Wednesday, September 2, 2015

An Interview with Trey Causey

Trey Causey's From the Sorcerer's Skull was the first gaming blog I encountered. His boundless creativity (and commitment to a regular, and astoundingly prolific, posting schedule) helped me see the potential in getting gaming ideas out into the wild with a minimum of fuss. When he isn't embarrassing the rest of us with the quality and quantity of ideas on his blog, he's busy putting out fantastic books such as Weird Adventures and Strange Stars.

Q: From your long-running examination of the Warlord series and your weekly comics posts, it's obvious that illustrated fiction is a big point of inspiration for you. In what ways has your interest in comics carried over to gaming? Are there any ways in which comics have changed the way you approach writing gaming material?

I think comics encouraged me to always be a bit more "kitchen sink," a little bit more "gonzo," in the GMing and world-building, even when trying to play it straight. That doesn't come through with every idea necessarily, but I think it's my default mode. They also probably made me more interested in visuals and the look of things. I tend to start commissioning art well before I start really writing a project (which is probably not that way to do it!) and I've always been interested in kind of set-pieces (in terms of distinct locales and action) for the player's to interact with/in. Probably the need to really convey a visual style has effected by writing, though I consciously try to curb that a bit, as what I've got in my head isn't necessarily what someone else needs to have in theirs. Still, I think that influence, partnered with talented artists, is responsible for the distinctive look and feel of my stuff.

Q: You've released well-regarded game books independently, but you've recently joined forces with the Hydra Collective. What was the impetus behind that? What does being part of a collective of content creators enable you to do better than you could do on your own?

Doing projects on my own is a lot of work and can be expensive. The chance to combine efforts meant a chance to get some help shouldering the various unfun burdens. I also feel like my stuff hasn't necessarily reached its biggest possible audience--even within the relatively small rpg community of G+. Having a bigger megaphone can't hurt. Those were the practical considerations, I guess. Beyond that, it's enjoyable seeing other people's projects come to fruition and even doing small, lower pressure, creative things to help that along: finding fonts, goofing around with designing ads, etc. Kicking around cover concepts with a talented guy with his own strong aesthetic like Jason Sholtis is probably more fun than writing a page of my own stuff, honestly.

My hope is that Hydra will make me more productive than I would have been otherwise and give me the satisfaction of helping other people do projects that might not have happened if Hydra hadn't have been there. 

Q: Over the years you've built a lot of different game settings. One of your most recent games was a Sargasso Sea-inspired game that you ran for a group of first-time 5e players and a few "lapsed players." Are there any special considerations that you kept in mind when crafting a setting for first-timers in a new edition?

I tried to go lighter on the "special snowflakeness" than I might otherwise in the setting, and to say "okay" to anything that was in the Player's Handbook. With the adventure set in an interesting location, the players could imagine their characters from as generic a D&D world as they wanted or needed, and I still get the sort of sense of place that made it fun for me. Being as these guys were mostly veterans of White Wolf games and Shadowrun, I tried to sort of play to their expectations, which wasn't really hard, as I don't typically run high-lethality, heavy resource management games most of the time anyway, but I did have to recognize their desire for more tricked-out or specialized characters than I normally roll with.

Q: I think everyone who has been making game-stuff for a while has a project that "got away"--something you started working on but ultimately grew bored with or gave up on. What's yours?

There are a lot of projects lying dormant or semi-dormant that I plan to get back to--someday. There are a couple that I feel like it's less likely that I will, though not because I think they're bad ideas. more just that too much time passed without me moving forward with them. One is Eldritch Earth or Planet of the Elves, a semi-Bakshi, post-apocalyptic fantasy. The other is probably Pulp Space, my alternate history, spell-jamming sort of thing.

Q: Best things you've read, seen, heard lately? What things are you most looking forward to reading, seeing, and hearing in the near-ish future?

The best movie I've seen recently is Spring. As I'm between books at the moment, reading-wise I'm digging the new fantasy comic, The Spire. I'm looking forward to giving The Etched City a second go, as I put it down too hastily years ago, as your recent review now shows. I'm interested in seeing del Toro's Crimson Peak and Snyder's Batman vs. Superman.

Q: What's the game product you wished existed? What thing that does exist comes closest to scratching that itch?

From an utterly selfish (and perhaps self-aggrandizing) standpoint I wish there was something like the Guide to Glorantha for Weird Adventures. More realistically, I would kind of like a Bas-Lag rpg or supplement for a game I have. There are the old d20 Dragon articles, which handle the mechanics fine, but lose the flavor--which is probably what we'd get again, but I can hope that something as enjoyable to read as GURPS Goblins could come out of it.

Q: What's next for Trey Causey?

Next are the the two Strange Stars gamebooks. The Fate book is somewhere in putting corrections in layout. When your layout guy is in demand, you sometimes have to wait in the queue. The Old School gamebook, compatible with Stars Without Number or really any old school sci-fi game, is in the writing stage. After those two, I have in mind to do two adventures: the pirate thing, In Doom's Wake, and the first thing from my sort of Oz-ian 5e setting, the Land of Azurth, Cloud Castle of Azurth. I tend to be at the mercy of my creative whims, though.