Q&A with Venger Satanis

It’s not every day that we get to enjoy seeing writer Venger Satanis chime in on tabletop RPGs, so let’s do this, with relish.

Q:  When did it first occur to you that tabletop RPGs could be your thing, and when did you know it for sure?

VS:  I was really into the whole thing – fantasy, sci-fi, horror, comic books, monsters, swords & sorcery, and games of all kinds when I was a kid… and still am, except not as much into comics.

From that first day I got the magenta box set of Basic D&D for my birthday when I was about 10, I thought it was awesome.  Then, Dungeon Mastering came fairly easily to me.  I could come up with new rooms and encounters on the fly, one right after the other for hours.

I wasn’t the best DM back then, but definitely creative and passionate about the game.  Over the years, I’ve tried to go even deeper into the mysteries of roleplaying games.

Q:  Of the many mysteries in roleplaying games, which have you found to be the most intriguing?

VS:  When players are so into the game that it’s as real – or perhaps even more real – than everyday reality.  If a player feels his character’s sadness or joy or fear, it’s a powerful thing.  The game becomes something else… something more than just a game.  That new world and the individuals living on it have a life of their own, independent of the players and GM.

Creating that depth, that sense of immersion makes roleplaying games different than any other activity.  It doesn’t happen every time to the level we’d like, and there’s no magic formula allowing us to automatically get there.  Game Mastery is a mysterious skill.  In my opinion, great GMs should be exalted as highly as great artists or scientists or philosophers.

Q:  The benefits of tabletop RPGing (both tangible and intangible) are well-documented.  In what intangible ways do you feel it has most benefitted you personally?

VS:  It’s my nature to be creative.  I also like to question authority, especially the ultimate authority – reality.  Immersing oneself in another world is creating a different kind of reality that lives inside our imagination.  I can play god without having to worry about all the goblin lives I’m destroying or the fate of Rexil 4 once their sun goes super-nova.

Q:  Speaking of creativity, what are you creating these days?

VS:  I have so many options, it’s difficult to know where to go.  Every time I work on a new project, there’s more work to be done – and then there are all those projects I temporarily neglected!

I’ve got ideas for another investigative horror scenario.  Something a little bit more Lost World / Hollow Earth type pulp.  But who knows where I’ll find the time…

Q:  Trinity of Awesome recently got crowdfunded, and we’re hopeful for its success. What can you tell us here, about the ToA, without giving too much away?

VS:  It should be released as three separate PDFs very soon, and eventually maybe even a collected print edition.  One is fantasy, another sci-fi, and the third horror.  They’re mostly system-less scenarios, but some stats and game mechanics are included for my home systems of Crimson Dragon Slayer, Alpha Blue, and The Outer Presence.

Each one touches a little on H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos with bits of humor, and dark weirdness.

Q:  Alpha Blue looks very interesting.  What can you tell us about that?

VS:  Before creating Alpha Blue, I had wanted to dip my toe into science-fiction.  It’s not my go-to genre and I knew that so many tremendous sci-fi RPGs had come before, so I was looking for a new angle. 

A friend of mine suggested I write a Barbarella type RPG and that got me thinking about all the awesome posts I’d read on the Space: 1970 blog.  So, I went with an overtly 70s concept steeped in sex, sleaze, and all the cheesy, silly, far-out tropes of that milieu, the stuff that resonated with me.

At first, Alpha Blue was just going to be the setting for a campaign – an intergalactic space station brothel.  But then I thought – why not add a few rules to make into a full-fledged RPG?  I modified the rules from my gonzo science-fantasy RPG Crimson Dragon Slayer and the rest is history, as they say.

Image courtesy of Kort'thalis Publishing

Image courtesy of Kort’thalis Publishing

Q:  What’s it like to collaborate with Glynn Seal?

VS:   Like having a wife who actually understands you and lets you sleep around.  Seriously, though, he’s awesome!  Glynn is professional, punctual, polite, and fun to work with.  I got incredibly lucky finding him.

Q:  That’s wonderful.  How did you find Glynn?

VS:  I was growing increasingly dissatisfied with the layout person I had been using.  He was good in the beginning and very reasonably priced, but I just felt I wanted to get a little more out of each project.

Not knowing Glynn or any other professional RPG layout person, I think I just put out a general call asking if anyone was free.  I assumed I’d have to bounce around, going from layout dude to layout dude with every new project.  But it turned out that Glynn and I worked really well with each other.  So, we kept at it.

Q:  What have you been reading these days?

