support this bilingual Swedish-English roleplaying magazine. It includes seven mummy sub-types based on the ancient Egyptian multiple-soul concept, along with descriptions of ancient Egyptian mummy amulets with powers to affect both the living and the undead.
Fenix Kickstarter page

Fenix #6/2016
My Call of Cthulhu adventure “Spirit of the Mountain” takes the investigators into the Wild West.
Fenix back issues page

Fenix #2/2016
“La Llorona” discusses the famous Southwestern ghost, with notes for Speltidningen’s Western RPG. I’m told that an English-language edition of Western is in the works: I’ll have more to say about that in the future.
Fenix back issues page

Aviation History, September 2016
I indulge my love of vintage aviation with “Aussie Battler,” tracing the rushed, post-Pearl-Harbor development and surprising career of Australia’s home-grown (and largely improvised) CAC Boomerang fighter.
Aviation History magazine

Freebies
I posted a couple of new pieces in 2016, including “Converting Between Call of Cthulhu and Colonial Gothic” (which does exactly what it says on the tin) and “A Green, Unpleasant Land,” which presents some previously-unpublished British Call of Cthulhu adventure seeds I wrote in early 1986 for Games Workshop’s supplement of a similar name.
Go to the Freebies page

 

 

Theseus and the Minotaur

November 18, 2014 4 comments

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Just a quick reminder that my Osprey Myths and Legends book Theseus and the Minotaur officially hits the stores and e-tailers today.

Yes, I know you know the myth. Bull head, maze, fight, kill. But there’s more:

  • The story may have been an allegory for a Greek invasion of Crete before the Trojan War – archaeologists have found evidence of an attack on the palace of Knossos at the right time.
  • After he became the Official Hero of Athens, Theseus got retconned into all kinds of myths starring other heroes.
  • Theseus grabbed Helen from Sparta before any Trojan had even set eyes on her.
  • The Minotaur wasn’t the only bull-monster he defeated.
  • Jose Pena’s art is just amazing – worth the price of the book by itself.

There’s more on this book – and another title I wrote for Osprey – in a previous post: https://graemedavis.wordpress.com/2014/09/07/theseus-and-the-werewolves/

And since I like Of Gods and Mortals from Ganesha Games and Osprey Wargames so much, I put together a bunch of Theseus-themed add-ons for the Greek pantheon. You can download a PDF here: http://bit.ly/1uqv0bb

Theseus and the Werewolves

September 7, 2014 6 comments

Wait, what?

It’s all right. I haven’t created a new contemporary urban fantasy franchise with sparkly Greek heroes battling emo lycanthropes in high school. But hold on while I just make a note of that….

No, this post is going to be about my next two books for Osprey Adventures. If you haven’t heard of Osprey Adventures before, the legendary military history publisher has been branching out with two new lines aimed – at least partly – at gamers and fantasy fans.

Osprey Myths and Legends does exactly what it says on the tin. This series presents the world’s greatest heroes (and monsters) in the classic Osprey format, combining well-researched text with lavish illustration and high production values. My first book in this series, Thor: Viking God of Thunder, was well received (click here for some links to reviews), so I was asked to write another – on Theseus and the Minotaur this time. It’s scheduled for release on November 18th and features some stunning color plates by Jose Pena.

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I guess I was seven or eight years old when I first discovered this tale. I had become obsessed with Greek mythology after discovering a children’s retelling of Homer’s Odyssey in my school library and seeing a Saturday-morning rescreening of Ray Harryhausen’s 1963 classic Jason and the Argonauts on TV. Over a decade later, my first game of Dungeons & Dragons featured a fatal encounter with a minotaur. Along the way, I also read about Theseus’ early adventures on the road to Athens. But when I got stuck into the research for this book, I discovered something intriguing. Well, two things, actually.

