Category Archives: Hero Games

2016, in Review

Greetings, readers. 2016 has been a heck of a year, both in good things (for me, personally) and bad (though surely I don’t need to list some of the ways this year has disappointed us, especially with all the fine and talented folk who died).

I want to use this post to take a look back at 2016 and catalogue some of the ups and downs that have happened in my life, and especially in the gaming industry. These kinds of posts are fun for me, as I get to talk about my accomplishments and hopes for the new year. So settle down for a discussion of the last 12 months.

Personal Projects

This year I had a lot on my plate (see the Evil Beagle Games section, below), but I did manage to accomplish a good deal of things for myself or as a freelance writer.

Wikipedia: With the help of my good friend Chuck Thornton, I have a wikipedia page now! I’m very grateful to Chuck and deeply pleased to be able to check off “wiki page” from my bucket list.

Accursed: I’ve talked about this setting before, and how much I love it. Accursed is important to me, and I’m proud to say I supported the line throughout the year, starting with the World of Morden kickstarter (funded, fully delivered!)–creating a full-fledged sourcebook for the setting–and ending with a one-sheet for the Christmas season. In all, I completed three one-sheet adventures, the sourcebook, and something I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time: I wrote a novella for the setting.

Writing Pirate’s Oath was a major accomplishment for me. It’s the longest form of fiction I’ve ever produced, and I feel like it is also my best–thanks in large part to plenty of great feedback from friends and fellow professionals like Mel Odom.

BFG Armada: I was hired by Tindalos to write the characters, dialogue, story and trailer VO for this exciting video game. I’m quite proud of Armada, and I’d love to work with Tindalos again in the future. Armada won an award (4th place) for Best Sci-Fi game of 2016 at the Global Game Awards, and I’m positive the game will receive recognition from fans of Battlefleet Gothic.

Mystic Vale: This is one of the card game projects I write the story text for when working for AEG. The game is interesting, the box looks great, I have gotten numerous compliments on it from gamers during the year. Looking forward to seeing the sequel coming out in 2017!

Weird War I: This was a very fun project to work on for Pinnacle Entertainment Group. Creating bestiaries has turned out to be one of my signatures in the RPG industry, and I deeply enjoyed getting to create a series of monsters for this setting… including a ghost zeppelin, the Bloody Baron, and a latrine demon.

A quick side note: All told, I worked on 27 products that were released in 2016. That’s a current personal best.

Evil Beagle Games

2016 was a banner year for EBG. In partnership with Sean Patrick Fannon and Carinn Seabolt, we accomplished quite a bit. First, we completed the handover of the Shaintar line to Savage Mojo. As part of that process, we worked out a deal with Studio 2 to carry the physical books of Legends Arise and Legends Unleashed. I spearheaded this effort and helped adjust the layout to allow this mass printing of the core books.

However, once the handover was finished, EBG had only two products on our digital ‘shelves.’ I’m very pleased to say that we improved that number to 36 by the end of the year.

Savage Rifts: 26 of those products belong to the Savage Rifts line, and this is definitely where the lion’s share of my time was spent this year. Not only did I write quite a bit of material, I also served as the lead developer for the line. Savage Rifts has turned out to be a surprise hit, and we’re all very proud of how well it is doing out there amongst the gamers who love the setting. Thanks to our partners at Pinnacle Entertinment Group and Palladium Books, we made something truly memorable happen by bringing Rifts to Savage Worlds.

Primeval Thule: EBG prospered this year largely by partnering up with some of the industry’s best creators. We teamed up with Sasquatch Game Studio to bring Primeval Thule to Savage Worlds, which was a great project to work on. It’s also turned out to be very popular with our fans.

Aaron Allston’s Strike Force: On a more personal note, EBG partnered with High Rock Press to bring my friend Aaron Allston’s superhero setting–Strike Force–to life. We had a very successful kickstarter and delivered what I think is a stellar product and a great tribute to its creator. I believe that Strike Force is going to gain serious recognition in 2017.

