I’m writing this post on February 27, 2016. And just two years ago today, Aaron Allston passed away.
I first became aware of Aaron Allston in the late 1980’s, through seeing his work on the shelf of my local game store or in the pages of Dragon Magazine: stuff like Autoduel Champions (I was a huge Car Wars nerd in my youth!), and later, the Grand Duchy of Karameikos and the Dungeon Master’s Design Kit. Dungeons and Dragons was one of my favorite things to do in junior high, so I kept appraised of what was out there in the world for this fascinating game, and so I saw Aaron’s name on a few products.
I didn’t really become aware of his importance, however, until the 90’s. It was then that I discovered Champions 4th edition, and through that gateway, one of Aaron’s most important works: Strike Force.
I don’t have all the room here to say just how profound this book was for me… how formative it was on a young man fumbling his way through Gamemastering and running games for his friends. Strike Force taught me HOW to roleplay and gave me an example of a serious campaign. From Strike Force, I had an idea of the kind of games I wanted to run… and it put me on the path towards my eventual career as a game designer.
From there, I was more aware than ever of Aaron. I bought and read his Car Wars novels, then Doc Sidhe, then Galatea in 3-d. Aaron was a very prolific author–even today, I am discovering obscure little novels that he worked on or finding another RPG supplement that benefited from his creativity.
I ran into Aaron here and there over the years, often during Gen Con. I didn’t really get to speak with him at length during those times, keeping a respectful distance and simply thanking him for all the ideas he inspired in me. I got him to sign my copy of Strike Force, amongst other books, and he always struck me as a very kind and welcoming man–even when surrounded by legions of fans.
It wasn’t until the 2010’s that I really got to know Aaron better–just before the end of the life, it turned out. I attended a seminar he and Michael Stackpole held about writing techniques at Dragon’s Lair in Austin, and then I ran into him a year later at Chupacabracon 1. This would be a fateful meeting, for Aaron had plenty of time to chat, and I got to talk to him about a wide variety of subjects.
We talked about superheroes, writing, worldbuilding, game design, and more. It was wonderful. I believe we spent a good three hours or so, calmly talking in the green room. This was the first time we spoke about Strike Force at length, and he confided in me–with a grin–that he had plans to do a new version of his landmark book.
This was a discussion I will never forget. A chance for me to talk about all the things I love with one of my personal heroes, a man who had influenced me for decades. Aaron even invited me to playtest a game he was working on about giant robots fighting in an arena, and I eagerly accepted. I was on a panel or two with Aaron during this convention, and I remember leaving it with a huge smile on my face… a great deal of that thanks to Aaron and his amazing way with people.
Not long afterwards, of course, I heard what had happened at Visioncon that year. Aaron collapsed and then died of heart failure.
I remembered the way he walked very carefully down the hallways at Chupacabracon just weeks earlier, and the wan, pale complexion that initially worried me… I had asked him if he was allright, and he smiled, responding “I’m fine.”
All of this made me one of the last people to really speak with Aaron before he died. I took his death very hard–it was difficult for me to work through the grief. The world lost an amazing creative talent that day, and just a heck of a nice guy.
Over a year later, I was contacted by Jason Walters, owner of High Rock Press. Jason had gotten in touch with Aaron’s family, and through the Allston Estate, he was interested in picking up Aaron’s unfinished project and making it real. I didn’t hesitate — this was my chance to honor a great man.
It’s been about a year since then, and I’ve gotten a chance to work with some fantastic people–Denis Loubet, Steve Kenson, and Michael Surbrook–to build a new version of Strike Force, one that we all believe Aaron would be proud of. This project is not just another RPG book… it’s a dedication to someone who inspired all of us.
(The kickstarter for Aaron Allston’s Strike Force is in its final hours — please go take a look and consider backing us to help us finish strong!)