Category Archives: Warhammer 40K

Blast from the Past: 2004-2007

Hello readers! I’m continuing a semi-historical look at my career in the gaming industry. I’m inspired by Shannon Appelcline’s excellent Designers & Dragons series, and I’ve already written several blog posts chronicling the earlier years.

In 2003, I got hired by Games Workshop as a copywriter, a position I would hold until 2005. While I was there, I learned the art of editing from my boss–and a fantastic human being, Eric Sarlin.

WOTC offered me an opportunity to put that editing skill to work on Complete Divine under managing editor Gwendolyn Kestrel. I quickly learned that while editing is a great skill to have for a writer, editing was not what I wanted to do full-time… or even part-time.

Fortunately, I used my time at GW wisely, becoming an expert on all their IPs, including Warhammer, Warhammer 40,000, and The Lord of the Rings. I got to try my hand at miniature game design, and I found that I had a talent for it, designing an expansion for the Kill-team rules found in Warhammer 40,000 4th edition.

Unfortunately, 2005 was a very turbulent year for me, involving a serious car crash, unemployment when Games Workshop laid off dozens of employees while decentralizing the HQ in Glen Burnie, and moving house to elsewhere in Maryland. This meant that my actual output of RPG work was at an all-time low since I had started in the business, and would continue until 2008.

Between 2004 and 2007, most of my work was writing articles for various magazines, including Knights of the Dinner Table and Digital Hero. I had a regular column for some time in White Dwarf, writing tactics articles for Warhammer 40,000 4th edition.

What sustained me during this time were my friends. I had a very strong group of friends around me, and we engaged in all kinds of shenanigans. Michael Surbrook and I ran a gaming convention for a few years in Glen Burnie called HeroCon, and I ran a TON of gaming sessions for my own RPG setting of Shadows Angelus.

I had obtained a job that allowed me a lot of free time. I was the office manager and later a consultant at the National Japanese-American Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C. from 2005-2008. This was rewarding work, and it gave me a good teal of time to myself. In retrospect, I wish I had spent more of that time working on my own projects!

All told, this was the doldrums of my career, and there’s no telling what would have happened if another fantastic opportunity hadn’t opened up for me the very next year…

Until next time!

Year in Review: 2015

Greetings, readers! It’s time I took a look back at 2015 as we wave goodbye to this year and move on to 2016. Here’s some of the highlights from the year:

Professional

I did well this year, 17 different products got out onto stole shelves (virtual and physical), and many more on the way.

Regicide

This is a biggie. I’ve been working on this game for over a year, and it was truly fantastic to see it take full shape. I wrote the story and the characters, which was very sweet, and I love watching people play the game on youtube. I think Regicide was an interesting idea, but I have to say that chess is not something I’m very passionate about for game-play. Aside from a few small issues, this was a great job that I loved doing.

In Defense of Innocence

I deeply enjoyed writing this book, as it is mostly a setting that ties into an adventure in the world of Malifaux. I wrote about 85% of the book, detailing the main adventure and everything about the town itself. I enjoyed working with Brandon Gensemer on this one, but there were a number of production issues involved — Brandon did not receive any credit, for example — so this is a bittersweet entry.  Still, I am very proud of the finished product, and I welcome anyone to talk to me about it or tell me what they think of the book.

Accursed: Fall of the Tower

This adventure grew out of the special Gen Con adventure I ran for the backers of the Accursed Kickstarter in 2014. We had a great time during the game, so why not turn it into an actual product? I think this is one of my better adventures, including all the things I like to see in a published RPG scenario–choices, options, a fun climax, and so forth. Again, I’m very proud of this one.

Shaintar (Many books)

I joined Evil Beagle Games as a full partner and the Managing Director in 2014, so 2015 was my first full year with the company. One of my priorities was to take the Shaintar setting books and get things moving with the line. We successfully produced 8 books for Shaintar in 2015, and several more happened in quick succession when the line was turned over to Savage Mojo. For this line, my involvement has been almost entirely as a developer, although I plan on writing something for this setting in 2016.

Savage Lairs: Fantasy Forests

This was a fun project that came close to the end of the year. John Dunn is a good friend and a hell of a businessman. I learned a great deal about small-press RPG production from John, and working on Savage Lairs taught me more valuable lessons.

Savage Worlds: Lankhmar and Savage Tales of Horror

This was a fun project to work on for Pinnacle Entertainment Group. I got to officially write up the character sheets for Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser! Going back and reading all the Fritz Leiber books was interesting, although I think the earlier tales really work better than the ones written at the end of the series. I also wrote an adventure for one of the Savage Tales of Horror books produced by Pinnacle in 2015.

Card Games: Lost Legacy and Game of Crowns

AEG is a great company to write for as a freelancer, and in 2015 I got to contribute my writing and worldbuilding for two of their card games. I always enjoy writing for these projects, and I am pleased to say that I have even more coming out in 2016.