Michael Surbrook Presents: EBG and Michael Surbrook have joined forces to bring out some great products. We’ve got three great books out, and many more on the way. Michael is one of my good friends and it is very satisfying to me that we can help him get his work out there for the gamers. This is really just the tip of the iceberg for MSP!

Personal Events

Gamer’s Tavern No More: One of the downsides to 2016 for me, personally, is that I needed to step down as the host of the Gamer’s Tavern podcast. I did not make this decision lightly, but it was the best choice for the show. Podcasting was very important to me, and I enjoyed hosting the Gamer’s Tavern a great deal. Ultimately, I hope I can get back into podcasting at some point in the future.

Conventions: I had an incredible year for conventions in 2016. Chupacabracon in Austin is always fantastic, and this year was no exception. Rincon in Tucson was stunning, especially as they created individual drinks at the bar for each guest. My drink was called the “Accursed,” and my god was it awesome. Spa-Con in Hot Springs was truly special because this brought me back to my old high school stomping grounds. Ropecon in Helsinki brought me back to Finland for an amazing experience gaming with the Finns one more time! And of course, Colorado’s own Genghiscon and Tacticon continued to provide me with unforgettable games.

Colorado: I’m loving living here. I wasn’t sure I could fully get Texas–especially Austin–out of my heart, but Colorado won me over with patience and graciousness. This state is regal and beautiful and full of amazing people.

Last, but certainly not least, I met someone truly awesome (at Tacticon, no less) and began a very fulfilling relationship.

Hopes for 2017

Here’s some things I’m looking forward to in the new year.

Torg Eternity: This is going to be a bad-ass setting. I’m very pleased to say I’m part of the core design team for this edition and working on new stuff for it even now.

The Endless: I have an RPG of my own design that I’m working on in between other projects.

More Savage Rifts! I’m sure this is no surprise. 🙂

A Novel: Now that I’ve completed a novella, the next step is to write a fully-fledged fiction novel. I’m very eager to complete this milestone.

 

 

Blast From the Past: 2003

2003 was a huge year for me as a game designer. I was living in Louisville at the time, which was both good and bad. It was good, since I had a lot of time to focus on my writing. I had earlier broken into the d20 market through Citizen Games, and I was able to parlay that success into writing for Atlas Games on the Penumbra Fantasy Bestiary.

Looking back at my career, I’ve worked on over seven different bestiaries–you could say it is one of my specialties at this point! The Penumbra bestiary was a very special one, and not just because it was one of the first. One of my monsters for this book, the Dreadwraith, was turned into a miniature from the Lance & Laser sculptors. I still have a couple of these figures tucked away in my miniature collection.

I was living in Louisville, not far from the University downtown. I would often work until very late at night, around 3 or 4 AM, and I would take breaks by leaving my apartment and walking around the neighborhood. Now, downtown Louisville changes from decent (near the university) to very rough-around-the-edges, to decent again as you approach the main thoroughfare of downtown. So, there I was, walking around at 2-3 in the morning, thinking about writing for RPGs. It made for some interesting inspiration, I’ll give you that.

I spent much of this time writing for Digital Hero, the official “e-zine” of Hero Games, and writing articles for Knights of the Dinner Table Magazine. I also joined the Birthright.net team working on a 3rd edition D&D update for my beloved setting.

2003 was one of the years that I applied myself towards getting full-time employment in the gaming industry. I applied at Mongoose and sent in an on-spec project (one of the few I’ve ever done on-spec), for the Slayer’s Guide to Hydras. I never heard back from them, and I still have the files for my one and only Slayer’s Guide on my hard drive. A group of folks in my local gaming group formed Blackwyrm Games, but one of the founders and I didn’t get along, meaning I missed out on that opportunity as well. I applied to Hero Games when they were looking for a new writer (they ended up hiring Jason Allen), and also to Games Workshop.

It would be GW who would give me my first big break.

The opening was for a copywriter, and at the same time, they were also hiring a web editor. I applied for the copywriter position, got notified that they would like to interview me, and I was off to the races. This was a tough time for me, as I was feeling stifled in Louisville, really wanting a change in my life. One of my best friends, Brent Smith, was living not far from the Games Workshop HQ in Glen Burnie, and offered to let me stay with him for a bit while I worked out the interview with GW.

