Interview with Jason Marker of Melior Via
To start off, tell us about yourself and your history in gaming.
Sure thing. My name is Jason Marker. I’m a freelance writer and game designer from Detroit, Michigan. When I’m not writing I’m a stay-at-home dad caring for my two young daughters, play in a guerrilla/punk rock brass band, work as a tour guide in Detroit, and collect and restore old motorcycles. I have a pretty busy schedule.
As for gaming, I’ve been playing RPGs for thirty years now. I started, like most gamers of a certain age, with the Dungeons & Dragons basic red box set. I came of age in the late 80s and early 90s, which were a kind of golden age for RPGs. If you can think of a game that was popular, then I played it or ran it or both. Everything from AD&D to Cyberpunk, Toon to Vampire: the Masquerade (and all the other WoD settings)–if it had to do with RPGs I was playing it.
I’ve been working in the industry on and off since 1999. I started freelancing, mostly with Palladium Books, while I pursued other careers–first as a chef, then in advertising as a commercial photographer. In 2007, I got a gig as a staff writer at Palladium, where I helped bring the Robotech RPG back to market. In 2009 I went freelance again and got picked up by Fantasy Flight doing first the Warhammer 40K RPG and then Star Wars (Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, Force and Destiny). In addition to that I’ve done work for Wyrd (Malifaux RPG), Catalyst (Shadowrun 4) and some other, smaller houses. I also helped produce Accursed with John Dunn and Ross Watson through Melior Via. Now I’m doing The Thin Blue Line (TBL) and I’m not sure what’s next.
Describe The Thin Blue Line for us in the form of an elevator pitch.
It’s Hill Street Blues meets The X-Files. Overworked and underpaid cops in a run-down Detroit police precinct battle the supernatural as their minds erode from psychic powers and constant exposure to paranormal elements.
What works of fiction helped inspire The Thin Blue Line?
TV cop shows and horror stories, mostly. When I developed TBL I was a serious Law and Order fan, and I’ve loved police procedurals and PI shows forever – anything from Hill Street Blues to Magnum, PI to The Wire to Homicide to The Rockford Files. I loved mystery-type shows too, like The Twilight Zone and Amazing Stories (I am seriously showing my age here). As for horror stories, it was a lot of H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth, with a smattering of Stephen King and even some William Gibson (there are some stories in the Johnny Mnemonic collection that are straight-up horror with a veneer of Gibsonian cyberpunk).
What is it about Detroit and its Corktown neighborhood that led you to choose it as the central location for The Thin Blue Line?
Detroit is an old, old city. It’s also a super weird city. When the French showed up in 1701, there was a huge mound complex along the river, similar to other mound complexes like you see at Shiloh and along the Mississippi river. So, of course, they demolished the mounds, threw the bones in the river, and used the dirt for fill for their new fort. Behavior like that gets you a haunted city. We’ve also had three-hundred odd years of catastrophe, disaster, wild success, and abject failure, which breeds a lot of strong emotions and really fiery, resilient people. I mean, we’ve got our own harbinger of doom in Le Nain Rouge. There’s little I could make up about Detroit that is weirder than the truth.
As for why Corktown? Well, it just sort of happened. Corktown is Detroit’s Irish neighborhood, and it’s also the oldest extant neighborhood in the city. I needed a good place to set the players when I was developing the game, and Corktown was as good a place as any. I was spending a lot of my time in Corktown during initial development (I still hang out there a lot as a bunch of my friends and bandmates live in the neighborhood), and it has an Old Detroit flavor that I felt suited the setting really well.
What aspects of The Thin Blue Line do you believe cause it to stand out from other paranormal investigation and urban fantasy settings on the RPG market?
Well, first and foremost is the setting. The Thin Blue Line is tied very closely to Detroit. The city itself is almost an NPC. The city, its people, and the land it is built upon are all super important to the game. Using a real city only slightly tweaked for narrative purposes and tying it closely to the game is pretty unique among game settings, I think.
We’ve also worked hard to make the paranormal parts of the game unique. We’ve developed a TBL-specific style of psychic powers, and our take on the paranormal is a little different than most games. TBL isn’t an urban fantasy game. It’s a gritty police procedural game with paranormal elements. To that end, there aren’t a lot of traditional urban fantasy monsters. There are no vampires in Detroit, no werewolves living downriver, no zombies in the Packard Plant. The paranormal in the game is less well defined and more “Spirits” (land spirits, city spirits, ghosts, etc.) than serious fantasy monsters.
Many Savage Worlds settings feature what is known as a Plot Point Campaign. Will The Thin Blue Line 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?
At this time we are not making any announcements for a plot-point campaign. The Thin Blue Line is more a monster of the week/police procedural kind of game. You can run long campaigns, and there is a larger, high-level backstory at work in the setting, but it’s tailored toward investigating specific crimes, dealing with the perpetrators, and moving on to the next.
If The Thin Blue Line proves to be successful, are there any additional supplements you would like to publish for the setting?
Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it, shall we?