Monthly Archives: September 2016

A Rogue Warden’s Report of Spa-Con

Spa-Con 2016 happened last weekend; this is the inaugural comic-con like event for Hot Springs, Arksansas–which happens to be where I grew up from about 1985-1993. Basically, I spent some very formative years in this deep south tourist town, and it was fantastic to see the community embrace the things I love.img_1190

I was honored to attend Spa-Con as a guest. In a way, it was a “local boy done good” scenario; getting a chance to come back to Hot Springs where I began my journey into game design and writing professionally! The convention put me up in the Hotel Hot Springs–a very nice venue connected directly to the convention center. The hotel restuaruant was particularly nice, with a menu that’s written in such an entertaining fashion (there’s an entry for “I THINK I WILL JUST HAVE A HAMBURGER”) that I took one home with me.

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The convention kicked off with an outdoor concert on Friday night followed by a pub crawl sponsored by Bar Trek. I didn’t attend the pub crawl, but the band performance looked like it was well-received. On Saturday, folks started lining up to get into the main convention center early, and the line got long fast–however, the team of volunteers kept things moving right along. I ran a full table at 11 AM for Savage Rifts: The Garnet Town Gambit. None of my players were familiar with Savage Worlds, but the game is easy to teach, and we had a great time. Jon Westmoreland was running the gaming area, and he did a great job of welcoming me and setting up the game tables for each session.

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The dealer’s hall was nice and spacious, with plenty of room to walk around, and probably around 50 different exhibits, artists, guests, and vendors. The cosplay guests were excellent; each had brought some astoundingly good costumes to display and were very friendly to speak to. Lady Kate, I had heard, is actually from the area.

I spent a good deal of time speaking to Randy Duncan, a professor at Henderson University. Dr. Duncan has won some major awards for his comic-book education programs at Henderson and some important books he’s written on the subject. I would have loved to have taken that class, for sure.

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That evening, I ran my Game Design Workshop; I’m pretty proud of this presentation. While I always start out by saying there’s no one true way to design games, I enjoy sharing my own philosophy and designing a game with the audience in the second half of the event. Unfortunately, I was scheduled last on Saturday, so I lost about three quarters of my audience after the first hour. Still, my small group of die-hards and I created a cool game idea and I feel like the presentation went really well overall.

Sunday, I ran a game of Feng Shui 2 named “Blowing Up Hot Springs.” I had crafted a story involving a lot of local history, including Hernando de Soto and Al Capone, involving ninjas attacking various local landmarks. We blew up a great deal of Hot Springs defeating the plans of the ninjas, and a great time was had by all! Jon Westmoreland actually recorded the session, and you can find a copy of it here.

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Sunday afternoon, I ran my Worldbuilding for RPGs panel, designed from my own experience and some additional material from my roommate Sean Patrick Fannon’s own class he presented here in Denver a time or two. Once more, the audience was plentiful and very welcoming. I’d love to run some more seminars and programs for the Spa-Con attendees!

Spa-Con certainly was a success! The number I heard on Saturday was 3100 people, which is huge, especially considering that the organizers were only expecting around 500 or so. I spoke to some of the vendors who attended the show, and they said that they sold quite a bit of merch, making it both good for the attendees and the vendors.

As for the guests, I had a fantastic time. In addition, I met and spoke at length with accomplished voice actor Chris Smith. Chris also spoke with enthusiasm about the great convention and how much he enjoyed his time there. I got a chance to catch up with several old friends who attended the convention, and met some great new people, like local game master and heavy metal DJ, Jon Westmoreland.

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I want to single out the convention organizers for doing a fantastic job of keeping things running smoothly: Erin Baber, Adam Beck, and Bill (the convention chair). I thought that Spa-Con was a huge hit, and no doubt brought a boon to the downtown businesses! I’m definitely hoping Spa-Con 2 will happen again next year.

On Monday, I visited Game Planet, a Hot Springs local game store. It was clean, well-lit, and had plenty of awesome games to see and play. I managed to get some very good friends of mine into a game of Sentinels of the Multiverse to show off how much I love that game.

