Justus Productions

Interview with Steven T. Helt, writer for Cross Of Fire Saga Adventure Path

Steven T. Helt is Paizo’s RPG Superstar for 2013 and the project coordinator and a writer for Cross Of Fire Saga Adventure Path for the Pathfinder RPG.  Steven took a few minutes of his time to answer some questions about his Kickstarter.

 Thank you Steven for taking the time to answer a few questions.

Thanks, Ron. I’m grateful for the chance to talk about this project. It has been a fun experience….if a little creepy.

Tell us a little about yourself and your gaming experience, Steven.

I played my first session of AD&D back in 5th grade. A friend’s brother ran us through Queen of the Demonweb Pits. We were massacred but I was hooked. I started designing adventures and running my own scenarios in middle school, but never thought of it as more than a hobby until my mid 30s. I won the Iron GM world championship twice and really got a taste for writing and design as I improved my game behind the screen. I’ve been playing and running RPGs for 32 years.

Since I won RPG Superstar in 2013, I have put together a writing group of fantastic design minds. We’re working to build a reputation as the guys who design things players and GMs salivate over. Fortunately, the publishers we’ve worked with have said very pleasant things and we are already scheduled for a lot of releases with different companies over the next couple of years.

I pitched an offer to develop the Cross of Fire Saga Adventure Path for Louis, crafted the plot from his framework, and now we have a really excellent cast finishing their drafts so our backers know they have already-finished adventures waiting for them when the KS campaign concludes.

How did the Cross Of Fire Saga come about and could you give us a brief description of the Adventure Path?

Louis asked us to write each of the adventures just after we committed to a few other large projects. To make sure he still got what he needed on time, I offered to join the project as author/developer and find him authors with known names who could pick up the writing task that the Four Horsemen couldn’t commit to. Of course, Pestilence is superhuman, so he signed on for a full adventure by himself. But we also got Victoria Jaczko (RPG Superstar 2014), Scott Fernandez (Paizo contributor and Superstar finalist), Jeff Lee, who has designed for several companies, and our third Horseman Dan Dillon. Dan is a crucail addition for the CoF backers becuase when it comes to traps and adventure inspired by dangerous old-school games, Dan is…well….vicious.

Cross of Fire is the first adventure path for the larger Obsidian Apocalypse setting templates. In Jeff Lee’s intro adventure, the players are transported to Abaddon—a harsh realm of post-apocalyptic horror. Their best chance to get home is to follow the lead of a vagabond mystic—someone the PCs can’t fully trust, but at the same time is obviously motivated to help them. Travel in Abaddon is hard, even for high level characters, so across the hard terrain and harder people of the land, the PCs work to locate the missing elements they need to unite in the saga’s conclusion in order to return home. Unfortunately, they have enemies that seek to manipulate them and at any given time their allies aren’t much better. Cross of Fire is gritty and violent and tells a unique horror story the whole way through.

The plot for the saga is something I am really proud of. We’re big fans of turning tropes on their heads, so you can’t take anything for granted. We also have a knack for breathing life into the Maguffin so everything has a detailed story and purpose. The things you need to achieve victory in the Cross of Fire finale have a life of their own and are as dangerous to the PCs as they are to the PCs’ nemesis.

What is it about the Ravenloft and Dark Sun settings that inspired the setting? And what about Abaddon do you think will pull players in?  What makes it unique?

For me, those two settings had defining art and a very specific feel. I think what’s great about working with Louis is you know you’re going to get quality art. The setting material for Obsidian Apocalypse is built around templates, so you can actually sort of choose the post-poc campaign your group wants. Maybe you want a setting where undeath spreads across the world. Obsidian Apocalypse gives you material to focus the horror in that direction. In the Cross of Fire adventures, we’ve blended elements of Lovecraftian horror from beyond, wickedly powerful undead, and the unparalleled cruelty of mortal races pushed to the brink for survival. Some of the most amazing moments in this saga come from less supernatural threats. Just communities very low on hope and trust, and already pushed well past the point of showing charity to strangers.

