Monthly Archives: December 2015

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.

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 Addendum–Winter Fantasy Con

A Quick Addendum for 2001:

One thing I forgot to mention in my last blog post was a very influential convention that I attended early that year: Winter Fantasy Con, in Fort Wayne, Indiana. This convention was heavily focused on the RPGA, but it was not far from my location in Louisville, so I drove up with a couple of my friends. None of us were RPGA members, but we had attended a gaming con in the past, so we thought we knew what to expect.

We were wrong.

This convention was All-RPGA, all the time. This is not to say such is a bad thing, only that we were entirely unprepared for what that meant. First, it meant that if you did not have an RPGA membership (and a character to use in the games), there wasn’t much to do. No pick-up games going on, no open gaming areas, no places to sign up for things that weren’t RPGA–since there were none.

This led to three things: First, we participated in a Living Seattle game set up for first-timers, which was fun. Second, we organized a pick-up game of Shadowrun in our Hotel Room that turned out to be a LOT of fun. And third, we spent a lot of time in the dealer’s area.

This last bit is really important since the dealer’s area was largely deserted through much of the day. You see, RPGA events ran from 4-8 hours long, and that was the main focus of 99% of the attendees. So during game slots, there were only a handful of people who were not playing RPGA games.

Such as myself and my friends.

This had an unintended side effect–you see, Winter Fantasy had several guests there that year, game designers you may be familiar with: Andy Collins, Ed Stark, and Monte Cook.

And the guests weren’t really playing many games–instead, they were just hanging out near the dealer’s area.

This meant that my friends and I could just wander over, introduce ourselves, and have an amazing one-on-one conversation with these gaming giants.

And that’s exactly what we did.

I had an amazing time speaking with Monte and Andy, but my conversation with Ed Stark accounted for almost three full hours. Ed was extremely patient, wise, and encouraging. At the end of our discussion, I mentioned to him my ambition to become a game designer and write for the games that I love.

Ed looked me in the eye and said, “I believe you could do that, if you wanted to.” He paused. “So… Go. Do. It.”

This was an amazing moment for me. I had someone I respected in the industry telling me right to my face that I could do this, that I SHOULD do this. I had a brand-new resolve and determination to make this dream come true, and upon returning from the convention I threw myself into writing and designing games full-time.

I never looked back.

 

 

 

 

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!