Allen Varney here

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Allen Varney here

Postby Allen Varney » Thu Apr 16, 2009 9:34 pm

I haven't found a generic "introduce yourself" thread here yet, and I feel strangely averse to posting anywhere called The Hobbit's Armpit, so let me mention here my thanks to Havard for inviting me into The Piazza's vigorous community. I wrote extensively for TSR from 1987 to 1992 or thereabouts, including the HWA1-3 "Blood Brethren" trilogy (Nightwail, Nightrage, Nightstorm) and M4 Five Coins for a Kingdom for Mystara, SJA1 Wildspace for Spelljammer, Veiled Alliance for Dark Sun, and several gamebooks. I wrote the Ariya, Binsada, and Talinie realm packs for Birthright. I also edited several modules for Ravenloft, Planescape, and the Realms, and I was a game reviewer and news columnist for Dragon.

After TSR's passing, I wrote for magazines and computer games. I returned to tabletop roleplaying in 2004 to design the Mongoose Publishing edition of the classic satiric science fiction RPG PARANOIA; I also packaged the first dozen supplements in the support line.

Currently I operate the Bundle of Holding, a site that offers time-limited collections of roleplaying game ebook .PDFs.

I see some of my TSR work has been discussed here on these forums. I'm happy to answer questions or offer apologies as needed.
Last edited by Allen Varney on Sat May 30, 2015 7:21 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Allen Varney here

Postby happylarry » Thu Apr 16, 2009 9:52 pm

I suspect you don't need to introduce yourself to many people here - many of us have read and played things you have written.

But let me be the first to say - welcome!

And Paranoia! - haven't played that since the 80's... (and it always seemed to involve a TPK)
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Re: Allen Varney here

Postby Hugin » Thu Apr 16, 2009 10:01 pm

Welcome Allen to The Piazza! I'm so glad that Havard was able to contact and persuade you into venturing into our online community. I look forward to some of the insight you have on the products you've brought to us in the past (and are still bringing us).
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Re: Allen Varney here

Postby Havard » Thu Apr 16, 2009 11:30 pm

Hi Allen,
its past midnight here in Norway so most of my questions will have to wait a few hours, but thank you so much for visiting our small, but steadily growing community. I know alot of people here will be interested in talking to you :)

Alright, a few questions:
1) I am a big fan of the Blood Brethren trilogy, but I found the ending where the PCs gain temporary Immortality and have a shot at defeating Thanatos a bit problematic. Afterall, he is one of the most powerful entities in the setting and that is fairly hard to top. Do you have any suggestions for an alternate rounding off of to HWA3?

2) Another favorite part of HWA3 is Shajapur. Did you have any further ideas for this realm that was not included in the module? I would have loved to see a full gazetteer/HWR Sourcebook for that realm!

3) The character Augar who had been turned into a Minotaur became a favorite among my players and returned with them to the surface. Did you have any further ideas for this character?

4) There seems to be some hidden story about the elementals and the relationship between fire and earth elementals in the HWA trilogy. Is there any light you can shed on this? :)

5) I would love to hear more about The Vanishing City, which I started a thread about here.

Okay, I will try to get some sleep now and trouble you with more questions tomorrow :)

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Re: Allen Varney here

Postby Allen Varney » Fri Apr 17, 2009 12:05 am

Havard wrote:1) I am a big fan of the Blood Brethren trilogy, but I found the ending where the PCs gain temporary Immortality and have a shot at defeating Thanatos a bit problematic. After all, he is one of the most powerful entities in the setting, and that is fairly hard to top. Do you have any suggestions for an alternate rounding off of to HWA3?

I like the suggestions in the Blood Brethren trilogy thread here on The Piazza.

I look back with great regret on the HWA series as a project that got badly out of control. At that time (1991-92) I was suffering a prolonged and painful writer's block, and it shows rather too visibly here. Doing it over now, I would certainly drop the entire Immortal backstory and aim for something much less ambitious.
Havard wrote:2) Another favorite part of HWA3 is Shahjapur. Did you have any further ideas for this realm that was not included in the module? I would have loved to see a full gazetteer/HWR Sourcebook for that realm!

Well, I was going to point you at Sind, but I see from the Gleemax forum thread several Piazzans are already familiar with it. (Shahjapur was presented as a Hollow World embodiment of the Outer World Sind culture, but I believe a Sind product TSR published several years after the HWA series took clumsy pains to retcon away any Sind-Shahjapur connection.)

I'm amazed at what seems an almost complete vacuum of Indian myth in fantasy RPGs. There's SO much there -- the Shahjapur material seemed to me a mere taste of the possibilities. I myself don't have any more material about Shahjapur. Some years after the HWA series, I did venture back into Indian myth for an abortive computer game project. I recounted the sad story in an Escapist article, "My Hindu Shooter."
Havard wrote:3) The character Augar who had been turned into a Minotaur became a favorite among my players and returned with them to the surface. Did you have any further ideas for this character?
4) There seems to be some hidden story about the elementals and the relationship between fire and earth elementals in the HWA trilogy. Is there any light you can shed on this? :)

Man, I knew I was going to wind up embarrassed! I have to confess that after 18 years I have absolutely no recollection of either of these points, so as of right now the answers are both "no." However, I'll look over the modules in the next week or so and try to dredge up memories.

