Interview: Zach Glazar of Lesser Gnome

Whisper & Venom KS ProgressOver on the Kickstarter site there is a particularly interesting project coming into the final stretch. The project is Whisper & Venom from Lesser Gnome. Whisper & Venom is an RPG Adventure boxed set, complete with 28mm metal miniatures. The boxed set will contain a guide to Whisper Vale, an adventure sourcebook, a full color hand-drawn, two-sided poster map by Alyssa Faden, a set of polyhedral dice, more and more minis nearly everyday – all in a 12”x9” box! The boxed set will also include cover art from Jeff Dee and interior art from Lloyd Metcalf.

Whisper & Venom has well exceeded its initial funding goal of $5000 and many new miniatures have been added. The most recent update to the project talks about more stretch goals and if funding surpasses $20,000 support for Pathfinder proper!

Earlier this week The Iron Tavern caught up with Zach Glazar, the head gnome behind Lesser Gnome. He graciously took the time to answer several questions to tell The Iron Tavern a little more about the Whisper & Venom project and where they are headed in the final week of the Kickstarter.

Interview With Zach Glazar

Questions from The Iron Tavern are bolded and prefaced with IT and Zach’s responses are prefaced with ZG. The art used with this post are all examples from the boxed set and used with Zach’s permission. Enjoy!

IT: Obviously the big thing on your plate right now is the Lesser Gnome Kickstarter for Whisper & Venom. Can you tell us a little more about that?

ZG: Of course I can and I am delighted to do so.

Whisper & Venom is my attempt to bring a truly deluxe adventure boxed-set to the small press market that is written in tribute to the ones I was so obsessed over in my, now long ago, youth. I had always wanted an adventure module that came with everything. Every extra that I could never find, let alone afford, all in one box that had amazing art, poster maps with stunning cartography and all the unique figurines included in the text.

I was never able to understand why such an obviously flawless idea wasn’t the standard way every module came. As an adult fascinated by economics I understand completely why, but I still wanted it.

goblin_townWell with 11 days to go I am pretty close. The cover of the box (and main booklet) is a commissioned acrylic painting by Jeff Dee, the vast majority of interior illustrations were done by Lloyd MetCalf in pen and ink, the poster map is nearly completed by Alyssa Faden and four different and well-known sculptors are working on (and have largely completed) a small army of adversaries for the box…some of which have been selected by backers of the project via a surveys.

It took a great deal of effort to get to this point but it also took a great deal of money. Having brought all these elements at this state of completion during the funding period would, of course, have been impossible without significant investment. I wanted the best people available to me to be involved in Whisper & Venom and it was my number one priority that they be paid in full the instant I received an invoice.

Oddly, I now find that having taken that level of risk has added value to the project beyond the value of simply having top artists. It is very much an indicator of how serious I am in delivery which has become a major concern for a majority of the backers I interact with on Kickstarter.

Your question stated that the Kickstarter for Whisper & Venom was the big thing on my plate. I will start by saying that you are almost correct. The truth is it is the only thing on my plate and has been for at least 3 months and will not end until at least December. This whole experience has been one of the best of my life, which is a good thing, because it is also been my whole life.

Long planning and financial investment has gone into Whisper & Venom and it is my top priority. I am a very lucky gnome in that personal flexibility with career and family choices has allowed this focus. Anyone who reads this that has done a big Kickstarter project while having full-time family and occupational responsibilities is elevated to near superhuman status in my eyes.

IT: I have seen you describe Whisper & Venom a boutique adventure boxed set. Tell me more about that description for this product.

ZG: Well I enjoyed the early development of Whisper & Venom a great deal and wanted to be able to do the whole process over again. I certainly did not think I would make any money out of it (I still don’t, though defraying my costs would be a plus). I just wanted to make a product that others might want to buy. At the time ‘others’ consisted of literally dozens of potential customers (this was before Kickstarter).

druid1Small press publishing for any hobby market is already hard to maintain as a going concern. The barrier to entry is pretty low and there are some great products available for free. So with so many products (some really great, others were great by virtue of being free) it was hard to imagine having anyone even noticing a product in a such a crowded space. This is doubly true when price sensitivity is such that a 20 page supplement might look great and be priced $1 and still be considered too expensive.

The other option was to stand out with quality (meaning first class accessories and artwork in print). I love the feel of a new book or boxed game and sometimes just being in a box or in hardback makes willing me take the chance on something that, had it been identical in every way but offered only as a PDF, I would not have looked twice.

I consider myself to be a good writer, but I am a slow writer who pores over every sentence. This is hardly the ideal path to producing anything in volume on a regular basis. Rather than put myself in a position in I was not ideally suited, I made an early decision to produce high-end retail quality products and take the time to do so. It would be available when it was done and it would not be designed to compete purely in a price sensitive market.

Just like a boutique.

So rather than write around 2000 words per night I would instead invest heavily in time (it turned out heavily in money as well) researching all the little details that are necessary to have a game that you could only pick up off the top-shelf, so to speak.

It helped a great deal that, as anyone who knows me or has interacted with me at a con can verify, I am an uber-consumer of small press RPG products and what is being produced now is exactly what I would buy without question.

Go with what you know I guess :).

IT: The metal miniatures seem to be the focus for the stretch goals for the Kickstarter. More minis are awesome! But what about for those of us more interested in the adventure and the regional setting? Anything lined up in the coming days as you close into the home stretch?

ZG: I am glad you asked and you have not been the only one ask that question.

Well the quick answer is no they are not. Circumstances have made it appear that way but early this week that will change significantly.

whisper_venom_collageI just got good numbers on different sizes of larger prints of the poster map as one example. The upcoming backer survey will tell me which way backers want to see the map improved, but the map upgrade is the not the first non-mini related stretch goal since the $7000 mark.The numbers worked out that at that point so that I could add mid-range dice (vs. what I will charitably call “Dice”) In addition to the map there will be a side quest adventure designed to be completed in one session that shares the setting but not the focus of the main storyline. There is a reason I am careful about adding content stretch goals and it is cost. If it has text and is included in Whisper & Venom then it will be available in a high-quality printed version. I know many people use PDF files, but I do not (I buy them though, many times out of solidarity with the author).