The first is that Greek myths used the comic-book technique of “retconning.” After he became the Official Hero of Athens, Theseus began to pop up in the adventures of Hercules and various other heroes, usually in a minor role. He was one of the super-team that took part in the Hunt for the Calydonian Boar, along with his faithful sidekick Pirithous. He appears as a wise and compassionate King of Athens in the tragic tale of Oedipus. A few writers even tried to add him to Jason’s companions aboard the Argo, but some serious timeline problems prevented their attempts from sticking. He was too old for the Trojan War, but a couple of his sons were among the Greek troops in the legendary wooden horse.

The other intriguing thing is that the core of the Theseus myth looks like it could be an allegory. Theseus lived – if he lived – at a time when Athens was growing in power and throwing off Minoan and Mycenaean cultural and economic domination of the Greek mainland. It was developing its own distinctly Greek identity, which would become the template for Classical Greek culture. There is evidence for a war – or at least a raid – led by Athens in which the famous Minoan palace of Knossos was burned. And some ancient sources refer to a Cretan general with the name, or nickname, of Taurus, the Bull. Likewise, the six enemies Theseus defeated on his journey to Athens could be seen as symbols of the various independent city-states that Athens assimilated as its influence spread across Attica. There’s little if any definitive proof that the myth of Theseus is based on actual historical events, but the coincidences do seem to be telling a consistent story, and it made my dormant archaeological reflex twitch.

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The second book, Werewolves: A Hunter’s Guide, is for the Dark Osprey line which focuses on horror and conspiracy, and follows on from earlier volumes about Zombies and Vampires. I collected werewolf legends and trial reports from across Europe and researched shapechanger myths worldwide to paint a picture of lycanthropy that expands upon what you will find in most movies, games, and novels. It touches on the standard fare – silver, the moon, Viking berserkers, SS werewolves, and so on – but I also uncovered a few surprises. Like, for instance, the fact that there are at least four distinct types of werewolf, each with its own unique characteristics. And the Greek tradition that a dead werewolf rises from the grave as a vampire. And the ancient werewolf cult that centers on Mount Lykaion in Greece.

Werewolves: A Hunter’s Guide
is scheduled for release in March 2015, and there are some interesting titles scheduled for both of Osprey’s non-historical ranges.

Osprey has also expanded into wargames with an interesting and growing range of rule sets presented in slim, affordable books. There are historical rules, of course, but they also cover mythology, steampunk, and Hong Kong action movies. My personal favorite is Of Gods and Mortals, a compact and tidy little skirmish game in which the gods of various mythologies can take to the battlefield as super-units, accompanied by mortal and monstrous followers. It has a very neat mechanic which makes gods and mortals heavily interdependent.

Osprey Publishing has a long-standing reputation for quality that is very well deserved. I’m very happy to see them expanding into these new areas, and even happier to play a modest part myself. Check out the links below. I’ll be very surprised if you don’t find at least one title that surprises and intrigues you.

Osprey Myths and Legends
Dark Osprey
Osprey Wargames

2013 and Beyond

February 10, 2014 Leave a comment

2014 is shaping up to be a busy year. Right now I’ve got four mobile games, two tabletop RPG books, and two nonfiction books at various stages of development, and I’m also trying to keep my promise to myself that I will write more fiction.

With all this going on, I haven’t had time to put together an elegant and well-reasoned thought piece or a vivid and fascinating memory of The Old Days for this update. However, there are a few bits and pieces that might be of interest:

Kingdoms of Camelot: Battle for the North is now in its third year, and still going strong. I’m currently helping develop a great new feature that I can’t really talk about, which will be released later in the year. You’ll see some familiar faces, and I think that fans of deeper Arthurian lore will be pleasantly surprised. That’s the intention, anyway.

In other KBN news, the game is ranked #10 by worldwide revenue in App Annie’s 2013 retrospective. A year ago, it was the iTunes Store’s #1 top-grossing app of 2012. And, of course, it’s also available for Android. I’ve been involved with KBN since the very start, and I’m delighted with its continuing success.