It may at least be helpful to talk here about the illusion of depth. In my TSR works I tried to take inspiration from the great fantasists and science fiction writers, who could evoke a whole world with a few well drawn strokes. In that time I was also strongly under the spell of the great comic book writer Alan Moore, a master at conjuring atmosphere through brief, creative hints in both text and dialogue. (Moore is to this day my favorite writer.) I imitated that technique as best I could, inserting glancing mentions and brief allusions that sounded cool even when I hadn't worked out any backstory for them. My intent here was, first, to entertain the reader; second, to give the DM interesting tidbits to drop into his narration to the players; and third, to inspire the DM's own creativity. After 18 years, I'm willing to guess the tension between the elementals in the HWA trilogy was just an example of that technique.
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Re: Allen Varney here

Postby Allen Varney » Fri Apr 17, 2009 12:17 am

Havard wrote:5) I would love to hear more about The Vanishing City, which I started a thread about here.

Sorry, I overlooked this question in my previous reply. The Vanishing City is, as you know, based on my D&D adventure M4 Five Coins for a Kingdom. That module was my first work for TSR, and I suppose my inexperience shows. I liked the story, though, and when TSR asked for proposals for pick-a-path gamebooks, I wanted to milk the id-- uh, explore new aspects of the story.

The book was easy and pleasant to write, and I liked the three separate and unrelated ways to victory -- a device I also used in my other TSR gamebooks: Doctor Strange: Through Six Dimensions, Galactic Challenge, and my favorite, the Catacombs book Knight of the Living Dead. (The Catacombs book is set in Waterdeep; at the time it was published, Forgotten Realms creator Ed Greenwood said it was the best evocation of the City of Splendors he'd ever read.)

I wrote Through Six Dimensions and The Vanishing City in 1986 and '87, shortly after leaving an editorial job at Steve Jackson Games. Some months later I looked back through these books and realized the central villain in both was an ambitious conqueror empowered by draining the life force of countless innocents. "Huh," I said.
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Re: Allen Varney here

Postby RobJN » Fri Apr 17, 2009 12:52 am

Welcome to the Piazza, Allen! (Mr. Varney?)

Count me as another fan of the HWA work -- writers block or not (been there, doingdone that!), I loved reading through the trilogy. I can't think of any other adventure I've read that has the PCs getting pooped out of a giant worm serving as the "why you're here." :D
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Re: Allen Varney here

Postby Thorf » Fri Apr 17, 2009 3:09 am

Wow! You've made my day, Allen! Thank you so much for coming here. The Mystara community, which has recently expanded to become the Piazza community (including fans of other old TSR settings too), is one of the nicest, most polite and positive communities you will find anywhere on the Internet. I hope you will become a regular visitor - you can always be sure that you'll get a great welcome from us. :D

Allen Varney wrote:I look back with great regret on the HWA series as a project that got badly out of control. At that time (1991-92) I was suffering a prolonged and painful writer's block, and it shows rather too visibly here. Doing it over now, I would certainly drop the entire Immortal backstory and aim for something much less ambitious.


Don't sell yourself short - the HWA series was a definite high point in Mystara's adventures. Having run it as a DM back in the 90s, I know it's not perfect, but I believe it to be far superior to pretty much any of the other official adventure modules. It contains so much stuff that in places the text had to be made really small, which is really indicative of just how much it included. Great job - really! :)

That said, the main area I had problems with was conveying the overall plot to the players. The story is really good, but I found it necessary to add in various exposition events in order to let the players in on it. Even then, they had a hard time grasping what was really going on.

Incidentally, I think that the story being "out of control" was actually really good for the players, because players enjoy taking part in really epic adventures. Sure, it's a little harder for us DMs to incorporate into the ongoing campaign setting, but as an adventure it really rocked.

Well, I was going to point you at Sind, but I see from the Gleemax forum thread several Piazzans are already familiar with it. (Shahjapur was presented as a Hollow World embodiment of the Outer World Sind culture, but I believe a Sind product TSR published several years after the HWA series took clumsy pains to retcon away any Sind-Shahjapur connection.)


Given the link, I guess you know that I'm one of the fan community's crazy cartographers. 8-) So perhaps it won't surprise you at all if I ask you some questions about the map. (Apologies if some of this is so long ago that you just don't remember. We are after all talking about stuff written 20 years ago!)

I've created a thread for the map over in my Geographical Mapping forum, so if you don't mind, please have a look there. :)

Regarding Sind, it wasn't connected all that well, no. :( But I think there was at least an outer world origin built into the history, even if it doesn't really fit. One of the things we've discussed in the past about Shahjapur and Sind is that Shahjapur seems to be much bigger and much more successful than Sind, even though they effectively share the same origin. It seems that generally Hollow World cultures are able to flourish unopposed, and grow to fill their surroundings accordingly. The result is that it's filled with huge empires that far outstrip their outer world origins in size and greatness - although they are held back from technological progress by the Spell of Preservation.