Other non-miniature stretch goals that I have done the legwork on already but cannot move forward with yet require a higher level of funding (or higher number of backers at specific levels) before I can commit to them. These include: Laser etched polyhedral d10 dice (I am close on these), monster cards that include new art (once again I am close here as well), a stapled book of the art depicting individual locations in the adventure (like the Tomb of Horrors from 1E) and possibly a map booklet of the adventure locations.

Why so many miniatures when I had all that great stuff? There is a solid reason that is not directly financial. Miniatures, in my mind, are important to have visible early for two reasons. First, the ones I have commissioned are really cool. Not having enough miniatures locked in early is a deal breaker for a large swath of backers. Second, a large percentage of the ones you have seen, even if only teased, are already sculpted or in process. The ones that are unlocked are, with a single exception, finished.

Second the written estimates that guaranteed a certain price point were slower in coming than I expected.  No amount of civilized emails or phone calls could make them appear (two of the most important ones took literally daily phone calls for a over a week to even get a response). I know better now, but back around Christmas I never thought three months would not be enough time for a final estimate and guaranteed production dates on everything.

Forced to overestimate some basic costs I had to use what I was able quantify. Although this project is not about profit, for me at least, I have a responsibility to not go broke either. The largest expense in making custom miniatures is the sculpting and that had already been paid for and the remaining production costs of those are well-known enough by me to maintain financial integrity while guaranteeing on-time delivery.

As it stands I have a meeting with a supplier Tuesday and a backer survey is being sent out no later than Monday which both give me a final answer on what is possible and then lock in everything so I can plan accordingly.

restless_undeadSo more of both types are on the way with the bonus of being able to combine some of the ones I had to delay with the already announced minis. Even better for the project, things have shown a consistent positive daily funding rate, gaining either backers or increased pledges while losing very few existing backers, with no signs of changing. Projects do better at the end, especially when they have realistic AND quality stretch goals, which I feel we do.

I do want to say something regarding the survey that I put out to backers. I am completely serious about letting people who have pledged money having a real say what goes into the final product. I do not investigate (or care) what pledge level backers are at when the survey gets sent out for a vote. So if anyone is even thinking of backing, I encourage them to do so now even if only for $1. Just a buck gets you the link to the feedback and voting that ultimately decides the rewards.

IT: Kickstarter projects have had some large success, large failures, and everything in between. A lot of people are getting more nervous of backing things due to delays on delivery. Why is your project different?

ZG: Easy. It is already paid for by me. Except for actual production expenses everything is that is directly related to the text (art is a big part of this) or to pre-production (Sculpts on the minis for example) has a receipt. In two cases I have funds in the bank explicitly to pay the balance on in process components.

As to fulfillment I have the same answer, if it could be done before I hit the launch button on the project, it was done. If the project ended today it would ship early. Judging by everything I know right now it will wind up in the funding range I expected by next Friday. If that is how it goes the rewards will arrive complete and on time. Barring Felicia Day tweeting every nerd on the internet with a twitter account and begging them to back Whisper & Venom, I am confident I have the ability to ensure on-time delivery. (Felicia, I know you read the Iron Tavern so please tweet away and I will figure something out 🙂 ).

Some things are not possible to plan (health problems for example) but I am willing to assume as much of the risk on this that I can. Simply stated, if you have not received anything at all from me by mail at the end of January of 2014 I will give you a refund. I am asking for a lot from backers simply on faith I can do this. I feel that I owe them at least a commitment to get you what I said I would and a public admission of what will happen should I not follow-through.

I can’t guarantee you will like the product (though my confidence is high in that regard) but you will get something from Lesser Gnome by then. Even if I have to mail a second packages at my expense, you will get at least one significant parcel on time.

I have backed a lot of projects. When I do back them I always select a reward that is shipped. Of the nearly 70 I have backed- two are famously late but I know they are coming, 37 are (or were) a couple of months late and three were out and out fraudulent with one more on the brink of being number four.

I am not going to allow my project to be like any of those, I value my reputation more than I value the level of money we are talking about here.

If anyone is considering backing and they would like to ask me any specific questions I encourage you message me through Kickstarter. I always have time to answer these kinds of questions.

Also, If you have been burned by a Kickstarter project recently but find Whisper & Venom interesting, once again feel free to contact me so you can get a better feel for my judgement and planning.

IT: You have Alyssa Faden working with you on this project. From the previews of the regional map the work looks great. How has it been seeing your world brought to life with her maps?

ZG: It does look great. It will look even better at 42″ x 30″ on a table, or in my case, in a frame.

Exciting, yet also a little humbling. Which is the case with all my visual professionals- Jeff, Lloyd and Alyssa have taken my imagination and made it unbelievably vivid and unquestioningly better.

ColorMapPreviewAlyssa’s contribution is a special case for me on a personal level. Fantasy cartography has always been my personal obsession since my first copy of Darlene’s World of Greyhawk Map. As a kid, I loved knowing just enough of a story to have a foundation in a setting and then using that foundation as a basis for imagination. I would spend hours staring at large maps imagining events in the far off corners. Quests, wars, pestilence and much worse would go through my mind as I imagined complete histories and cultures in my head for hours on end.

To put it another way, places only alluded to in games or novels have always seemed the most interesting. Couple that with a stunning representation of such a places on a map and I still think about those elements 20 years later.

Thus, the poster maps and module gatefold maps are two of the most viscerally nostalgia inducing items for me. I knew what I saw in my mind and thought it was interesting enough visually to justify hiring a professional to get it made. After Alyssa graciously accepted a commission from me, I was nervous giving her anything that would convey what I was thinking in a manner that she could use.

I should never have worried. It was all there in her first draft map I saw. All there but better in both logic and form than what I started with in my own mind. Alyssa made the Whisper Vale very real and very beautiful. If anyone ever needs a map I am confident that you could not get a better piece of art than what get from her.

She has the added virtue of being super cool as well 🙂

IT: Whisper & Venom appears designed for the old-school gamers at its heart, though compatible with any fantasy system. Will the setting be truly systemless or will their be a default system used for stats in the product?

