Interview with Jim Thomson

Jim Thomson is the writer of Judge Fool, a time travel superhero setting to be published by the Savage Worlds licensee Plain Brown Wrapper Games.

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

I’m from nowhere. But let me be more specific.

When people ask me where I’m from, I usually say “Alaska” because I spent more of my childhood there than anywhere else. But the truth is that my dad is a wildlife photographer. We traveled the country constantly, and I grew up in the back of the van, reading comics and playing role-playing games with my brothers. So the road is my home town, or the wilderness is. But no specific road and no specific wilderness. We traveled them all.

Around 1979 I cobbled together a version of AD&D from copies of the books that we read bits of in bookstores. I had scribbled the fragments of the rules we’d been able to read down in notebooks that we lugged around with us on the trail. Later I came up with a superhero game that everyone seemed to like a lot more. You might think that wilderness D&D adventures would have been what we liked best. But wilderness adventures were our real life and RPGs are what you do to get away from real life. So superheroes were our thing.

I’m the oldest of eight, so I generally got stuck being the GM and the game designer, too. Roles I seem to still be stuck with today.

When it was time for high school after having been home-schooled for most of my life, I went to live with my grandparents in a wealthy suburb of Chicago. I had come straight from the wilderness and I worried that I was going to be a fish out of water. I particularly feared that role playing games were a weird hobby that no one would find acceptable. But in fact it was the early Eighties, every teenager was into RPGs, good GMs were in demand and being a wilderness kid made you exotic and cool.

All through the Nineties I foolishly hid my nerdy past, pretended not to like role playing games or even to have heard of them. But somewhere around the beginning of the 21st Century, I realized that I had been a moron to stay away from the scene for so long. But even then, by some weird joke of fate I actually started writing RPG books and getting them published years before I returned to playing the games. I am still kicking myself over how much fun I missed.

If there is a moral to this story it’s: Be who you are. Revel in your weirdness.

Describe Judge Fool for us in the form of an elevator pitch.

A crazed, brain-melting cosmic saga that will sweep your player characters off to the far ends of time and space. Take one part superhero comic, one part time travel story, one part psychedelic weirdness, shake until addled, feed it bad drugs and you’ve got Judge Fool.

The Lords of Dust and Silence are coming, eating the future as they draw nearer, and only you know how to stop them before they devour all of reality. You’re going to have to go tumbling across the centuries, zig-zagging up and down the timeways, to intercept them in the Sixty-First Century. All the while their dread minions will be at your heels, and these are far from the only dangers that you’ll face along the way. And you’ll get to punch out a dinosaur!

What works of fiction helped inspire Judge Fool?

I started reading comic books in the late 1970s, right when the whole world went crazy for Star Wars and every comic and Saturday morning cartoon in America suddenly had a space theme. I ate up all of Jim Starlin’s wonderful, lunatic outer space adventures–Captain Marvel, Adam Warlock, etc. I thought this was what all superhero comics were supposed to be like! I had no idea that superheroes might spend their time lurking on shadowy rooftops downtown, waiting to beat up muggers. Why would anyone bother to do that when they could go punch out Thanos?

Of course these days I seem to write nothing but “gritty, street-level” stuff when I produce comic book related work (Bedlam City was four hundred pages of that kind of material.) But I never lost my love of Adam Warlock, The Forever People or their groovy, mind-bending cosmic adventures.

So I would say that Judge Fool was influenced by Jack Kirby’s New Gods, Jim Starlin’s aforementioned work for Marvel, Bryan Talbot’s The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, Terry Gilliam’s movie Time Bandits, Grant Morrison’s weirder and trippier work (Doom Patrol, Marvel Boy, The Invisibles, etc.) with more than a little Doctor Who thrown in.

Is the risk of paradox going to be a significant element in Judge Fool?

There are two points in the story where time paradoxes come into play. One is easy to avoid, and one is critical to the plot. If the time-stream does get damaged thanks to the Player Characters’ actions and reality begins to fray out and fold back on itself, we have some rules for the effects this has. Sorry to be so coy and obscure about the specifics, but I’m afraid if I tell you more details it’s going to wreck some surprises.

Aside from the time travel angle, what aspects of Judge Fool do you believe cause it to stand out from other superhero settings on the RPG market?

Didn’t I mention that you’ll get to punch out a dinosaur? But seriously, the scenario’s fast pace and crazy exotic settings are its most notable features. The PCs are going to get to see some very strange future worlds and some past ones too, and each one is really distinctive and really different from the others. It’s all going to come at the Player Characters very quickly, with lots of narrow escapes and rapid-fire action. (One of the great things about Savage Worlds is that combat gets resolved so fast and easily that you can pack a whole lot of it in.)

Judge Fool also gives the PCs more options for taking individual initiative than a lot of published adventures do. The Player Characters will get to make real choices and the choices that they make are really going to matter.

Many Savage Worlds settings feature what is known as a Plot Point Campaign. Will Judge Fool 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?

Judge Fool is somewhere between a long adventure module and a short campaign. It’s really meant to be a single lengthy and complex adventure that occupies a superhero group for five or six issues of their comic, rather than an entire comic book series. Still, we could easily wind up expanding it into something longer if the first book does well.

If Judge Fool proves to be successful, are there any additional supplements you would like to publish for the setting?

Plain Brown Wrapper Games is already producing a companion volume called “Tales of Tomorrow,” but that’s going to be a strictly limited edition book, available only to people who have backed the Kickstarter. It provides additional material on each of the different future eras the PCs will visit during the course of the adventure.

However, if people like Judge Fool, there will be a sequel. And if they like the sequel too, well, there are all kinds of other adventures a group of player characters could have up and down the timestream…