It may at least be helpful to talk here about the illusion of depth. In my TSR works I tried to take inspiration from the great fantasists and science fiction writers, who could evoke a whole world with a few well drawn strokes. In that time I was also strongly under the spell of the great comic book writer Alan Moore, a master at conjuring atmosphere through brief, creative hints in both text and dialogue. (Moore is to this day my favorite writer.) I imitated that technique as best I could, inserting glancing mentions and brief allusions that sounded cool even when I hadn't worked out any backstory for them. My intent here was, first, to entertain the reader; second, to give the DM interesting tidbits to drop into his narration to the players; and third, to inspire the DM's own creativity. After 18 years, I'm willing to guess the tension between the elementals in the HWA trilogy was just an example of that technique.


Fascinating. I guess that means that we have carte blanche to develop those references as we see fit - and that's something us Mystara fans have become extremely adept at over the last 20 years or so. ;)
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Re: Allen Varney here

Postby Cthulhudrew » Fri Apr 17, 2009 3:59 am

Welcome, Mr. Varney! It's a great pleasure to have you join our corner of the interwebs. I've a fond memory for your works- the HWA series of modules being one of my favorites (a great campaign), and your reviews in Dragon magazine.

Allen Varney wrote:(Shahjapur was presented as a Hollow World embodiment of the Outer World Sind culture, but I believe a Sind product TSR published several years after the HWA series took clumsy pains to retcon away any Sind-Shahjapur connection.)


Which was an incredible shame, because I think your Shahjapur setting was a bit more fitting with the other Known World cultures in terms of its RW analogue era (having a Mughal era India next to Darokin seems a better match than Sind as it currently stands). I have tried to reconcile the two myself, with varying degrees of success.

[quote]I'm amazed at what seems an almost complete vacuum of Indian myth in fantasy RPGs. There's SO much there -- the Shahjapur material seemed to me a mere taste of the possibilities.[/url]

Agreed on this point. One of the things I think Champions of Mystara sadly didn't touch on (admittedly, I think the author was pressed for space) was that it is such a large area that something could be done for it in the vein of what has been done for other regions of the Known World and Savage Coast- namely, putting many different RW India analogues, from various eras of RW history, into the region. Rather than painting the entire nation with broad strokes and making it "generic" M-India, it could represent many different Indias, not to mention the wealth of fantasy elements that can be plumbed from all the various Vedic, Pre-Vedic, Brahman, Buddhist, etc. religions themselves.

(Plus, it has always seemed to me that- of just about anywhere else on Mystara- Sind is the best setting to really capitalize on the concept of Immortals and Immortal Ascension that is key to Mystara's back story.)
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Re: Allen Varney here

Postby Big Mac » Fri Apr 17, 2009 4:30 am

Allen Varney wrote:I haven't found a generic "introduce yourself" thread here yet, and I feel strangely averse to posting anywhere called The Hobbit's Armpit, so let me mention here my thanks to Havard for inviting me into The Piazza's vigorous community.


That was pretty much my first reaction to The Hobbit's Armpit! :lol:

Welcome aboard The Piazza.

Allen Varney wrote:I wrote extensively for TSR from 1987 to 1992 or thereabouts, including the HWA1-3 "Blood Brethren" trilogy (Nightwail, Nightrage, Nightstorm) and M4 Five Coins for a Kingdom for Mystara, SJA1 Wildspace for Spelljammer, Veiled Alliance for Dark Sun, and several gamebooks. I wrote the Ariya, Binsada, and Talinie realm packs for Birthright. I also edited several modules for Ravenloft, Planescape, and the Realms, and I was a game reviewer and news columnist for Dragon.


I think you might actually be our first Spelljammer author. Spelljammer is a bit of a weird setting, and with it being set in space (on open decked ships) I don't think that any of the SJ developers went on to make anything that was similar to their SJ stuff.

I'm one of the three moderators on our Spelljammer forum, the others are cab and night_druid. (BTW: night_druid is actually Adam Miller, one of the three authors of HackJammer - and the guy who used to churn out the "Moon of the Month" articles. We also have a second HackJammer author - Paul Westermeyer - on the forums.)

BTW: I'm also the guy who set up the Spelljammer Wiki. At the moment the page for SJA1 Wildspace is still a stub, but I'll get it expanded at some point. The fact that you have arrived, means I should probably bump that (and the article for you) up my to do list. (To be honest, I'm still trying to think of a good strategy for wikifying the contents of the adventures.)

Anyhoo, I hope you don't get trampled in a mad Cloakmaster Cycle-like stampede when the other SJ geeks notice this thread. :o ;)

Allen Varney wrote:I see some of my TSR work has been discussed here on these forums. I'm happy to answer questions or offer apologies as needed.


A while ago, Tauster started a thread called "[Creatures] The Orbus". With SJ being such a "barebones" concept, your SJA1 is the SJ fans biggest clue to how an orbus might work.

There has also been some talk (also by Tauster) in the Mapping the Known Spheres thread about where to put your beholder sphere (TSR never got around to giving us a map of the SJ universe and it is something the fans are still talking about today).