ZG: That has turned out to be a subject where I was surprised a bit by a few gamers with very strong opinions. The answer is long, but I want potential backers to know exactly where I am coming from. Before you read my answer I think it is fair to point out that I like almost every role-playing game I have ever sat in on, so my opinion on the merits of any single system reflect that i.e. I am elastic about some things and not wedded to any single system.

Whisper & Venom is truly a tribute to the feel of older rule-sets and during the early drafts I did indeed use the rules I was most familiar with while preparing the most basic elements of its design. Very early on I intentionally switched gears and wrote it to be rules light- trusting the GM to use whichever mechanics they think is best for their game.

I believe we have one of the smartest, most literate and fastest thinking pool of devotees of any hobby that doesn’t involve differential equations or building robots. Couple that fanbase with the fact that fantasy role-playing has been around longer than I have (which feels like a very long time nowadays 🙂 ) and the result is a pool of game masters that share some pretty robust skills.

Whisper & Venom is compatible with any system in the sense that it has a series of interesting locales, non-player characters, story possibilities, and new opponents that have been depicted by professional artists. The hard part of running a game, in my mind as a GM, is completed already for you in Whisper & Venom. I haven’t meet a GM yet that could honestly say they could not improvise anything into something useful with a modicum of effort. They may prefer not to for a variety of valid reasons, but to make any scenario playable is completely within their abilities.

Whisper & Venom is not something I would feel comfortable recommending for any tournament style play or for use in a role-playing association. There is no final reward, single-solution puzzle or best way to accomplish anything laid out in its pages. Additionally, as it has its own regional setting, it would not have important recognizable elements that make those kinds of things a shared experience.

The adventure portion was designed with older systems in mind simply because those are the style with which I am most familiar. I am confident it will work just as well using any system with minimal adjustments. Even stripped of any rule mechanics it still provides maps, figurines, setting information and non-player characters with short written histories.

The vast majority of you truly do not NEED system specific rule guidelines in any adventure product- I really believe that. I did, however, intentionally design it as a low to mid-level adventure to minimize the complications involved with high level spells or feats.

That being said, while I did the bulk of the writing I wrote it using modern simulacrum rules- specifically Labyrinth Lord and OSRIC. The playtest sessions used the same. Combat tests were done with 3e and DCC as well.

When I lock in the final stats in July after backer content is evaluated and included; the numbers I will include and reference will be for Labyrinth Lord. I do this simply because I know the rules can be downloaded for free.

A conversion section, at the very least, will be included. If I am at a slightly higher total funding level a week from today than Kicktraq is showing I can expect, I do more than just Conversion tables. I am 100% prepared to invest a significant amount of money to hire an experienced, published freelance professional to do a total overhaul of all the encounters in Whisper & Venom for Pathfinder.

IT: Tell us a little about your gaming history? How did you get your start in gaming? What games are you playing today?

ZG: My age put me dead center in the peak years of TSR’s pop-culture popularity.

My Mom bought me the Moldvay Basic D&D Box Set from a Sears catalog. Followed by a great deal of games and accessories from that era. I didn’t own too many different rule sets, especially after I settled into 1st Edition AD&D, but amongst my friends we had a huge number of classic RPGs. One of my true highlights was when I got a week of detention in grade school for carrying a copy of Eldritch Wizardry on the playground; I was incredulous about it but it was during the time when D&D was dangerous. Right-thinking moms in our town tried to curtail us from playing but we played all the time.

thopas_paintedBy the time I was in 7th grade we had moved to a smaller town and there were fewer players. Which was bad, but the worst was having no game store. So my rate of acquisitions was slowed considerably. What I did have though was time and all the core rule books which I read like novels. I am a Tolkien fanatic though and we did play a great deal of MERP.

In High School we branched out to other game genres. Traveller was popular for awhile, as was Twilight: 2000. War games were a fascination of mine, but nobody would even try to play those with me. Even now at conventions specifically meant for games from that era I never see Star Fleet Battles at a table. The closest I got in that regard back then was Battletech.

From there it was PC games pretty exclusively. No FPS games; instead it was games like Bungie’s Myth or  X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter. Not finishing Planescape: Torment is a black mark on my otherwise solid nerd resume.

I tried to play Games Workshop games but I was too poor. Everyone who was playing was ten years younger and could field armies worth as much as my car. So I quit and haven’t been much of a fan of their stuff since (except Blood Bowl).

Then I got a career in politics and lost my mojo during the whole d20 era. I bought the 3e books and played a few times but the nature of my job isolated from like-minded nerds. The only game my co-workers played was golf and the attribute that mattered to them was charisma.

Then WoW was released and I thought “I have a couple of free hours a week maybe that would be fun”… 3 years later I logged off.

Now I mostly play RPGs at conventions but I make a point to try everything offered that I hadn’t played before. My wife thinks its funny but people do ask me very pointed questions about ruleset preferences. The answer is that if I was to choose now from the actual older rule-sets I would lean toward the Moldvay/Cook BX Sets or the amazing BECMI sets by Frank Mentzer.

I have played a ton of newer simulacrum varieties and updated FRPG sets at conventions or one off get togethers including: Labyrinth Lord; OSRIC; Adventurer, Conqueror, King; Dungeon Crawl Classics; Astonishing Swordsman & Sorcerers of Hyperborea; Swords & Wizardry and others I am sure I have forgotten.  Dungeon Crawl Classics is my current favorite of these types of games but it is also the last one I played. When I play another round of AS&SH I will probably decide that one is my favorite until I move on.

I have played but I am no expert with: Pathfinder, HackMaster and the newest editions of the worlds most popular fantasy role-playing game. I like them very much and I own them all but have yet to give them their due. Of those systems, I am the most interested in Pathfinder.

My most recent gaming achievement was becoming the Circus Maximus champion at the North Texas Role-Playing Game Convention a few weeks ago. The trophy just arrived and sits where my wedding pictures used to.

So yeah, I like games.

IT: Gnomes, gnomes, gnomes. Why gnomes and why Thopas?

ZG: I will turn the tables on you on this question.