Another Kabam title I’ve worked on also did well in 2013, according to App Annie. The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-earth ranked #8 by revenue in the U.S., #5 in the UK, and #6 in both France and Germany. Over the last year I worked on a narrative campaign feature that allows players to fight the Goblins of the Misty Mountains alongside heroes from the movies – and, in the most recent instalment, lets them take on the dread Necromancer from Mirkwood to Amon Lanc and beyond. Like all of Kabam’s mobile games, this is also available on Android.

Dragons of Atlantis: Heirs of the Dragon has just acquired a great little feature that allows your dragon to go exploring when you’re not using it in battle, and find you all kinds of interesting treasures. I wasn’t involved with that particular feature, but throughout the last year I’ve been working on new dragons, new troops, and various other expansions. More on those when I’m allowed to talk about them. Also on Android.

Beside these three, I’ve been working on localization editing for a whole bunch of games from China that are hoping to build on their success in that booming market and move into the West. Three projects down so far, and two more in progress: more when I can talk about them. There is some good stuff coming out of China, for sure, and many commentators have tagged it as a market to watch. Russia, India, and Brazil are also poised to become significant mobile-games markets in 2014, according to many analysts.

And finally in mobile gaming, I’ve been working on a new fantasy RPG for iOS. I can’t give any details at this stage, but I will say that the setting is interesting and I’ve been having a very good time developing the backstory and advising on some quite intriguing features, both in narrative and gameplay.

The two books I wrote for Osprey Adventures in 2013 have been well received, and I’ve signed up to write two more. Thor: Viking God of Thunder in the Myths and Legends line has been getting good reviews, and the new Templar conspiracy I laid out in Knights Templar: A Secret History has been well reviewed and has inspired both fiction writers and tabletop RPG designers. I’ve been contracted to write two more titles: Theseus and the Minotaur is due to be released in November this year, and I’m just starting work on a yet-to-be-announced Dark Osprey title.

I’ve also been indulging my love for historical fantasy in a few tabletop RPG projects.

Colonial Gothic, the game of horror and conspiracy at the dawn of American history, received a great boost from the release of the Second Edition Rulebook, and that was followed up with the release of the Bestiary in October.

Just open for preorders is Lost Colony, a unique two-period adventure that explores the mystery of Massachusetts’ ill-fated Popham colony in both 1607 and 1776. It is written by award-winning author Jennifer Brozek, whose previous credits for Colonial Gothic include the acclaimed Locations mini-campaigns and the groundbreaking e-book The Ross-Allen Letters, which blurs the lines between adventure and fiction.

I’m working on another Colonial Gothic supplement at the moment. I can’t talk about it yet, but it’s one that has been very long in the planning and it reunites me with a favorite collaborator from my Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay days. We haven’t worked together for more than twenty years, and this project promises to be a lot of fun.

As much as I love Colonial Gothic, I am occasionally tempted by other tabletop RPG projects. When author and roleplaying luminary Robin D. Laws was recruiting talent for his Hillfolk Kickstarter campaign, I was honored to be one of the people he asked to submit an original setting for this fascinating game. I pitched Pyrates as “Firefly of the Caribbean,” and it was a lot of fun to write.

British publisher Chronicle City ran a Kickstarter campaign for their version of the Steampunk classic Space: 1889 – a favorite of mine from the 80s – and I offered an adventure for a stretch goal that, sadly, was not reached. I still hope to write it someday. Their Kickstarter campaign for Cthulhu Britannica saw me contribute to their intriguing postcard-based adventure generator. I was especially happy to be involved with this project because my first commissioned work for Games Workshop, way back in 1985, came when they were developing A Green and Pleasant Land, the first ever British sourcebook for Call of Cthulhu.

Last year I wrote a couple of articles for Steve Jackson Games’ Pyramid magazine, both about obscure guns. The Puckle Gun, a repeating heavy musket, was covered in issue 3/52 (February), while the fearsome Nock volley gun appeared in issue 3/57. I’m planning to adapt both these weapons for Colonial Gothic in the near future, possibly in an unannounced supplement that I have on the back burner. Meanwhile, I have another article – not gun-related this time – being considered for a future issue of Pyramid.