Allen Varney wrote:
Havard wrote:2) Another favorite part of HWA3 is Shahjapur. Did you have any further ideas for this realm that was not included in the module? I would have loved to see a full gazetteer/HWR Sourcebook for that realm!

Well, I was going to point you at Sind, but I see from the Gleemax forum thread several Piazzans are already familiar with it. (Shahjapur was presented as a Hollow World embodiment of the Outer World Sind culture, but I believe a Sind product TSR published several years after the HWA series took clumsy pains to retcon away any Sind-Shahjapur connection.)

I'm amazed at what seems an almost complete vacuum of Indian myth in fantasy RPGs. There's SO much there -- the Shahjapur material seemed to me a mere taste of the possibilities. I myself don't have any more material about Shahjapur. Some years after the HWA series, I did venture back into Indian myth for an abortive computer game project. I recounted the sad story in an Escapist article, "My Hindu Shooter."


Have you seen the Mahasarpa Campaign Setting (which is a freebie download that bolts onto the 3e Oriental Adventures)? That and TSR Legends and Lore (which IIRC is also freebie WotC download in RTF) seem to be the best resources for building up an India inspired game, but it would have been really good if WotC had made an Indian SRD (to follow up their aborted Oriental SRD). Something like that could have encouraged Indian RPGs to get up off the ground. I would probably only have expected one or two Indian games, but I think there is a small market for the stuff.

You might also be interested in a Listmania list called Fantasy India D&D Resources over at Amazon.

Allen Varney wrote:It may at least be helpful to talk here about the illusion of depth. In my TSR works I tried to take inspiration from the great fantasists and science fiction writers, who could evoke a whole world with a few well drawn strokes. In that time I was also strongly under the spell of the great comic book writer Alan Moore, a master at conjuring atmosphere through brief, creative hints in both text and dialogue. (Moore is to this day my favorite writer.) I imitated that technique as best I could, inserting glancing mentions and brief allusions that sounded cool even when I hadn't worked out any backstory for them. My intent here was, first, to entertain the reader; second, to give the DM interesting tidbits to drop into his narration to the players; and third, to inspire the DM's own creativity. After 18 years, I'm willing to guess the tension between the elementals in the HWA trilogy was just an example of that technique.


Illusion of depth is something that SJ fans have really noticed is important. At least it is somethin I personally feel is important.

When you look at what the SJ product designers were given, they were really handed an impossible task. Something like TSR's SJR7 Krynnspace is supposed to give people a Dragonlance Crystal Sphere in just 96 pages. Compare that to what WotC's Dragonlance Campaign Setting hardback. That has 288 pages dedicated just to Ansalon, and you can see that Jean Rabe just doesn't have enough "space" to build the planets up in that same level of detail.

When I look at SJ planets, I think that pretty much all of them need to look as if they could be the location of an interesting conventional campaign setting.

BTW: I'll be adding a link to www.allenvarney.com, when I get around to making the Spelljammer Wiki article for you. I'm trying to use the pages for the other SJ designers to help push people onto pages where people can see their later work, but some ex-TSR staff are pretty hard to find (especially the ones who are Americans pretending to be Norwegians :lol: ).
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Re: Allen Varney here

Postby metal » Fri Apr 17, 2009 5:54 am

Welcome aboard!! :D
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Re: Allen Varney here

Postby Allen Varney » Fri Apr 17, 2009 6:34 am

Big Mac wrote:When you look at what the SJ product designers were given, they were really handed an impossible task. Something like TSR's SJR7 Krynnspace is supposed to give people a Dragonlance Crystal Sphere in just 96 pages. Compare that to what WotC's Dragonlance Campaign Setting hardback. That has 288 pages dedicated just to Ansalon, and you can see that Jean Rabe just doesn't have enough "space" to build the planets up in that same level of detail.

When I look at SJ planets, I think that pretty much all of them need to look as if they could be the location of an interesting conventional campaign setting.

I dunno -- it seems, if we're talking specifically about Spelljammer, that planets there should function more like, say, dimensions in the Marvel Doctor Strange comics. (NB: I mentioned above I wrote the Doctor Strange Marvel Super Heroes gamebook, and I also designed the original Mystic Masters supplement for the Champions superhero RPG. Why, yes, I AM a Doctor Strange fan.) Dimensions in those comics, though supposedly whole universes as varied as our own, are functionally equivalent, in the stories, to rooms. You pop into a dimension, size up the situation, face the bad guy, accomplish your goal, and leave.

For a Spelljammer campaign, where presumably you want the players to spend most of their time in space, the planets should likewise be narrowly functional. If the players feel like they're leaving behind a huge and varied world ripe for novel groundling adventure, that sounds like it would be frustrating. I disliked those Spelljammer adventures where the only space connection was sending the PCs on a brief jaunt across the Crystal Sphere to another planet, where they then had a conventional dungeon-crawling adventure.
Big Mac wrote:I'll be adding a link to http://www.allenvarney.com, when I get around to making the Spelljammer Wiki article for you. I'm trying to use the pages for the other SJ designers to help push people onto pages where people can see their later work, but some ex-TSR staff are pretty hard to find (especially the ones who are Americans pretending to be Norwegians :lol: ).