Cars, Cars, Cars. Why cars and why Ferrari? 🙂

Honestly, it because of my life long good friend John Hammerle. He is the other gnome in Lesser Gnome (he finally found a use for graduate school literature classes and has edited most every sentence of Whisper & Venom). As kids he started playing a gnome illusionist. As this is a family friendly website I will simply say he played that illusionist in a style unbefitting a civilized person. Foul, greedy, secretive and incredibly lusty- he was John’s complete opposite.

thopasHe was also a party favorite that became an NPC who popped up in all kinds of games. Finally he had a second career in World of Warcraft that to this day seems surreal. It was so bizarre seeing other people’s reaction to him. He would get the most unusual private messages that ran the gamut from sexual to sinister, all while being played by a guy who doesn’t even swear. The same guy who hates telephones, has no use for twitter, prefers books to people and only goes to social functions when his wife makes him.

So when I started writing Whisper & Venom, as a way to pass some downtime in the hospital, I wanted to add an NPC that would be memorable. However, I did not want one who was central to the story or whose actions were necessary for any part of its enjoyment. Most importantly I did not want an NPC that had a role as a moral compass or benevolent sage that nudged players in certain directions.

The only moral Thopas has is amoral.

Go with what you know 🙂

Wrap Up

The Iron Tavern wants to thank Zach for taking the time for this interview. If the Whisper & Venom project looks interesting to you, stop by their Kickstarter and check out their various patronage levels. There is still eight days left as of this post!

Interview: Dave Gross

Master of Devils CoverThis interview is a repost from a past interview I did for the Seekers of Secrets Pathfinder blog. The original interview on that blog is no longer accessible, I wanted to preserve the interview here at The Iron Tavern.

Seekers of Secrets recently had the privilege to interview Dave Gross, the author of the upcoming Pathfinder Tales novel Master of Devils. Pathfinder Tales is the fantasy fiction line published by Paizo. Master of Devils is the fifth novel in the line and is due for release on August 4th.

Dave Gross has a strong presence within the Pathfinder Tales line with his tales featuring Count Varian Jeggare and his bodyguard Radovan. Dave wrote the first novel to kick off the Pathfinder Tales novel line with Prince of Wolves. He also has written Hell’s Pawns (appeared in the Council of Thieves Adventure Path), Husks (appearing in the upcoming Jade Regent Adventure Path) and the short stories The Lost Pathfinder and A Lesson in Taxonomy which appeared in the web fiction published weekly on Paizo’s site. He also co-wrote Winter Witch with Elaine Cunningham.

Master of Devils finds Count Jeggare and Radovan in Tian Xia, the far side of Golarion on a mission for the Pathfinder Society.  The Count sheltering in the Dragon Temple and Radovan trapped in the body of a devil, held hostage by the Quivering Palm, learning the secret of conquering an immortal enemy culminating in an ultimate showdown with the Master of Devils. The book is an excellent read and certain to thrill fantasy readers of all types!

And with that, let the interview begin!


Your work for Pathfinder Tales is written from a first person point-of-view perspective and in addition alternates between characters with this style of perspective. What led you to choose this perspective in your writing? What advantages do you find this perspective brings? What challenges do you find this perspective bring to your writing?

When Paizo’s fiction editor, James Sutter, first talked to me about writing Pathfinder fiction, we batted around a few ideas, one of which became “Hell’s Pawns,” a novella that introduced the characters of Radovan and the Count.  My initial thought was to tell the story from the points-of-view of both characters, alternating between their experiences in low and high society. As the outline took shape, however, I began to feel there wasn’t room in six chapters to do that effectively, so I decided to limit the narrative to a single point of view.

I focused on Radovan, who in the pitch was a kind of Watson to Jeggare’s Holmes. Around that time I’d been watching a lot of film noir, so “Watson” soon became a tough guy in the mold of Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. At that point it seemed natural to tell the story from only Radovan’s point of view—in first-person and in present tense, like a hard-boiled detective story.

When James asked for novel pitches featuring the same characters, I wanted to add Jeggare’s POV to the story. That way I could take the reader places where Radovan wasn’t welcome, and I could sometimes show the same scene from conflicting perspectives. Also, alternating POVs gave me another tool for building suspense.

After outlining Prince of Wolves, I wasn’t sure first-person would work for Jeggare, and I suspected present-tense was wrong for him too. In fact I wrote the first four or five chapters in third-person, once in present tense and once in past, before switching to the alternating first-person past-tense once I found Jeggare’s voice. The flash-forward prologue remains in present-tense, which I figured was a good way to establish that it appeared out of sequence. It was my idea of a teaser movie trailer.

What I like about the alternating first-person is that it lets me switch from hard-boiled detective to Merchant Ivory period dramas, both of which I love. It lets me emphasize with voice the different worlds in which Radovan and the Count live, and it helps me demonstrate their different reactions to the same characters and events.

One challenge I face with this approach is that I notice each character’s voice intruding sometimes on the other’s narrative. That’s the first thing I look to revise after the first draft, but every once in a while I try to use it to build the relationship between the two men. If I catch a high-falutin’ word in a Radovan chapter, for instance, I might rewrite the line ironically: “It was what the boss might call ‘copious’ bleeding,” for example.

Count Jeggare and Radovan and appear to be quite popular characters amongst the followers of Pathfinder fiction. What do you think explains their popularity among the Pathfinder Tales fans?

Varian Jeggare I can’t really speak for others, but what I like about them is that they’re the classic odd couple. Their differences offer me lots of opportunities for both drama and humor. And neither of them is a sidekick, even though Radovan is the Count’s employee. Either one could be the hero of his own story. In fact, one of the pitches for the novel that became Prince of Wolves was a Radovan-only novel.  I get the impression that while many readers like them both, most everyone has a favorite.

You note that your impression is that many readers have a favorite, Radovan or Count Jeggare. Are you willing to reveal your favorite?

Especially in the beginning, it seemed that Radovan got a lot more love, but over time I’ve heard from more and more people who prefer the Count and also from quite a few who can’t choose between them. It seems that Radovan still has the edge, but I wonder whether that balance will shift after Master of Devils, since some of the early readers have told me this book makes him more sympathetic.