Personal

  • I turned 40 in 2015, a milestone number.
  • I became a true Denver-ite and Colorad-an.
  • Made some new friends–Christa and Jason Berger–and celebrated ties with very old friends, like Bryant and Kait Smith.
  • I attended a lot of very cool conventions, including Comicpalooza, Genghiscon, Tacticon, Gen Con, and many others.
  • I re-connected with my relatives in the area, from cousins to aunts & uncles.
  • I wrote my very first complete book entirely on my own–I’ve worked on many, many books before this, but in 2015 I had the entire enchilada. 65,000 words, all mine. It was awesome.

What about 2016?

I’m very much looking forward to bringing out stuff that I worked on in 2015. In fact, I worked very hard on some projects that aren’t quite ready to be released, but hopefully soon.

In particular, I’m excited about Torg: Eternity, Strike Force, Savage Rifts, and the forthcoming worldbooks for Accursed.

With that having been said, I’m also looking to become more productive. I want to get at least one thing per month completed in 2016. I know this is ambitious, and I know it is likely to fail, but I’m interested in the challenge. I want to rise up to meet my goal, not set a standard that I know I can hit without striving.

I want to get out more as well, see more of the country surrounding Denver, and visit friends more often who live in distant parts of the city.

Time to write some fiction! I owe a novella for Shaintar, and one for Accursed — I need to buckle down and make those happen. In fact, my hope is that by stating this ambition out loud here, I’ll be more responsible and disciplined towards achieving the goal.

Dark Heresy, A look back, Part 2

Part 1 you can find under the title “I am the Lord Inquisitor.”

Some additional thoughts on my tenure of Dark Heresy…

Artwork-wise, I got to work with some of the best in the business. Of particular note are Simon Eckert, whose black and whites in Ascension are pure magic, and Matt Bradbury — this guy was a superstar. He went from quarter-pages to doing covers for the books in no time (most of his covers are for Rogue Trader and, more notably, Black Crusade).

Another note about artwork: The plan was to originally have the same artist from the core book do the covers for the entire line. That didn’t work out due to the artist’s availability, so we ended up going with a different fellow for Ascension, and then Daarken for two more books, then Matt Bradbury, etc. I think in general, the line still looks very consistent, art-wise.

For Blood of Martyrs, something I really wanted was to give the Adepta Sororitas their due. The Inquisitor’s Handbook had some rules for Sororitas, but I didn’t feel like it really rang true. So we went all-out in this book to say, hey, Battle Sisters!

The Apostasy Gambit is entirely something created by the head of FFG. Christian Petersen was in charge of FFG at that time, and he had a habit of putting things on the schedule with just a title. This was something that Would Happen ™, but Christian was a super-busy guy. There was basically no chance of getting his input meaningfully on a project like this. So, it was our job to take the basic concept and… find a way to make it work. This isn’t always bad, but I don’t think the Apostasy Gambit is, or was, the best implemented adventure series for the line. Again, given my druthers, I would have done a single book (like we did with Lure of the Expanse for Rogue Trader) with one adventure (in multiple parts) rather than three separate books.

The adventure in the Book of Judgment was provided to us very early on (I think in my first month or two at FFG). That means we had to wait almost four years to find a good place to put this adventure, but I’m glad we did. It’s a fine adventure and the Book of Judgment is better for it.

The Lathe Worlds was SO FUN to work on. All kinds of neat stuff I had been saving for this book finally saw print. The Lords Dragon, motherfuckers! Hell yes.

One thing I really liked is seeing the links grow between the RPG and the miniature game. In one instance, the tabletop rulebook (5th edition, I believe?) had a notation for the Calixis Sector on the galaxy map. In another, the Ordo Chronos was first developed in Dark Heresy (Ascension, I believe) and has gone on to be mentioned in official Inquisition rulebooks for the tabletop game (thanks to Andy Hoare!).

Things just seemed to come together beautifully for Creatures Anathema. That book had some fantastic writing in it and went on to win some awards. I was a bit experimental on that one (since it was my first from start to finish as Lead Developer). I tried out putting a “thought for the day” on every page. Then, I quickly ran out of enough “thoughts for the day!”

The final book in the line, the Lathe Worlds, was actually one of the first books I mentioned during my initial interview for the job with FFG. Edge of Darkness came about as a project for an RPG intern… we needed to give him something worthwhile to do, so Edge became that thing. And now, Edge is recognized as one of the best intro adventures for the line.

Adventure contests were something fun that we did. I wish we had done more of them, actually. We found some great writers (such as the very talented Andrea Gausman) through these vectors.

The original Dark Heresy stuff (meaning, the line from Black Industries) was a bit of a mess. The Inquisitor’s Handbook was basically three separate books of content that was welded together at the last minute. It’s still a good book, but you can tell when you look at it that it was never meant to be a cohesive whole. In addition, I have some original files of Dark Heresy from the Black Industries days, and, well… it’s best left buried. Some of the writing is best described as “bad Shadowrun fanfiction set in 40K,” and some of the design concepts are bizarre (such as using WFRP’s multitudinal career system — “Speeder Jock” and “Astronaut” being two careers in that version.). Sometimes it is rough to see how the sausage is made. And I want to be clear, this is no slam against the final product of Dark Heresy and the Inquisitor’s Handbook — both are very special, very good products!