I went out to Maryland, stayed with Brent, and got a job in the meantime as Loss Prevention for Best Buy. My first interview with Games Workshop was… interesting. When I showed up, the two gentlemen interviewing me asked all kinds of questions about HTML, editing, etc. I did my best to answer these questions, and I tried to refocus on my skills by referring to my resume. “I think you’ll find I’m a great choice for copywriter, because…” And then, both of my interviewers did a double-take. It turned out they thought I was interviewing for the Web Editor job!

I must have made a good impression, though, since they called me back for another interview, and it was not long afterwards that I was hired. In no time, I moved all my stuff out of Louisville and moved in with Brent as a roommate.

Blast From the Past: 2001-2002

Inspired by Shannon Appelcline’s excellent Designers & Dragons series of historical books about the RPG industry, I’ve decided to go through my own history and talk about my perspective on the projects I’ve been involved in.

By 2001, I had already had some published work. If you can call it that. I spoke before about the TwoMoons MUSH where I exercised my first public creative work in an interactive story environment. Also, in 2000, I got a chance to contribute to the Hero System APAzine, EZ Hero with an article.

But things really started to move in 2001. I was living in Louisville, Kentucky. I was going to school at the University of Louisville, fresh out of a 4-year stint in the US Army. At this time, I was in the reserves, and all I really wanted to do was get a degree in creative writing.

Or so I thought.

In truth, I found U of L to be stifling for the most part. Oh, classes were alright, but the student community and the campus policies just weren’t my cup of tea. In the meantime, I reached out to some local gamers to find a new gaming group. I managed to find a FANTASTIC local group of gamers that included Dave Mattingly (one of the guys who founded Blackwyrm Games), Derrick Thomas (a professional game artist for many Hero Games, and later, Blackwrym products and other game books), Eric Rademaker (another Hero games artist), Ryan Wolfe (creator of Lux Aeternum and many other gaming products), Des Kirkpatrick, and a few others.

This local group would become the nucleus of some fantastic RPG campaigns, and introduced me to several new systems: Feng Shui, Jovian Chronicles, Tri-Stat, and more. In time, we roped in one of my old Army buddies, US Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Bryant Smith (one of my best and oldest friends) to join us. Most memorably, I ran a strong (*IMHO) Birthright campaign using 2nd Ed D&D (transitioning to 3rd edition in late 2001), and participated in several super-fun Feng Shui games ran by Eric.

Dave Mattingly introduced me to a fellow named Rob Stone, who was starting up a game company called Citizen Games to jump into the D20 market with some new adventures and sourcebooks. Citizen Games was looking for a D20 Line Editor, and I had experience with the system. Rob seemed to agree that I was the right man for the job, and I jumped into my first “professional” work with Citizen.

The first project I worked on was Sidewinder: Wild West D20. This was a fun book to be involved with–I wrote a series of small adventure hooks for one chapter of the book. However, my very first foray into RPG work hit a major snag — they forgot to credit me in the book! I received a nice letter from Mike Eckert, Citizen Games’ president, apologizing for the oversight. However, it is still a little awkward to talk about Sidewinder, for obvious reasons.

After Sidewinder, though, I got to work on more Citizen Games projects in a larger role. I was the Line Editor for 1,000 Faces: Villains and Scoundrels. This was the first sourcebook planned in a series that would present NPCs for D20 games. We had some stock art from Larry Elmore to use on the interior, and it was my job to wrangle the writers into using standardized stat blocks. This was my first real foray into project management and development, since I was writing a large portion of the book and overseeing the work of other writers at the same time.

In the end, 1,000 Faces only had the one book, and it was entirely focused on villains. 250 of them, to be exact! Some of the entries are rather cliche, looking back on the project, but there are quite a few that are somewhat interesting, and a handful of very interesting and unique villains for any campaign. I consider it a qualified success as a product, and I’m quite proud of it.