I’m perfectly willing to reveal my favorite, except I truly don’t have one. I think Radovan is easier to like, but if you’ve known someone with Jeggare’s flaws long enough-or if you’ve had them yourself-he becomes more sympathetic over time.

I have heard you mention that a dollop of whiskey helps you write Radovan. What helps you write Count Jeggare? Who do you find it easier to write – Radovan or Count Jeggare?

Radovan is tons easier to write, and despite my joke at the reading, it’s usually four hot cups of black coffee and some death metal that gets me in the mood for writing his chapters.

That said, there are times when I’m just more in the mood to write from Count Jeggare’s point of view. I do sometimes approach his chapters with a glass of malbec and a classic jazz mix.

When you write, do you write several chapters as Radovan and then switch to Count Jeggare, or do you alternate between the two as you write, keeping the timeline more in sync as you go?

My intention is always to write the story chronologically, alternating points of view. But sometimes I wake up in the morning and just don’t “hear” the voice I need for that day, so I skip ahead. I can almost always call up Radovan’s voice, but Jeggare’s is fickle.

In Master of Devils especially, Count Jeggare’s story is more of a progressive arc, while Radovan’s is more episodic. Thus, I often went straight from finishing one Jeggare chapter to starting the next because it was more important to keep the continuity fresh in mind.

The voice of the third POV character didn’t come easily at first-as with Jeggare’s early chapters in Prince of Wolves, I ended up rewriting Chapter Five a few times. Also, for reasons you understand when reading the story, the voice evolves over its six chapters. So when I felt that I had that voice in my head, sometimes I wrote past the current chapter to keep it going.

Venture-Captain Jeggare is becoming quite the prolific character. Is there any possibility of him making an appearance in Pathfinder Society scenarios?

That’s something that’s never come up, but I suppose it could happen one day if the game developers wanted to do it. I love seeing elements of the novel appear in the game, but I’m seldom much aware of it before publication.

You’ve edited magazines for TSR, Wizards of the Coast and Paizo Publishing. What was your first big break into fantasy writing? How did you get involved with writing for Paizo Publishing?

My first real professional sale was a short story that I pitched in response to an open call for new writers by the TSR book department. I did that once or twice more before being invited to write a short novel, and that snowballed. My first full-length novel was Black Wolf (2001), one of the Sembia novels from Wizards of the Coast. I revisited those characters in Lord of Stormweather and a couple of short stories around that period.

A few years after I’d left Paizo, I ran into Erik Mona and Pierce Watters at the World Fantasy Convention in Calgary. Erik told me of his plans to launch a Pathfinder Tales line, now that Paizo had some experience in book publishing via the (wonderful, fabulous, check them out now) Planet Stories line. I expressed enthusiasm, he put me in touch with James Sutter, and the rest of the story is in the answer to your first question.

Tell us a little about your gaming experience. Do these experiences color your writing?

A middle-school friend and his elder brother introduced me to D&D when they were still using the tan saddle-stitched rules. I was soon hooked and began DMing my own games throughout high school and college. The latter was probably my favorite period of gaming, since my group took turns DMing in our shared version of the Forgotten Realms setting.

Once I began working for TSR, I had less time for a regular game. But there my gaming experience broadened. When I worked for the RPGA, I was the guy who was happy to edit the non-D&D tournaments, so I fell in love with a lot of different games. And while editing the magazines, I often sat in on playtests. Among my favorites were those run by Lester Smith, whose love of dark and creepy games I share.

If gaming influences my writing, it’s probably in that I like many of the same things about gaming that I like in fiction. A good horror game can make the hairs on my nape stand up, so I like to go for a good scare in stories. I love romance and intrigue in both media. I love questioning the morality of the violence without sucking the life out of it. I love using familiar creatures and magic in unfamiliar ways.

Your upcoming novel, Master of Devils, takes place in Tian Xia, a region that has not been covered in Pathfinder Campaign setting materials to any significant degree yet. Did you find working in this relatively undefined region challenging? Did Paizo give you relatively free reign in this area for your work?

Working without more than a few sentences of source material was about 1% frightening and 99% exciting. The Pathfinder developers offered me huge trust and freedom once I narrowed the setting of Master of Devils to a single country in an area roughly analogous to a region in China.

It probably also helped that they believed in the pitch: “Radovan & the Count versus Every Kung Fu Movie Ever.” That set the action far from Minkai—the Pathfinder analog to Japan, where the latter half of the Jade Regent Adventure Path takes place—and established a different paradigm for what the boys would face. There was no question of my needing the as-yet-unwritten rules for samurai and ninja, because there would be no such characters in the novel. (That said, the serial novella “Husks” in the Jade Regent Adventure Path is full of both samurai and ninja.)

In Master of Devils you add a third perspective to the normal Count Jeggare and Radovan perspective we saw in Prince of Wolves. I found this perspective extremely enjoyable, what drove you to take on adding another perspective for this novel? Is this third perspective one we can look forward to in future novels centered on Count Jeggare and Radovan?

In kung fu movies, there’s a vast range of styles and settings, from fairly realistic war dramas to high fantasy. I wanted to include it all. Adding the third character gave me a little more room to show off the incredible variety of Chinese-style fantasy adventures.

RadovanThus, Count Jeggare’s story is more a journey of romance and intrigue. Radovan faces battle after battle with increasingly powerful opponents. And the third character travels in a world of reincarnated spirits, whispering spiders, cloud-eating goblins, and a few classic monsters you might recognize from your earliest RPG sessions. The three stories still take place in the same world, and there are elements of magic and action in all three, but each has a different sensibility.

Also, both Radovan and the Count are pretty flawed heroes. I wanted to add a thread of undiminished heroism through their story, and to my mind that third POV character is that kind of perfect—if unorthodox—hero.

While that third POV fits this story, I don’t know whether I’d automatically include it in a future novel. I love the idea of a third POV character to act as a foil to the boys, but who that is depends on the nature of the story. What seemed a good fit in Master of Devils might not work in another novel.

But never say never.

From reading your blog it seems Master of Devils was influenced heavily by kung fu or wuxia movies. For readers of the novel whose interest is piqued by this novel, what top three wuxia style movies would you recommend to someone relatively new to the genre?