There is a ton of fan-made material for Dark Heresy. Some of it is good. In fact, we found one of our standout authors (Nathan Dowdell) through his fan-work (the Great Devourer, I believe).

I made a lot of references to fan-material and fan-favorite stuff in Dark Heresy. I snuck in references to 4chan’s /tg/ traditional games channel, Love Can Bloom, Adept Grendel, and more. I added in quotes from Commissar Holt, the hero of the awesome classic video game Final Liberation, and as many references to Dawn of War as I could get away with.

Personally, I love Easter Eggs. I put a bunch of them into Rogue Trader and Deathwatch, too.

Here’s a tidbit: Only War started out as a sourcebook for Guardsmen for Dark Heresy. Once we took more than a cursory look at the idea, though, it quickly became clear this was an entire line of its own, and we ended up making that so. It was the right choice.

One last thing I’ll leave you with: I named as many Tech-Priests as I could after fonts.

I Am The Lord Inquisitor

Hi guys, I’ve got another post for you today. This one’s all about a game line that is near and dear to my heart:

Dark Heresy

I took over this game line in 2008 after five products had already been released for it through Black Industries. The core book was created by Kate Flack, Owen Barnes, and Mike Mason, with help from Alan Bligh and John French (not to mention some Dan Abnett!).

After the core rulebook, Black Industries produced a free RPG day adventure (Shattered Hopes), a character folio (this is the only item from this era that was never, ever reprinted by FFG), a game master’s kit (containing a screen and an adventure), a collection of adventures (Purge the Unclean), and a player’s sourcebook (The Inquisitor’s Handbook).

Black Industries had set the scene, so when I came into the picture I saw myself as a caretaker of something awesome.

When I joined FFG in June of 2008, I was made the Lead Developer of Dark Heresy. This was a big deal, as there were plans to follow Black Industries original goal of producing three game lines: Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, and Deathwatch. Few people get hired by FFG and put in charge of something so big.

At the time I started, we had some unpublished material: there was an adventure, Edge of Darkness, that was already done but not up to the current production values, and another sourcebook, Disciples of the Dark Gods. Disciples was written, but not edited, so I turned over the editing to Sam Stewart while I learned how to do layout. I started my development work on Disciples by moving some of the monsters into Creatures Anathema, the next book (and the first I would complete as Lead Developer).

As Lead Developer, I guided the production of three sourcebooks and three adventures. The sourcebooks I was in charge of were Creatures Anathema, The Radical’s Handbook, and Ascension. I’m particularly proud of Creatures Anathema and Ascension — the first was my first book I ever took charge of 100%, and the second was my first book where I innovated and iterated on an existing system to build something fun and new. The three adventures I helmed were the Haarlock’s Legacy Trilogy.

I had done some early development work on Blood of Martyrs, Daemon Hunter, The Book of Judgment, and the Lathe Worlds, but all of those books (as well as the Apostasy Gambit line of adventures) were turned over to Mack Martin so that I could focus my attention on Rogue Trader.

My goals for Dark Heresy were simple. I wanted to expand the options for characters, build on the fantastic foundation of the setting (The Calixis Sector), produce timely errata, and support each major release with a free pdf.

For the most part, I succeeded, and I think I laid down a strong legacy for Mack to build on. Mack took the line to the end (the Lathe Worlds), and I thank him for picking up the ball.

My favorite books: Creatures Anathema and Ascension

Why? I enjoyed working on these books more than the others. We made some fantastic content for the game that added significant elements to the enjoyment of the game for our players.

My least favorite books: The Haarlock’s Legacy Trilogy and The Radical’s Handbook

Why? I feel like I could have done better on the Radical’s Handbook. Rogue Trader was distracting me big time during this period, and I had a bunch of new freelancers to wrangle. I think, looking back, I feel like this book didn’t live up to its potential. The Haarlock’s legacy trilogy would have been better as a single book of three adventures, with more room for John French and Alan Bligh to tell their epic tale. As it was, word from on high was to chop it up into three bite-size chunks. In the end, we released it as a single thing anyway, so… yeah.

Missed opportunities:

Dark Heresy is now gone, replaced by the 2nd edition. The setting shifted to a completely new area of the galaxy, so we lost a lot of material we’d built. If I had a chance to wrap up Dark Heresy 1st edition properly (i.e., I had still been in charge and had, say, six months or so to do something about it), I’d have loved to look at the line and see if we could wrap up some loose ends.

  • I would have loved to do a hive book on Scum and Assassins!
  • We should have done a book for the other two Ordos of the Inquisition. (More likely one book than two).
  • There were some story elements I’d have loved to revisit: the homeworld of the Storm Wardens, the living planet of Woe, the ongoing corruption of certain worlds, the craziness of the Lathe Worlds, etc.
  • One idea that I was considering was for the war in the Spinward Front (and the lie about the Crusade!) to have eventually touched off a wave of unrest, anarchy, and rebellion throughout much of the sector.

This post, and especially the “missed opportunities,” was inspired by this fantastic review of the line over at RPGGeek.