I should clarify I was never a TSR staffer. I did all of my work for them as a freelancer, straight work-made-for-hire contracts.
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Re: Allen Varney here

Postby Ashtagon » Fri Apr 17, 2009 6:52 am

Hi, I just wanted to say welcome. After I recent bit of spam on the forum, I have taken to manually approving or disapproving new accounts. Most of them are randomly generated by bots, and easy to spot. It was a bit of a "wow" moment when I saw your name in there - one of those "we're not worthy" moments :oops: . Thanks for dropping by, and I hope you make this a regular part of your internet tours :)

ETA: You're not the first to have an averse reaction to the Hobbit's Armpit. It is a bit smelly in that tavern after all :lol: . The name is actually a small homage to Carl Critchlow, the artist responsible for Thrud the Barbarian.
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Re: Allen Varney here

Postby cab » Fri Apr 17, 2009 8:11 am

Hi Allen!

Good to have you contributing here.

Can I ask a couple of questions about M4? Its a sweet little module, the comment you made about your inexperience showing through there was unduly self critical, its my favourite of the M series (and thats quite a big deal, as its up against M3 'Twilight Calling', a typically eccentric and compelling Tom Moldvay work). M4 is a great little story, and the encounters presented in there are most memorable; the encounter with the dragon Dominagon is up there with the very best dragon encounters in published TSR modules.

Firstly, the pre-gen PCs you included in there. Quentin the Aggressive, Theona of the Righteous Glory, Sir Theobold Redbeard... I've never seen such complex, interwoven backstories for pre-gen PCs, or indeed such humour in that part of any other module. Were these characters you'd had in a campaign previously, or were they novel for the module?

Secondly, I'm reminded by your timely reminder of the fund to pay for Aaron Allstons medical fees of another module, Aarons much underrated X12 'Skardas Mirror'. While the power level of the X series modules is obviously far lower, the theme of 'bad guy from a small plane of existence causing harm here on the prime, PCs have to go there to sort him out' occurs in both of these modules from more or less the same period; the two works are radically different otherwise, with that single common theme. Was this something you were both into at the time? Was the plane of Eloysia a new creation for the module or had you been using this gaming previously? Was there a goal here to expand the known planes of existence in the D&D cosmology?

Anyway... I'll leave it there for now, and perhaps hurl more questions your way later...

Cheers Allen,

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Re: Allen Varney here

Postby cab » Fri Apr 17, 2009 8:26 am

Okay, I couldn't wait...

Thinking about those who published things for D&D at TSR around the time you were there ('87 ish onwards), the list of names is quite staggering. Aaron Allston, Bruce Heard, Tom Moldvay, Paul Jaquays, Frank Mentzer, Skip Williams... Wow. The creative team from around that time, its a staggering list of names. The burning question is, who got to game with who? Were you based close to the other guys (at TSQ HQ?)? How much interraction was there between the authors?
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Re: Allen Varney here

Postby Big Mac » Fri Apr 17, 2009 2:01 pm

Allen Varney wrote:
Big Mac wrote:When you look at what the SJ product designers were given, they were really handed an impossible task. Something like TSR's SJR7 Krynnspace is supposed to give people a Dragonlance Crystal Sphere in just 96 pages. Compare that to what WotC's Dragonlance Campaign Setting hardback. That has 288 pages dedicated just to Ansalon, and you can see that Jean Rabe just doesn't have enough "space" to build the planets up in that same level of detail.

When I look at SJ planets, I think that pretty much all of them need to look as if they could be the location of an interesting conventional campaign setting.

I dunno -- it seems, if we're talking specifically about Spelljammer, that planets there should function more like, say, dimensions in the Marvel Doctor Strange comics. (NB: I mentioned above I wrote the Doctor Strange Marvel Super Heroes gamebook, and I also designed the original Mystic Masters supplement for the Champions superhero RPG. Why, yes, I AM a Doctor Strange fan.) Dimensions in those comics, though supposedly whole universes as varied as our own, are functionally equivalent, in the stories, to rooms. You pop into a dimension, size up the situation, face the bad guy, accomplish your goal, and leave.


Hmm. Here is where the SJ community is a bit divided.

There are people out there who want to do the "weekly adventure planet" kind of thing, for that, we could have a planet that never gets visited again.

But there are also people out there who want to be able to "expand" those planets and make "sequel" adventures. For that sort of thing you need to be able to have some "bolt on" areas on a planet.

Personally, I would prefer to mostly have the second type of planet, because otherwise, what do you do when you run out of SJ modules?

Allen Varney wrote:For a Spelljammer campaign, where presumably you want the players to spend most of their time in space, the planets should likewise be narrowly functional. If the players feel like they're leaving behind a huge and varied world ripe for novel groundling adventure, that sounds like it would be frustrating. I disliked those Spelljammer adventures where the only space connection was sending the PCs on a brief jaunt across the Crystal Sphere to another planet, where they then had a conventional dungeon-crawling adventure.