My approach to the novel was to write it for readers who’d never seen (or even haven’t liked) a kung fu movie. I hope those who enjoy the book will check out some of the films I recommend at I’ve only about a hundred more to post.

Three of my favorite films representing different aspects of the kung fu genre include Hero, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, and The Bride with White Hair. It’s hard to recommend just three, because there are so many other must-see movies, especially for gamers. I’ve written a “Kung Fu Movies for Gamers” article for Kobold Quarterly, and I’ll link to more such articles at my blog.

With Prince of Wolves we saw riffle scrolls introduced and Tian Xia seems continue to add to Count Jeggare’s bag of tricks. Do you enjoy finding new ways to use magic within your novels?

I definitely do, although I like it best when the magic is essential to the character—as it is with Jeggare and his fraught history as a wizard—and when it helps make the story more mysterious. If you use only magic whose rules your readers know by heart, it becomes ho-hum. I want the magic in these novels to feel as though it belongs in the Golarion setting but also to keep the readers guessing. Usually I have the game rules in mind, but I try to describe the effects in fresh terms. For example, when Azra heals Radovan in Prince of Wolves, she performs a dancing ritual that reveals a bit of her personality and hints at her unusual background instead of simply “casting cure serious wounds.”

With Master of Devils officially releasing at Gen Con Indy this year, what other projects do you have in the pipeline?

This month posts “A Voyage to Absalom,” a free four-part mystery that takes place between Prince of Wolves and Master of Devils. Also, in the Jade Regent Adventure Path, Radovan and the Count follow a trail of bodies through a city in Minkai in “Husks,” the Pathfinder Journal.

The one other project I can mention is a short story in Robin D. Laws’s anthology Shotguns v. Cthulhu, coming out this fall from Stone Skin Press. My contribution is a twitchy little revisionist history centered on the destruction of a famous Seattle landmark in 2002.


Seekers of Secrets wants to thank Dave for taking the time to answer our questions. It was a pleasure interviewing him. Be sure to follow Dave Gross at his blog to learn more of his upcoming works and to hear more on his kung fu movie recommendations!  He has also posted his Gen Con schedule for those who will be at Gen Con. Be sure to swing by the Paizo booth at Gen Con and pick up a copy of Master of Devils and chat with him in person!

Interview: Quinn Conklin

Occult_MoonThe Iron Tavern recently interviewed Quinn Conklin, one of the driving forces behind the Toys for the Sandbox series from Occult Moon. In addition to writing the weekly fantasy series he also has a role in the post-apocalyptic and science fiction flavors of Toys for the Sandbox as well.

Because keeping a weekly series churning out is not enough to keep the man busy, he also has taken up writing some adventures for new to the scene, BareBones Fantasy, a rules-light fantasy RPG from DwD Studios.

Quinn also has a couple of side projects that he picks up as time permits. Between all of this he still manages to squeeze in some time for gaming!

And with that, let the interview begin!


The first thing that comes to my mind when I hear the name Quinn Conklin is the Toys for the Sandbox weekly series you write for Occult Moon. Can you tell us a little more about that series?

Kings GateThe core of the series is a simple idea. Develop a location that a GM can drop into their game when they need to add a bit of color. But a setting is just a place to make it come alive it needs history,people and a bit of bustle. So each issue of Toys has a bit of flavor text covering the history of the place and what it looks like, four NPCs that could be encountered there, six plot hooks with three twists each to serve as a launchpad for an adventure and a few (usually magic) items that the party might find there as well.

For readers unfamiliar with the Toys for the Sandbox series, are they written with a specific system in mind or are they system neutral?

They are system neutral which presents its own set of challenges, I can’t describe a magic sword as +5 I have to use phrases such as gives a significant bonus to damage.

Which issue is your favorite in the series so far? What makes it stand out for you?

That is a hard question, when I am writing one I am very excited about it, but that fades as I move on to the next. A few do stand out, The Dormant Volcano comes to mind mainly for the character of Jeremy, a young man who drank from a cursed pool and is now stuck in the body of a flying squirrel while the squirrel is running around in his body. The Weeping Widow has a lot of plot lines started that have spread out to other issues, and the recent arc I have been working on, The City by the Sea, has been fun as well and has let me explore some issue about race and politics.

You have a print version of the first 18 issues of Toys for the Sandbox coming up. How has that been coming together? Do you have an anticipated release date for this print version?

Honestly it has been slow. The series has gone through a lot of growth since it started back in January. We started with a four page product and now are up to around 13. Some of that came from great NPC descriptions and back story and that meant going back and updating some of the old text so each would have a standard feel. Also when I started writing Toys and was trying to keep things to the four pages I tended to have ideas that did not fit so they wound up posted on the Occult Moon website. In doing the print edition we decided to make room for those posts as well.

As to release date, I have the proof in hand now and so does my editor, we have come across a few last minute changes that need making and then we will be putting it up for sale. My hope is that we can have it go live on the 26th.

There are two spin-offs of the Toys for the Sandbox series that cover the sci-fi and apocalypse genres. Those are a little earlier in their lifecycle. What has been your role in those lines?

Old Coffee HouseThese two series have always been planned as a limited run project. The target was 10 issues of each but as usually happens we had more to say then we thought and the Post Apocalypse Toys line wound up going to 11. Sci Fi is still going on and publishing monthly rather than weekly. I have not been that active in Sci Fi Toys line other than creating the flavor text, character, and hook format. With PA Toys I co-wrote it with Gary Montgomery and did the design and layout.

The publication schedule you adhere to for these series is what many would consider quite aggressive. Between writing the product, getting it through layout, and published for sale, how do you keep up?

The key for me is having a process. Monday after the new issue goes on sale I know it is time to start working on the next issue, I need to have the flavor text and characters done by Tuesday night so I can send them off to my artists so they have time to work. That keeps the momentum going and the rest of it just flows.

By now the layout is not that hard to get through, I have a template I work from and it is really just a matter of plugging the pieces in.

Do you have issues already written and in the queue? Or is the issue you work on this week the one you will be publishing on Monday of the following week?

