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.