The main two problems with space - as in Wildspace (or the Phlogiston) is that there really isn't anything up there except random ships and monsters.

You kind of need to give players a reason to travel to a planet, moon or asteroid. I think what SJ needs is a variety of environments:
  • Space cities (like the Rock of Bral) where the PCs can go there a hundred times and not get bored,
  • Small space towns, where the PCs can be the star of a (Magnificent Seven style) adventure,
  • Huge groundling worlds (where the PCs feel out of place for being spacefarers - not knowing the local language, culture etc. and can't wait to get back into space).

Now, personally, I think that, rather than always putting your space cities onto asteroids (as in Bral) and always putting your space towns in new crystal spheres (as is done in some of the adventure modules), a GM could run a campaign on a spacefaring moon and have 3 or 4 nations with interesting towns and cities.

Seeing as SJ material is very thin on the ground, I also think this approach makes it easier to import material from other games. You mentioned Indian stuff earlier. Well, if someone grabbed Indian RPG material from two or three different product lines, maybe they could set it up (in their SJ game) as a planet with an Indian theme and two or three different continents. If each RPG setting was put onto its own continent, then any differences would be things that the players could "buy into" (after all Toril has far more varied societies on its surface).

That isn't to say, I would want everything to all be put into one crystal sphere. But if TSR had brought you back to write a "Wildspace II" and a "Wildspace III" you could have been given your own personal "corner of the universe" to flesh out. With the SJ universe being infinate in size, it would have been fairly easy to let authors develop their own spheres and some funky pantheons of gods and house rules that would eventually make those spheres run more like a space campaign setting. I think the Astromundi Cluster boxed set did that sort of thing, although its "Hotel California effect"* kind of goes against the sort of "adventure of the week" gameplay style and railroads the players into staying in the sphere too long.

* = You can enter, but you can never leave.

I would have loved to have seen more "we will have to come back to this one day" locations. I think it is the logical middle ground between the two extremes of play style.

Allen Varney wrote:
Big Mac wrote:I'll be adding a link to http://www.allenvarney.com, when I get around to making the Spelljammer Wiki article for you. I'm trying to use the pages for the other SJ designers to help push people onto pages where people can see their later work, but some ex-TSR staff are pretty hard to find (especially the ones who are Americans pretending to be Norwegians :lol: ).

I should clarify I was never a TSR staffer. I did all of my work for them as a freelancer, straight work-made-for-hire contracts.


Hmm. At the moment, I've not really been making any distinction between full time staff and freelancers. As far as I've been concerned, if you did something for Spelljammer, you get your own page.
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Re: Allen Varney here

Postby TraverseTravis » Fri Apr 17, 2009 4:07 pm

Glad you're here Allen! My two questions are:

1) Do you have any Mystaran notes or concepts that didn't make it to print?

2) Do you have any suggestions for how any of your many non-Mystaran works could be adapted for Mystara? For example, elements of your Players Secrets of Ariya domain book for Birthright, with it's fantasy Arabian theme, might fit in Mystara's Emirates of Ylaruam.

Travis

P.S. From viewing your Bibliography, I learned of a lesser-known Classic D&D credit -- I didn't know you're the author of two entries in The Book of Wondrous Inventions: "The Fiendish Exercise Machine of Bardolpho the Mad" and "Melrond's Foolproof Dishwasher"!
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Re: Allen Varney here

Postby Allen Varney » Fri Apr 17, 2009 5:49 pm

cab wrote:Firstly, the pre-gen PCs you included in [M4]. Quentin the Aggressive, Theona of the Righteous Glory, Sir Theobold Redbeard... I've never seen such complex, interwoven backstories for pre-gen PCs, or indeed such humour in that part of any other module. Were these characters you'd had in a campaign previously, or were they novel for the module?

No, those six pre-gen PCs were directly inspired by the PARANOIA adventures West End was publishing at the time, including Send in the Clones (1985), which I co-wrote with Warren Spector. Each published PARANOIA adventure would provide six Troubleshooter PCs with ready-made reasons to kill each other. For Send in the Clones I created a free-floating backstory unrelated to the main plot involving sabotaged Bouncy Bubble Beverage; the scandal implicated each PC, though none of them knew of the others' involvement. I didn't try to tie together the M4 PCs so closely, but it seemed Master-level characters would at least already know one another.
cab wrote:Secondly, I'm reminded by your timely reminder of the fund to pay for Aaron Allston's medical fees of another module, Aaron's much underrated X12 'Skardas Mirror'. While the power level of the X series modules is obviously far lower, the theme of 'bad guy from a small plane of existence causing harm here on the prime, PCs have to go there to sort him out' occurs in both of these modules from more or less the same period; the two works are radically different otherwise, with that single common theme. Was this something you were both into at the time? Was the plane of Eloysia a new creation for the module or had you been using this gaming previously? Was there a goal here to expand the known planes of existence in the D&D cosmology?