I would love to try and have issues in the queue and I have managed to make it happen a few times but it never lasts. One of my first paid writing gigs was working for writing daily news. So coming out of an environment where I would get a call at 7 a.m. saying there was a protest going on at such and such a place and having the story in by noon, a weekly schedule is not that insane.

In addition to writing volume you also have the pressure to come up with a new idea every week. How do you come up with that many workable ideas and turn it into a product week after week?

Again I do it by having a plan in place. I try to alternate issues between wilderness and city locations for starters. The other thing I do is set up large locations and explore them, The Hermits Island, The Pirate Island and now the City by the Sea are good examples. When I have these series within the series going I don’t want to beat people over the head with them so I usually work on those every other issue or every three depending on the scope of the place.

But sometimes ideas are hard to come buy, if I really hit a snag i will take requests on G+ for things that people want to see, The Hamlet Under the Waterfall and the Wandering Wells of Mistomore are issues that started that way.

Other times it is just a matter of asking the world around me the right question. Issue 49 The Salt Mine is a good example of that. I was sitting down to brunch with my character artist, it was Tuesday morning and I had no idea what I was going to write about still. I looked at the table and started thinking about the condiments and asking them where they were going to take me today. We are probably lucky the salt shaker answered before the hot sauce.

Tell us a little about your gaming background. What were the first games you played?

I started off on AD&D and the original Red Box in the early 80’s or perhaps the late 70’s, it was 3rd or 4th grade. Champions, Gamma World and Star Frontiers were other games I had early but did not play much. FASERIP Marvel was the game we played through half of high school then we moved our supers world to the Palladium system.

What games are on your current playlist?

The big ones for me at the moment are Dungeon World, BareBones Fantasy, and Fate Core. My home group has really loved the Dresden Files but then people moved and syncing schedules got rough. The writing schedule does not give me as much time to play as I like.

We’ve talked about Toys for the Sandbox and associated projects. As we begin to turn the corner to a new year, what else do you have in store for us?

A few other things on the Toys front, we are planing to get the rest of this year’s back issues collected in two more omnibuses in the first quarter of 2013. After that the PA toys line will get its own collection and when the first run of Sci Fi toys is done it gets an omnibus. Also year two of toys will be rolling out at the same breakneck pace.

I have a few irons in the fire and it will be interesting to see where they go, I have been working on a pair of systems that I hope to have ready for release in the next year. One is a story game called Agents and Champions that is more in the vain of DO or Fiasco but crunchier than both. The other is my own fantasy RPG called Whack Pack Adventures, that one started to see a lot of feature bloat and I needed to walk away for a bit.

I am also working with DwD Studios and writing adventures for BareBones Fantasy.

Can you tell us a little more about Whack Pack Adventures?

WPA is sort of my answer to the OSR scene but rather than trying to create a game that models the rulesets I loved in high school I am working on something that models the feel of those games. We, and by we I mean my gaming group when I was growing up, would play these pick up games that we just called Whack Pack. It had an anything goes mentality with people playing monsters and the dice falling where they may.

It is hard to say more without getting into specifics of the game you know 20 races, separation of race and culture in character creation, spell customization, every things is combat, blah blah blah…

BBF Bigger ProblemBareBones Fantasy from DwD Studios has been on my radar. You wrote A Bigger Problem for them, right? Tell us a little more about writing adventures for the BareBones Fantasy system.

Yep I wrote A Bigger Problem and the follow up The Children of the Giants Fist. Currently I am working on the last part of that story arc.

Writing adventures is weird for me because I am the guy who never ran a module, well almost never. I tried to run one canned adventure for Brave New Worlds and wound up literally throwing the thing over my shoulder as the party saw a solution that was logical and so far off the rails of the printed material that it was useless to me at that point.

This is something that I have kept in mind as I have been writing for BBF. Make the players choice count for something, though that might not be obvious in the first two installments since those are about the players reacting to problems in town but even then there are opportunities for real choices by the players.

The system is easy to write for but does not feel too simple. A lot of rules light games, at least for me do not offer much in the way of room for characters to grow, that is not something I feel with BBF. The world feels big and the people in it feel real and the system has let me write some complex skill challenges that are more interesting than pass or fall to your death.

The guys over at DwD are great to work with as well.  Larry Moore is always encouraging me to expand their world, add monsters and magic and all that good stuff. And Bill Logan is good about asking the right questions to put the polish on things.


The Iron Tavern wants to thank Quinn for taking the time to answer my questions. It was a pleasure interviewing him!

Interview: Jon Marr of Purple Sorcerer Games

The Iron Tavern recently had the privilege to interview Jon Marr of Purple Sorcerer Games. Purple Sorcerer Games is a third-party publisher for Goodman Games Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG.

Jon and Purple Sorcerer Games have been busy publishing new adventures for Dungeon Crawl Classics such as Perils of the Sunken City, The Ooze Pits of Jonas Gralk and the soon to be released A Gathering of the Marked.

In addition to adventures being published Purple Sorcerer Games, Jon has been putting out some wonderful electronic tools for Dungeon Crawl Classics as well. These tools include a 0-level character creator, an upper level character creator and the Crawler’s Companion that is being released for tablets of Android and iOS flavors due to their successful Kickstarter.

And with that, let the interview begin!

Tell us a little about Purple Sorcerer Games?

Purple Sorcerer Games grew out of a free utility I created for the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG beta. I knew the totally random nature of creating 0-level characters cried out for a character generator, so I built one over the first weekend after I downloaded the beta. As I began creating an adventure to test the characters I was spitting out, I got the idea to create a location that would make it easy to introduce lots of new parties and adventures. When I showed Perils of the Sunken City to Joseph Goodman from Goodman games, he suggested I become a third party publisher, and here we are.

How did you get your start in gaming?

I’m one of the herd of old-timers that got started in middle school in the late 70’s. I can still remember my first exposure: overhearing a friend in the library describing a magic item. Something electric went through me and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Which gaming system did you first start with in the late ’70’s when your gaming interest began?