VS:  I wish I had the time / temperament to lock myself away for hours reading sword & sorcery pulp novels.  These days, I mostly read RPG blogs, magazines, and the occasional non-fiction book.

My lack of source material reading (Appendix N and so forth) is practically shameful.  I do hope to make up for that soon.

Q:  Which of the many RPG blogs have you found to be most enjoyable?

VS:  Some blogs I follow because they are popular and I want to read what’s going on generally in OSR circles.  Other blogs I follow because they do a lot of interesting reviews.  A few are really into world-building and put out great random tables or whatever.

Q:  Tell us a little about the Crimson Dragon Slayer “One Hour Game”?

VS:  It’s my way of introducing eldritch fantasy roleplaying to noobs who only have an hour or two to spare.  Very simple to learn and play.  For those who aren’t already familiar with D&D, I think it’s easy to pick up and demonstrate the joys of paper & pencil gaming… intuitive is the word I’d use.


Image courtesy of Kort’thalis Publishing

Q:  How did Kort’thalis Publishing come about?

VS:  I wanted a fresh start from some of the fairly shitty RPG stuff I wrote and self-published years ago.  The Open Game License made publishing D&D type adventures legally possible.  I created a multi-level dungeon called Liberation of the Demon Slayer.

I was going to sell it to an established publisher because I’d pretty much proven to everyone (including myself) that I didn’t know what the Hell I was doing.  I had someone lined up and then he kind of dropped the ball.

So, I decided to publish it myself and see what happens.  That’s how Kort’thalis Publishing was born.  I got Kort’thalis from my Cult of Cthulhu days.  I re-used the name for the titular sword, but in some demonic language like infernal.

Image courtesy of Kort'thalis Publishing

Image courtesy of Kort’thalis Publishing

Q:  What advice do you have for others who might be looking to self-publish tabletop RPG materials of their own?

VS:   Everyone has to follow their own path.  For some, it might be easier or better to write for an established RPG they’re fond of.  For others, perhaps creating system-neutral adventures or another type of game aid.

One’s nature and personality type is probably the best guide.

Q:  What Kort’thalis Publishing publications can we expect to see in 2017?

VS:  Not much!  My wife and I are expecting twins very soon.  So, I won’t be doing much for the first half of 2017.  After that, I’d like to come out with some short PDFs… maybe a follow-up to The S’rulyan Vault.

Q:  Which sci-fi films had the biggest impact on you when you were growing up? 

VS:  The Star Wars films, obviously.  Beyond those, I’d say Ice Pirates, Space Balls, Space Hunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, Starchaser: the Legend of Orin, Blade Runner, Tron, Flash Gordon, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, The Terminator, and eventually the sci-fi horror films of Alien, Aliens, and The Thing.

Q:  Speaking of BLADE RUNNER, what do you think of its sequel that’s coming out soon?

VS:  I reserve judgement on pretty much any movie coming out these days – especially if it’s some kind of sequel, prequel, re-boot, or remake.  You just never know.  9 times out of 10, I’m going to be disappointed.  However, there’s always a chance to impress me.

Image courtesy of Kort'thalis Publishing

Image courtesy of Kort’thalis Publishing

Q:  What three (3) qualities should every memorable tale have?

 VS:  Good question!

  • Action, certainly. There should be some physical altercation – punching, kicking, lasers, ninja throwing stars, etc.
  • An otherworldly quality – the supernatural, occult, magic, weird phenomena, or unreal technology – that stuff making players feel like they’re not in the boring old everyday world.
  • Emotional impact! The story needs to have a point or something meaningful to people.  Each side needs a reason to act, react, fight, run, struggle, or whatever.

Q:  What advice can you give to up-and-coming writers who are looking to make a name for themselves in the tabletop RPG world?

VS:  Start small with a good idea, develop it, ask around or show it to a few people you trust to see if it’s worth putting out there.  If it is worthwhile, get at least one person to help you.  No one has a strong suit in everything – writing, art, layout, marketing, etc.

Doing it all by yourself is the surest way of having your thing look amateurish, and not in the good sense of the word.  I learned that the hard way over a decade ago.

Q:  What are you most-looking forward to this autumn?

VS:   Personally, my wife delivering twin boys (vaginally, if possible – sorry if that grosses any dudes out, but I’ve been living with such things for months… years, actually).

With regard to RPGs, I’m hoping that the hobby expands and new people are being introduced to both mainstream tabletop gaming and the DIY / indie / underground / OSR stuff that, in my opinion, is three times more awesome than what the big RPG companies are currently putting out.

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