Finally, 2013 was the year I discovered the Oldhammer movement. It seems that there are a lot of folks out there who remember the Games Workshop products of the 80s with great affection, and several of them asked me to give them interviews or to share my memories of working at GW during what some regard as that golden age. I have a couple more interviews lined up, but here are links to some that have appeared so far.

So that’s what 2013 looked like for me, and what 2014 is looking like so far. As always, I’ll be covering ongoing projects in more detail just as soon as I’m allowed to talk about them. But now I’d better get back to work – there’s plenty to do.

Knights Templar: A Secret History

October 9, 2013 15 comments

After I finished writing Thor: Viking God of Thunder, Osprey Publishing asked me to write a Templar conspiracy title for their Dark Osprey line. Knights Templar: A Secret History is due for release later this month, and pre-orders are open on your favorite online retailer. The first review I’ve seen tells me the finished product lived up to my intentions, which is always nice to know.

I had a lot of fun writing this book. As well as poking about in the dark corners of history, I was able to spend time reviewing the history of the Templar conspiracy phenomenon and add a brand new one of my own devising. I deliberately refrained from making up any historical facts – that would be too easy – but I really let myself go when drawing conclusions from them. It was something like kitbashing, a modeling term for the process of assembling parts from different kits in a way the designers never intended and producing an entirely new plane, tank, or whatever.

This isn’t my first book on the Templars. The Colonial Gothic Templars sourcebook was a similar exercise on a smaller scale, geared to the needs of the game and focusing on Templar activity in the North American colonies during the Revolutionary War era. This new book suffers no such restrictions, and I trace the Templars – and the Holy Grail – across the Atlantic and back again as they engage in a three-way secret war with the Vatican and the Freemasons. Are the Templars using the European Union to create a global state ruled by a heretical religion? Read the facts and judge for yourself.

A New Colonial Gothic Campaign

June 18, 2013 2 comments

As you may know, for the last few years I’ve been working with Richard Iorio II of Rogue Games to help develop and promote their Colonial Gothic tabletop RPG. Historical games and horror games are two of my real passions, and Colonial Gothic combines the two beautifully.

Boiling it down to an elevator pitch, it’s the early history of America through the eyes of H. P. Lovecraft and Dan Brown. Your Heroes can encounter Salem witches, Native American spirits, scheming Freemasons, sorcerous Templars, voodoo, gris-gris, Bigfoot, the Jersey Devil, and much more. I keep teasing Richard that one day I’ll have Ben Franklin construct a lightning-powered mech and go mano a mano with Cthulhu – but perhaps that may be going a little too far. But if you liked The Crucible, Sleepy Hollow, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, The Last of the Mohicans, The Brotherhood of the Wolf, and the National Treasure movies, chances are you’ll like Colonial Gothic.

I’m very happy at the reception the game has received so far. Most of the supplements have garnered 4- and 5-star reviews on Roleplayers’ Chronicle, DriveThruRPG, and the other major review sites. The release of the Second Edition Rulebook last December was an important step, and we have many plans for the future. Among these is a new campaign, to be created under license by Mystical Throne Entertainment, publishers of Roleplayers’ Chronicle.

Rogue Games’ house campaign, Flames of Freedom, focuses on the shadowy side of the American Revolution. The Mystical Throne campaign (working title New World) is set a generation earlier, in the middle of the 18th century. Rogue Games has touched upon this period in its French and Indian War sourcebook, and it’s very good to see others inspired by the game and the setting to create fresh adventures. The Flames of Freedom campaign will continue, co-written by Richard and me. We have plans for at least two more instalments, possibly more, and the next one, Shadows Upon the Hudson, is scheduled for release later this year.

I’m looking forward to the New World campaign very much. Aaron Huss is a talented writer with a number of impressive credits under his belt, and I can’t wait to see what adventures he has in store for us.