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Crossing my fingers to come back again in 2017!

The History of Accursed

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Inspired by Shannon Applecline’s excellent Designers and Dragons, I’d like to share the backstory behind a setting of my own creation, the dark fantasy Savage Worlds phenomenon known as Accursed.

 

It all started with Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: between 2008 and 2011, I was working at Fantasy Flight games as a senior RPG developer, in charge of the various 40K RPGs. Along the way, I made contacts with some excellent artists, editors, and freelance writers that continue to be a major resource for me today.

 

There were two fellows that I found myself working with again and again: John Dunn and Jason Marker. Both were talented writers, and both had some interesting views on the industry that matched up well with my own. We used to meet at Gen Con and say “Someday, it would be cool to create something of our own.”

 

We knew that we wanted to make something together, but we all agreed that we would need to wait until there was a project that we all found exciting. We wanted to collaborate on a project we all felt passion for, and although we bandied around various ideas, we didn’t find “the one” until later.

 

In 2012, I consulted with Catalyst Game Labs on the creation of Shadowrun 5th edition and other projects, such as a board game and a miniature game design called Sprawl Gangers. During this period, Randall Bills challenged me to come up with a pitch for what he described as a “dark fantasy RPG.” Initially, I struggled with the concept; wasn’t the genre saturated already? However, the more I thought about it, there was an idea lurking in the back of my head, inspired in part by the comic book “The Creature Commandos” and a WW2 game that Clint Black had run at Genghis Con that year. In Clint’s game, we played classic movie monsters fighting Nazis and vampires behind enemy lines.

 

With this idea in mind, I began to develop a vision for Accursed. The initial design hinged on one “elevator pitch” that stuck with me: Hellboy meets Solomon Kane. Monsters vs. Witches in a dark fantasy setting with black powder rifles and some Civil War-era technology.

 

I pitched the idea to Randall, but Catalyst passed. I actually was not at all disappointed by this outcome: I had found “the one” that John, Jason, and I were waiting for.

 

At 2012’s Gen Con, the three of us sat down and worked out the basics for what would become the world of Morden. There would be monsters: the player characters, who were men and women suffering under a curse that transformed them into something inhuman. There would be Witches, and some technology, and above all, an action-horror tone that would permeate the setting. We wanted “Castlevania meets Van Helsing,” we wanted Hammer Horror-with-Victorian themes, we wanted something vibrant and unique.

 

During that meeting at Gen Con, the three of us agreed that we’d found something we felt very excited about. Accursed began production the very next month. John planned out a Kickstarter launch, fueled by blog posts that actually doubled as part of the design process for the setting. I tracked down the immensely talented Alberto Bontempi as our main artist, for his dark style perfectly captured the setting’s feel. Between the three of us, we launched Accursed in 2013 to a resounding success.

 

Shane Hensley, CEO of Pinnacle and the creator of Savage Worlds, loved what we were doing. We signed on some talented writers like Andy Chambers, Richard Lee Byers, and Mel Odom to draft some fiction for the setting, and several other game creators chipped in by creating some one-sheets for the setting’s launch.

 

Within one year, Accursed was a gold best-seller on DriveThruRPG, and we’ve continued to support it over the years since. John has been the driving force on the business side, and I’ve maintained my position as the creative director and lead developer for the IP. Currently, there are over 34 products available for the setting, including the core setting book, a setting sourcebook (World of Morden), an adventure collection (Ill Omens), a crossover adventure with the Shaintar setting (Darkest Tides), a custom poker deck, 6 1-sheets, a special adventure (Fall of the Tower), and fiction; 3 novellas and 1 short story.

 

Not bad for a crazy idea and three game designers who wanted to do something cool together.

 

One of the reasons I felt compelled to write about this is that I recently released Pirate’s Oath, my first novella set in the world of Accursed. Pirate’s Oath was exceptionally fun to write, and I’d love to craft more fiction for this world again soon. Actually, completing a novella is one of my lifelong dreams, and achieving this milestone is truly something special in my life.