Great settings have a certain voice but also have some flexibility in that voice, and I think Raveloft was like that and carries into Abaddon for Pathfinder players.

What do you see for the future of Cross Of Fire Saga

Obviously that’s in the hands of Louis and the backers. I will say this: Cross of Fire deserves to be backed at a very high level. It’s not very often that you see a group of designers include two RPG Superstars, a Superstar finalist, and three Iron GMs. The authors of these adventures haven’t been afraid to tackle some difficult material and have honestly knocked it out of the park. If you want to see more adventures designed by teams of well-known freelancers, this is the Kickstarter campaign that will make that happen.

One other thing: the Four Horsemen have always pledged a little extra free content for everything we write. Backers of Cross of Fire will get more options, maybe even another adventure, if they fund us at a higher level, and we won’t charge Louis or the backers at all for that extra content. Give us your trust, and we will give you an adventure path you will never forget.

Thanks, Steven T. Helt, for you time.  Cross Of Fire Saga Kickstarter is opens this Wednesday, 10/1/14.  Please check it out and back it.

Interview with Jesse Galena, writer of Timeline Fracture RPG

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

I am a twenty eight year old fiction writer who recently married a wonderful, intelligent woman. I started playing tabletop RPGs ten years ago when a friend introduced it to me in college. A few years after, I began making my own RPG systems for me and my friends. I wanted to play games, use mechanics, and tell stories that I could not find in other games.

Tell us a little about Timeline Fracture and it’s inspiration for it? What experience do you have with it?

The original idea came when I wanted to make an RPG party with a first-generation astronaut, a warrior, and a cyborg. I looked into genre-bending RPGs that already existed, but their rule books were all so massive I was unsure I could convince an entire group of friends to learn such a dense system. I decided to try a different approach.

Everyone I knew who played RPGs has played a game that uses the d20 system. If I made a game using the d20 system, then everyone would already know the core mechanics. I started looking at all of the different d20 games I could find, examining their classes and feats and understanding how my players and myself could use them together. There were already tons of games giving players options for different classes from virtually any timeline. The wealth of possibilities was astounding, and I knew this was the method I would use to create Timeline Fracture.

I wanted to create a world where, rather than jumping from dimension to dimension, the entire planet was made up of disjointed pieces of different worlds from alternate dimensions. This gives the world a strange economy and each land holds an interesting relationship with its neighbors, since they all have a long history but none of them were familiar with the practices or capabilities of the others before they came together. Players can walk across a border from one land to another that is drastically different, but both lands were forced to be part of the new world.

After more research into the d20 system, I ran my first Timeline Fracture game. That was over two years ago. I have run many more Timeline Fracture games and campaigns and done exponentially more research on the d20 system and its different games over the years. Now I have a polished product that I want to share with the gaming community so everyone can enjoy it.

Why does anyone need Timeline Fracture? Can you use d20 books together without it?

Regardless if people like the idea or not, everyone seems to ask this question. The short answer is yes, you need Timeline Fracture or years of researching the differences in d20 games and play testing them to streamline the numerous unexpected problems you will discover so you don’t have to stop your game and search for a solution that is fair to all of your players. You need Timeline Fracture because you need answers to the problems that surface when you mix multiple d20 games together. What do you do when one of your player’s classes get action points but your other players don’t? If anyone can buy a laser rifle that deals 4d6 damage, why wouldn’t everyone in every timeline use a laser rifle instead of a crossbow, pistol, or any other ranged weapon? What’s the exchange rate between gold pieces and galactic-standard currency? How do you resolve a grapple check when two character’s are using two different methods of making the check? Timeline Fracture offers you the solutions.

Another problem Timeline Fracture solves is completely non-mechanical. Let’s say you’re playing a game and you tell your players, “You come to a land with mythical creatures and people who dabble in the arcade. This is a fantasy setting.” One player thinks of Narnia while another thinks of Game of Thrones. Both are fantasy, but they are incredibly different and each player will be expecting something very different. You might have created a fantasy setting that’s not like either of those, but that is still what players will be expecting if they don’t have a clear reference.

