Interview with James Barbery of Glove & Goggle Labs

James Barbery is the founder of the new Savage Worlds licensee Glove & Goggle Labs. His first setting will be Ronin: Chrome & Shadows.

To start off, tell us about yourself and your history in gaming.

I started playing tabletop RPGs when I was twelve years old. My first experience was with Twilight 2000. I have loved RPGs ever since, and I feel certain that those early post-apocalyptic experiences have tinted my gaming career as I examined what it meant to survive and how that survival can move and reshape the line of what you consider to be right or wrong.

My first experiences with the cyberpunk genre, and GMing as well, were only a few years later. The concepts involved and the questions revolving around the theme of what defines humanity reshaped my view of the world. In fact, I’m certain that it has influenced my professional career—I’m working on a doctorate in the medical sciences—as well as my interests in technology and science of all forms.

As far as my accomplishments as a writer, this is my first serious professional project. I have been writing stories and forging game worlds for decades to entertain my gaming groups and for my own personal edification. In fact, that’s how Ronin began as well, but I have found myself absolutely driven to develop this setting.

Describe Ronin: Chrome & Shadows for us in the form of an elevator pitch.

Ronin: Chrome & Shadows is a dystopian future in which enormous sprawling metroplexes sit within vast wastelands full of engineered super-predators and aggressive plant life designed by the corporations to help win the wars that ravaged the globe a half century before, following the massive solar storms known as the Big Black and the limited nuclear exchanges during the Week of Flames.

Within these walled cities, the corporations must maintain alliances in order to keep enough resources dedicated to their common defense. That’s where the Ronin come in; deniable freelancers that do the dirty work of whatever company or syndicate will pay them.

Outside the walls, raiders and scavengers struggle to survive amid the rubble of the old world, and most of those within the metroplexes are doing little better. The privileged few that have gained corporate citizenship live well by comparison, but the smart money went orbital decades ago.

What works of fiction helped inspire Ronin: Chrome & Shadows?

In no particular order:

The written works of William Gibson (esp. Neuromancer), Neal Stephenson (esp. Snowcrash), Robert A. Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, the Judge Dredd comics and many other comics, novels and short stories.

Innumerable movies and shows including Bladerunner, Johnny Mneumonic, Hackers, Mad Max, Eli, The Fifth Element, Metropolis (Fritz Lang and Rintaro alike), Alien, The Matrix, 12 Monkeys, THX 1138, Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Gattacca, AI, The Terminator, Equilibrium, Minority Report, Vanilla Sky, Tron, War Games, Strange Days, Aeon Flux, Dredd, Robocop, The Lawnmower Man, Soylent Green

Some of the movies are double-dipping as they are based on works of some of the written works mentioned, but they all have their own little nooks and crannies deserving a mention in their own right. I’m sure I missed a few, but that list seems adequate to the task.

What aspects of Ronin: Chrome & Shadows do you believe cause it to stand out from other cyberpunk settings on the RPG market?

First and foremost, the post-apocalyptic elements are more pronounced than many cyberpunk settings. In an already dark genre, Ronin tends toward the darker end of the spectrum. While many cyberpunk settings have events in their past that caused devastation or reshaped the world to some degree, Ronin is defined by the cataclysmic events that have pushed the world to the brink.

For instance, the plant super symbiote known as GAMMA that was designed to create the aggressive plant life I mentioned earlier has recently mutated and started to infect animals and people. These outbreaks are rare, even in the outlands, but they are spreading. The corporations tell the people that GAMMA is not a threat, but behind the scenes they are scrambling to find a way to stop the spread of this new strain before it’s too late.

That is just a quick example, but every aspect of the history folds back in on itself in some way to make the dystopian future found in Ronin a little darker, a bit bleaker. That’s not to say there’s no hope anywhere, but those faint glimmers are hard to see with your head bowed and your boots in the mud.

I have also gone to painstaking efforts to make the rules, especially with regard to hacking and cybernetics, as streamlined as possible without sacrificing any of the cyberpunk texture and grit. There are still customizable hacking rigs, comprehensive cyberware packages and tons of weapons to tinker with, but they are all designed to stay true to Savage Worlds and keep the game play Fast! Furious! and Fun! I have even created a resource management system to keep the tension of running out of supplies in the outlands without the need for extensive gear lists unless you want them.

In short, I feel that the mechanics in Ronin are able to handle the intricacies of cyberpunk and post-apocalyptic game play while remaining lightweight and staying out of the way so the story can be told.

Many Savage Worlds settings feature what is known as a Plot Point Campaign. Will Ronin: Chrome & Shadows have one, either in the main setting book or a future supplement? If so, are there any details about it you’re willing to reveal at this time?

Ronin will feature a Plot Point Adventure campaign in the core book. I have some broad strokes that tie into the events that have created the world of 2081. However, some of our pledge levels allow backers to buy into the story line and inject major NPCs. As such, the campaign is still largely a work in progress as it adapts and grows with these inputs.

If Ronin: Chrome & Shadows proves to be successful, are there any additional supplements you would like to publish for the setting?

Absolutely. I have already been working on some basic concepts and material for sourcebooks that will go into more detail on the virtual world, the outlands, the metroplexes, and orbital stations. While each of these topics is discussed in some detail in the core book, there just isn’t room to examine each of these subjects at the level of resolution I would like. The order in which these books appear will depend entirely on what our fans want most, but all of them will be dependent on a successful kickstarter for the core book.