I didn't play Skarda's Mirror, but I'm pretty sure Aaron created that world specifically for the module, because his Champions roleplaying campaigns at the time were all superhero (Strike Force), pulp-era (Empire Club), or mythic Greece (Age of Heroes). The theme of "visiting another plane" is (1) in the case of M4, the likeliest new challenge for Master-level characters, and (2) in both cases, the easiest way for designers new to D&D/AD&D to find our footing without having to research voluminous published continuity.

I never received specific editorial direction to expand the known planes of existence, and as far as I know, no later designer ever did anything with the planes introduced in those books.
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Re: Allen Varney here

Postby Allen Varney » Fri Apr 17, 2009 6:02 pm

TraverseTravis wrote:1) Do you have any Mystaran notes or concepts that didn't make it to print?

I usually wrote long. I had to cut an entire chapter apiece from M4 Five Coins for a Kingdom and SJA1 Wildspace. M4 had a sequence where the PCs had to reach the destination plane by passing through an interim plane inhabited by a culture of planar spiders; I believe the editor accidentally left a line about these spiders in the final experience awards section. In SJA1 there was originally an early encounter on the Rock of Bral where the PCs met a minotaur who had survived a devastating attack by the Ravager. I probably still have the text for these deleted chapters on aged 5 1/4" floppies, but I don't currently have access to those floppies and have no way to read them anyway. Sigh.
TraverseTravis wrote:2) Do you have any suggestions for how any of your many non-Mystaran works could be adapted for Mystara? For example, elements of your Players Secrets of Ariya domain book for Birthright, with its fantasy Arabian theme, might fit in Mystara's Emirates of Ylaruam.

Some of the background cultural material would fit easily, I think, and there were some plot-device magical items that could fit in any world. For instance, the ruler of Ariya had an underground "Chamber of Whispers" where he could sit silently in darkness for half an hour and then gradually begin to hear random words spoken anywhere in his kingdom. The DM would use this to distribute clues and leads. No reason that couldn't be translanted to other settings.

TraverseTravis wrote:From viewing your Bibliography, I learned of a lesser-known Classic D&D credit -- I didn't know you're the author of two entries in The Book of Wondrous Inventions: "The Fiendish Exercise Machine of Bardolpho the Mad" and "Melrond's Foolproof Dishwasher"!

TSR had a brief fling with humor in the late 1980s, with uneven results. I enjoyed writing those Wondrous Inventions, but even at the time I couldn't see any DM actually wanting to use the book. I also contributed short entries to The Book of Lairs II, which I think are better entries in a far more useful product. The last short piece I wrote was the comedic mini-adventure "Steaks" in I13 Adventure Pack I. The PCs are hired by feuding restaurateurs to locate the source of a rival's magically delicious steaks. Turns out the meat being served isn't beef, but purple worm.
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Re: Allen Varney here

Postby Allen Varney » Fri Apr 17, 2009 6:16 pm

cab wrote:Thinking about those who published things for D&D at TSR around the time you were there ('87 ish onwards), the list of names is quite staggering. Aaron Allston, Bruce Heard, Tom Moldvay, Paul Jaquays, Frank Mentzer, Skip Williams... Wow. The creative team from around that time, it's a staggering list of names. The burning question is, who got to game with who? Were you based close to the other guys (at TSQ HQ?)? How much interraction was there between the authors?

Aaron Allston and I (both freelancers) lived in Austin, Texas. I still do; Aaron later relocated 15 minutes north to Round Rock. I only got to game with Aaron a couple of times, because every slot in his games has a long waiting list of his regular players. He's a tremendous GM, one of the very best.

Austin was quite the gaming mecca then, though mainly for Steve Jackson Games and Hero Games designers. The only other TSR-related figure I can recall was Mike Nystul (creator of the spell Nystul's Magic Aura), but he wasn't doing anything for TSR at that time.

Most of the designers you cite lived up in TSR's headquarters of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, where I understand they gamed together frequently. I talked frequently with Bruce Heard by phone about assignments (he scheduled the entire TSR game line, and man was he good at that!), but otherwise I never met any of them except at Gen Con.
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Re: Allen Varney here

Postby multizar » Fri Apr 17, 2009 6:17 pm

Welcome to the Piazza Allen :D from a Texan 8-)
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Re: Allen Varney here

Postby Chimpman » Fri Apr 17, 2009 7:07 pm

Hi Allen, and welcome! I just wanted to say that reading through and DMing the HWA series was one of the high points in my Mystaran career. Thoroughly enjoyable and something that still, to this day, brings back good memories.

Thanks :D

Hope to see you around the boards!
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Re: Allen Varney here

Postby Big Mac » Fri Apr 17, 2009 7:54 pm

Allen Varney wrote:The theme of "visiting another plane" is (1) in the case of M4, the likeliest new challenge for Master-level characters, and (2) in both cases, the easiest way for designers new to D&D/AD&D to find our footing without having to research voluminous published continuity.


I love part 2 of your answer. I've tried to create some fanon for the Spelljammer campaign setting, but have come up against the fact that there is so much canon scattered in multiple different gamebooks that it is really hard to learn everything. (There is a guy called Paul Westermeyer, who is really ace and recalling obscure facts, but I've struggled with this sort of thing.