Timeline Fracture provides lands with distinct histories, atmospheres and expectations. This allows the GM and all of the players to better understand the world and know what is to be expected in each of the lands they discover.

Why crowdfund Timeline Fracture instead of writing it and releasing it?

Tabletop RPGs are social at their core. A book of mechanics and lore are not very exciting without a group of people to experience it with. When I starting making Timeline Fracture, I had the social interactions with my players about what they liked and what they thought. I wanted to make the final stages of the production process mimic that social interaction and connection with the future players. I wanted to have open dialog with interested gamers, hear their thoughts, and let them help change the game for the better. I wanted to get those who want to be involved involved, and make the game even more enjoyable and personal, for them and all the players, because of it.

What about using elements from games that say they are d20 but have some alternate rules?

When a company makes their idea into a d20 game, they tweak the rules to better suit the feeling they want to capture. They add some things, take other things away, and change a few things. This is great, but it causes problems when everyone isn’t using all of their material from the same book. Some books use different methods of giving players skill points, resolving grapple checks, initiative, and more. Timeline Fracture offers ways to streamline the use of multiple d20 books together, keeping your game from crashing to a halt to find solutions to unexpected problems.

What does the Timeline Fracture setting add to the game play?

Timeline Fracture adds variety, a new, original setting, and the ability to create characters and campaigns that you couldn’t do with any other game. Using Timeline Fracture, you have access to hundreds of classes and thousands of feats to create the most intriguing character you can. You can even cross-class between different books. If you’re new or are only familiar with one d20 game and you don’t want to experiment with using multiple books, you can create a character using a single book and it will fit perfectly into Timeline Fracture.

For the GM, Timeline Fracture offers a world players have not experienced before. This allows the GM to use technology, magic, differing social standards, and other factors of the environment to introduce new challenges for their players to overcome. Having such a variety allows the GM to create new situations in which players cannot rely on their old methods of problem solving to resolve.

Once this Kickstarter is successful, what is next?

I have written a fantasy novel and am looking for an agent, I want to create and release even more material for Timeline Fracture, and I have a new, completely different RPG system to make. What order those get released is not entirely in my control, but they are sure to happen.


Interview with RPG Legend, Lester Smith, creator of d6xd6 CORE

core-rpg-adThank you for taking the time out to interview with us.  It is an honor and a privilege.

The privilege is mine! Thanks!

For those that might have been living under a rock, tell us about yourself and your proudest accomplishments in the gaming industry.

Most long-term gamers know me as the designer of Dragon Dice–an Origins award winner–and of the Dark Conspiracy role-playing game. I worked on staff at both GDW and TSR in the late 80s and 90s, and have done freelance work for Shadowrun, Mechwarrior, Star Wars, Deadlands, and many other properties, participating in three other Origins winning products. I was also a reviewer of small-press games for Dragon Magazine for several years. Beyond that, the publication list is pretty long.

For the past decade, I’ve been publishing poets and fiction writers via Popcorn Press–including an annual Halloween anthology for the past five years. Last year I added a half dozen card games to the catalog, and this year I’m tackling a role-playing game. I’ve also contracted a couple of dice games with SFR, Inc.: Daemon Dice last year, and SuperPower SmackDown! this year.

What is d6xd6 CORE Role-Playing Game?  What drove you to create it?

A relatively full answer is published on my blog (www.lestersmith.com) under the title “Serendipity is the Kindly Grandma of Invention.”

In a nutshell, a few people over the past several years have commented on my old Zero role-playing game design, saying they wish it were still in print. While I don’t own the rights to that world, I’ve always been happy with the unique central dice mechanic–d6xd6–based on a single stat–Focus.

In July of 2013, I started adapting that mechanic to other settings, and ran a ghost-based adventure at Quincon that year, with very positive responses. So I set out to draft a full set of rules online, planning to write a plethora of different genres for it.