The other book I got to work on during this time was called Way of the Witch. This was a “concept book,” an idea that Rob Stone had come up with one evening. He wanted a book about witches, written entirely by female game designers, and he wanted the development of the book to be very collaborative. “Like a coven!” He explained.

Way of the Witch definitely features many talented designers, but I felt that this project was extremely challenging for a new developer/line editor. I had difficulty keeping the writers on track, and while much of the content is creative and interesting, it tends to wander all over the map. In the end, I think back on Way of the Witch as an interesting experiment that produced a book of middling quality. It’s fair to say I learned several lessons about project development while working on Way of the Witch.

When I look back on this period of my career, I’m surprised by how much work I was actually doing as a developer and project manager. At the time, I considered myself a writer first and foremost. The role of “line editor” was never fully explained to me by the guys at Citizen Games, and I was working entirely on my own most of the time. This certainly contributed to my rocky start as a developer! On the other hand, I enjoyed working with Citizen Games, and the books we made had a lot of heart and a lot of passion put into them — nobody was “phoning it in.”

Citizen Games did good by me, professionally. Although they flubbed my credit in Sidewinder, they never failed to pay me what I was owed. In fact, the company came through for me in a big way in 2001. My father was in a very serious industrial accident that left him with a life-threatening injury, and I needed money to get an immediate plane ticket home to Arkansas to take care of him. Mike Eckert sent me a check the very next day to cover the flight–an advance on my work for 1,000 Faces.

I did some other small work for Citizen Games during 2001-2002, designing a new monster, proofreading some adventures and playtesting others. However, Citizen Games did not last long and shut down soon afterwards. Perhaps this was a good thing, as they were spared the worst of the d20 collapse in 2003.

Also of note in this time was my first work for Hero Games, contributing to the house e-zine Digital Hero. I also got an article published in Knights of the Dinner Table Magazine, the first of a half-dozen articles I would write for that periodical over the next few years.

 

Press Release: Aaron Allston’s Strike Force Kickstarting in 2016!

Featuring original and new material by Aaron Allston (Star Wars Legacy of the Force and X-Wing series; the Doc Sidhe series; Dungeons & Dragons Mystara; numerous Champions and other RPG products), this project is a revival of one of the greatest roleplaying products in the hobby’s history. Strike Force was originally published in 1988 as part of the Champions line of superhero roleplaying products. While its primary purpose was to present Aaron’s rather well-known and popular home campaign (which was renowned for the waiting list of folks – including many gaming luminaries – wanting to join) for use by other Champions game masters, the real glory of this book was its function as an amazing guide on how to run a campaign – not just for superheroes, but just about any RPG.

Click here for info on the Classic Strike Force Setting Book!

Co-Written, Researched, and Developed by Michael Surbrook (Fantasy Hero Complete, Kazei 5, Larger Than Life, Ninja Hero), with Ross Watson (Accursed, lead developer of Warhammer 40k Roleplay, writing and development, Savage Rifts) as the Project Lead, this new version incorporates over 22 years of campaign play, notes, and ideas. Aaron intended to publish a new version all along, and his family is thrilled to see his wishes come true with this project.

 

In addition to the campaign material and Aaron’s GM advice, new material is included from Surbrook, Watson, and other notable writers like Steve Kenson (Mutants & Masterminds, ICONS) and Sean Patrick Fannon (Shaintar, Savage Rifts, The Fantasy Roleplaying Gamers Bible). This project is intended to expand and enhance the original book’s goals of presenting a fantastic setting and extraordinary advice on how to successfully maintain a living, breathing RPG campaign over the span of years.

 

AARON ALLSTON’S STRIKE FORCE will be a high quality, full-color hardback, featuring artwork by Denis Loubet – one of the original Strike Force players (as well as one of Aaron’s best friends) and the artist for the first version of the book. Also included will be testimonials from a wide variety of RPG and other luminaries, all of whom were moved and motivated by Aaron’s kindness, creativity, and enormous influence on both gaming and other genre media.

 

The Kickstarter campaign to fund this important book is planned for February, 2016, with the first stretch goal planned as a book of fiction featuring three never-before-published short stories by Aaron himself!