In fact, I came to the conclusion that I would need to create my own SJ "writer's bible" just to be able to make something that doesn't cause continuity problems. (That is one of the reasons why I applied to Wikia for the space to set up the Spelljammer Wiki. It is going to be an open access "cheat sheet", that I can use. The fact that it can also be used by others is a bonus, but I probably would have done this sort of thing privately anyway.)

Was there any sort of writer's bible for Spelljammer? Did someone like Jeff Grubb give you a list of "do"s and "don't"s? Did you have a meeting with the other SJA authors to talk about a common theme? Or did someone just point you at the AD&D Adventures in Space boxed set and tell you to get on with it?
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Re: Allen Varney here

Postby Allen Varney » Fri Apr 17, 2009 8:19 pm

Big Mac wrote:Was there any sort of writer's bible for Spelljammer? Did someone like Jeff Grubb give you a list of "do"s and "don't"s? Did you have a meeting with the other SJA authors to talk about a common theme? Or did someone just point you at the AD&D Adventures in Space boxed set and tell you to get on with it?

Bruce Heard would send me either the relevant published materials, or a hardcopy printout of the designer's current draft of the core setting. For Spelljammer, that was a pile of paper from a late draft of Jeff Grubb's boxed set, and a very sketchy, generic one-paragraph plot summary about an "asteroid dungeon." Some unknown person, possibly Jeff, had written the summary for TSR's catalog copy, which always had to be prepared well in advance of the product. I had no other instruction or conference for SJA1, nor for most of the projects I wrote for TSR.

Like other freelancers outside Lake Geneva, I almost always worked through Bruce Heard or the line editor; it was the best way to make sure everyone stayed on the same page. In a few cases I went straight to the designer to resolve deeper questions or puzzling inconsistencies. When I was writing Veiled Alliance for Dark Sun, I had the published boxed set. I couldn't figure out how the Shadow King of Nibenay could have a really tall tower in an open-air palace compound surrounded by low walls, and yet (according to the text) no one outside the compound knew what the tower looked like. Tall tower, low walls -- I called DS designer Troy Denning and asked him how no one outside the walls could see the tower. He said in exasperation, "I don't know, it's magic!"
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Re: Allen Varney here

Postby Big Mac » Fri Apr 17, 2009 8:33 pm

Allen Varney wrote:
TraverseTravis wrote:1) Do you have any Mystaran notes or concepts that didn't make it to print?

I usually wrote long. I had to cut an entire chapter apiece from M4 Five Coins for a Kingdom and SJA1 Wildspace. M4 had a sequence where the PCs had to reach the destination plane by passing through an interim plane inhabited by a culture of planar spiders; I believe the editor accidentally left a line about these spiders in the final experience awards section. In SJA1 there was originally an early encounter on the Rock of Bral where the PCs met a minotaur who had survived a devastating attack by the Ravager. I probably still have the text for these deleted chapters on aged 5 1/4" floppies, but I don't currently have access to those floppies and have no way to read them anyway. Sigh.


Wow! This is amazing news. Maybe we can find someone with a legacy IBM PC (one with a 5 1/4" floppy and a small floppy) who can get the files over to a newer machine, so that they can be emailed back to you. I don't know if you could recycle these for another game product, but if they are not reusable, I wonder if you might put them up (or put altered versions of them up) on your website as "unofficial Web Enhancements" for M4 and SJA1.

Out of interest, what sort of computer were these discs written on? (The only machine I had with a 5 1/4 inch floppy was my (now-dead) Commodore 16! :oops: 8-) If you used something like that, it might be hard to recover it. But I'm sure there is a geek out there somewhere with the right sort of equipment.

Allen Varney wrote:
TraverseTravis wrote:2) Do you have any suggestions for how any of your many non-Mystaran works could be adapted for Mystara? For example, elements of your Players Secrets of Ariya domain book for Birthright, with its fantasy Arabian theme, might fit in Mystara's Emirates of Ylaruam.

Some of the background cultural material would fit easily, I think, and there were some plot-device magical items that could fit in any world. For instance, the ruler of Ariya had an underground "Chamber of Whispers" where he could sit silently in darkness for half an hour and then gradually begin to hear random words spoken anywhere in his kingdom. The DM would use this to distribute clues and leads. No reason that couldn't be translanted to other settings.


Hmm. Ironically, while I can't really think how to adapt most non-SJ adventures to Spelljammer, I think that the setting itself would make it relatively easy to add your adventures to a SJ game.

The original concept of SJ, gave us Dragonlance + Greyhawk + Forgotten Realms + some stuff in between them. I think that connectivity thing can just be extended to include a way to fly to every groundling world (i.e. every other campaign setting). And if you have something that isn't defined (like something generic and Indian) I think a GM can just build a new planet around it.

So if I wanted some advice like TraverseTravis, I would ask, how easy do you think it would be to connect your various products to wildspace (the sky - not SJA1)? Can you think of any problems that might be caused by players flying in and turning your adventures into a sort of "Star Trek landing party adventure"? Do you think that some of your adventures might be easier to "hijack" than others?
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