Then in the fall of 2013, Douglas Niles asked if I’d like to publish an ebook of his New York Times bestselling Watershed trilogy. While laying out and proofing that work, I suddenly thought, “Why am I planning a new fantasy setting when there’s an amazing one right here?” Doug agreed to let me include Watershed as the default fantasy setting, and something clicked in my head: “Why write new settings for any genre, when there are amazing novels out there to draw from, if the novelists agree?”

Suddenly a multi-genre project switched from something I’d have to devote lots of time to for each setting, to something that would serve fans better by providing a few specific rules for entering a novelist’s world, and using those novels as source books. It became a perfect cross-promotional vehicle for everyone involved.

So I invited several novelist and film-making friends to join, and nervously wrote to some absolute strangers whose work I simply loved. Andrea K Höst, Adrian Howell, Matthew Bryan Laube, and Hanna Peach were the first four strangers, and they all said yes! Things snowballed from there, to the thirty-four authors currently involved, representing thirty-eight different worlds.

You have an extensive and distinguished resume in the gaming industry.   In the time you have been involved with it, what has surprised you the most about the changing and evolving environment of the RPG market?

To my mind, quality print-on-demand and PDF publishing has been the happiest change in not just games, but also books and films. Add crowdfunding to the mix, and an explosion of creativity has breached the temple walls, allowing anyone, anywhere, with vision and drive, to reach a viable market. It used to be that a few big publishing houses decided what would be available to read, and a few fanzines dared to survive outside those environs. Now those fan efforts are in the majority, and the big houses are struggling to survive. I mentioned earlier having been a small-press reviewer for Dragon magazine. That term doesn’t really apply any longer; everything is small press.

Yes, it does mean some poorly executed work runs wild, decreasing the “signal to noise” ratio. But readers are pretty adept at tuning in to the best, and social media lets us all share those recommendations. Viral is the new marketing. The days of Madison Avenue convincing us to buy things we don’t need are fading.

I’m a huge fan of the Information Age.

In the world of today’s RPG market, what does d6xd6 CORE Role-Playing Game bring to it that sets it apart?

Five-minute character creation that allows any conceivable occupation. A unique number curve that handles “initiative,” success, and amount of success in one roll. A fast and easy combat system based on my three decades of writing and reviewing rules. An unlimited number of possible worlds that can be added on pretty much “on the fly.” And the experience system is unique, too.

Has any of your previous work influenced d6xd6 CORE Role-Playing Game?

Zero was the first place I experimented with a single-stat “Focus” concept. My years at GDW produced a healthy respect for clean combat rules. Work with Dragon Dice at TSR taught me a certain poetry of game mechanics–drama without structure is chaos; structure without drama is death. Writing sonnets, haiku, and Web code revealed the ways magic blossoms from the right framework. As WordPress says, “Code is poetry.” See also Wordsworth’s “Nuns Fret Not at Their Convent’s Narrow Room” sonnet. Game design is poetry, too.

Would a setting like Dark Conspiracy work well in  d6Xd6 CORE?

Abso-tively! We’re currently just a couple hundred dollars away from demonstrating that with Colin F. Barnes’ twisted cyperpunk Techxorcist series, and just a Secret Goal or two from adding J. Robert King’s surreal Nightmare Tours and Jason Daniel Myers’ mythic Big Trouble in Little Canton. The d6xd6 CORE RPG could easily adapt Dark Conspiracy itself.

What is in your plans for the future of d6Xd6 CORE Role-Playing Game?

Unsurprisingly, the current Kickstarter is having a big say in that. Besides the creators currently engaged, we’ve been approached by other authors and artists interested in the engine. We’ve also been approached about distribution, which would certainly help. And we’ve been asked about licensing the engine to other publishers; I’m working a draft of that now.

I’m certain we’ll be adding new worlds as standalone ebooks in the future, with print books of those if the page count justifies it. In short, the system is a platform upon which we can build countless things. And the more successful it grows, the more time I can devote to expanding its multi-verse, and to working on other games.

Thanks for your time.  Good luck with the d6Xd6 CORE Role-Playing Game and all your future projects!

Thank you! And keep up the good work promoting this wonderful hobby.