The first time I played D&D was with a friend who had the white box, though my clearest memory is having my Mom drive me to a neighboring town to purchase the blue box from an awesome used book store that sold games. I remember waiting for the first DMG to arrive.

We quickly branched out to most the early systems: Traveler, Runequest, Chivalry & Sorcerery, The Fantasy Trip, Gamma World, etc. I also spent many Saturdays at the local ‘wargaming society’ playing Squad Leader, Panzerblitz, Ogre, etc. Fun times!

Purple Sorcerer Games develops and designs adventures and software tools for the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG from Goodman Games. What attracts you to the DCC RPG?

I think the chief thing was just accessibility: the DCC RPG beta gave me a good chance to kick the tires and find out what I liked. I really am of the opinion that the group, and especially the GM, is far more important than the system, but the DCC RPG checks a number of the boxes that are important to me. I liked 3E, but it got a big unwieldy for me at anything past 8th level. 4E was fun, but lacked a certain magic. The DCC RPG is wild, unpredictable and focused on adventure. In other words, built for fun.

Purple Sorcerer largely appears to be a one man effort. Do you have other members on your team? How do you find time to write the online tools, orchestrate a Kickstarter campaign, and release adventure modules for the game? What does a typical day look like?

The last few months have been crazy. I’ll likely be adding some additional contributors in the future, but for now it’s me and my son. (Who helps out with creating the paper miniatures we release with our adventures.) Like most RPG developers, I have a full time job, though I work from home with a very flexible schedule which helps. Most of my adventure/ online tools development happens between midnight and 3 am. It’s been a steady stream of 12-14 hour days during the last stretch, but I’m working out how to spread things out so I don’t get burned out.

Which do you prefer – writing adventures or developing the tools for Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG that Purple Sorcerer offers?

I think they’re very complimentary activities, and it’s one of the reasons I love doing this. I’m a graphic designer/web developer by trade, and was a history major and writer in college, so the things I do for Purple Sorcerer covers all the bases. If I keep rotating between the various aspects that use different parts of the brain I never get bored.

You recently released The Ooze Pits of Jonas Gralk, the second in the Sunken City set of adventures. Can you tell us a little more about the Sunken City and this most recent release?

The Sunken City is the remains of a great city that has now been largely overtaken by swamp over the course of hundreds of years. Players travel back and forth into the city using demon-powered sending stones. The grand idea for the Sunken City adventures was to create three 0-level adventures: a dungeon crawl, a wilderness/town adventure, and a haunted house. The Ooze Pits of Jonas Gralk is the wilderness/town adventure, and I had a tremendous time stuffing it full of strange swamp monsters and stranger villagers.

Perils of the Sunken City used black and white for the content inside the adventure, whereas The Ooze Pits of Jonas Gralk switched to a color interior. Why the switch?

I love the black and white look of the Goodman Games adventures and Doug Kovacs’ fantastic maps and art. The maps in Perils of the Sunken City were something of an homage to that look. But the first piece of art I created for The Ooze Pits was the Slither’s End town map, and it looked so nice in color I decided to make a switch. Also, I’ll be combining all the Sunken City adventures into a full color hardcover book when they’re complete, so it made sense to make the change now.

From the adventures I have read so far, you seem to hit the “Appendix N” feel of Dungeon Crawl Classics very well. Were you well versed in “Appendix N” literature prior to the launch of Purple Sorcerer games?

I’d read most the classics that others had: LOTR, The Complete Enchanter, Dying Earth, etc, but I’d guess the biggest Appendix N influence for my adventures would be the Lankhmar novels. I love the blend of humor, terror and gonzo imagination.

With your the Lankhmar influence, it begs the question – Fafhrd or Gray Mouser?

The Mouser’s pathos is fun, but I have to say Fafhrd’s, well ‘innocence’ isn’t the right word, but his straightforward world view appeals to me. I’ve been re-reading much of the Lankhmar stuff recently and I’m impressed once again by the sophistication of Fritz Leiber’s writing. I also love that he’s willing to ‘bend genres’ whenever it fits the story. That’s very DCC.

A Gathering of the Marked is the next adventure in the Sunken City series and then your will be moving on to the M series of adventures. Will these be based out of the Sunken City area as well? What level range do you have in mind for the M-series of adventures?

The M-series will chart it’s own course, though there will be links for how to transition from the Sunken City. There will be five adventures, one each for the first five character levels.

You have developed several useful tools on the Purple Sorcerer site, including a 0-level character generator. I know I have used this tool several times. At last count how many 0-level characters have been generated from the tool?

I believe we’re approaching 200,000 eager peasants created. (And the upper level character generator has been used about 10,000 times.)

You recently had a Kickstarter Campaign wrap up for the Crawler’s Companion, an effort to bring Purple Sorcerer tools to tablets of all kinds. What challenges has this project presented you with?

The major challenge is time: working on the program while also turning out the adventures! It’s been interesting dipping a toe in the Mac/iOS side of things, but I’ve learned a lot and things are going well. The backers have been so fabulous, and I try to keep them apprised of what’s going on. We’re still just polishing up the beta, and I have over 40 backers testing the Crawler’s Companion. I’m excited to get working on the extra features, as I really enjoy that aspect of development.

I can imagine finding time has been challenging! With all of the development time for adventures and electronic aids have you had the time to run or play in your own DCC RPG campaign beyond playtesting?

I’ve been following all the Google+ online gaming sessions with great jealousy! Yeah, I haven’t had time for anything outside of playtesting, but I’m looking forward to getting involved once things calm down a bit. I’m likely going to playtest the next Sunken City Adventure online, since I’ve recently moved away from half my regular group! Online GM’ing will be an entirely new experience for me, but I think much of our hobby’s future lies in that direction.

Is there anything else you would like people to know about Purple Sorcerer Games?

Just that I’m so appreciative of everyone’s support, and I’m having a blast creating these things. If you like our free utilities, check out our adventures at RPGNow. They’re fun, they’re a good value, and the sales help support the creation and refinement of all the free stuff we offer online!

The Iron Tavern wants to thank Jon for taking the time to answer my questions. It was a pleasure interviewing him. Be sure to check out the website for Purple Sorcerer Games and see what adventures and tools they have lined up for us!