Aaron Loeb is the mastermind behind the Green Ronin published and widely acclaimed The Book of the Righteous. In this e-View we pester him about the Book of the Righteous, future plans, past projects and discover just how dangerous he is with a suitcase full of d6!
GameWyrd’s questions appear in strange blue and Aaron’s answers are in typical black.
1) The Book of the Righteous is earning rave reviews. In fact, it’s hard to find anyone who gives it less than full marks. This is great but are you stuck now? Have you set a mark that you’ll struggle to reach again?
Yes. In fact, I’d wager it would be impossible for me to repeat the success of Book of the Righteous for the simple reason that it’s an idea I’ve been developing for all of my adult life. Now, it’s possible I could spend another ten years thinking about something else and then write it up for whatever game is at the height of popularity ten years from now, but I’m pretty certain I won’t be doing that.
The truth is, this is a hobby to me. I’m a guy who’s played and loved role-playing games for the last 25 years; I’m not a professional game developer like Chris Pramas or Monte Cook, so I have no real reason to even TRY to reach that mark again. I wrote Book of the Righteous as a labor of love, not to make money or get great reviews (though the great reviews are enormously flattering and make me feel really good — like I’ve managed to connect with fellow hobbyists around the world, which is great). Anything else I write for RPGs will be a similar pursuit.
2) Where did the idea for the Book of the Righteous come from?
In 1989 I met Chris Pramas, Bill Simoni (Madness in Freeport), Brian Kirby (Freeport: CoA) and a couple other guys (named Rob Lawson and Sandeep Rao) at New York University at the RPG club they’d founded. In 1990, Bill started running a D&D game using a list of gods that we all found very enjoyable, including a goddess of healing, a goddess of the earth and a god of war. The tensions between the churches of these gods led to some really fun role-playing over the next couple years. Eventually, Bill, Rob, Sandeep and I sat down and wrote up a preliminary mythology uniting these gods in a single pantheon.
In 1993, Doug Tabb at Mayfair Games asked me to write up a boxed set for the Role Aids line with a big adventure and a pantheon of gods. I determined with the guys to use the mythology we’d created for Bill’s game. For the Role Aids project, I wrote up the first pass of the Great Sage Matalou mythology that became appendix I of BotR and created a mega-adventure in which the heroes hunted down and destroyed a cult seeking to find and utter the name of the creator, thus ending existence (We playtested it and Kirby’s character was the only one to survive). Sadly, Role Aids got canceled before I could finish and Mayfair canceled my deal, so the work I had done went nowhere.
Flash forward to 2001; I’d been using the mythology in D&D games for the better part of a decade and it had never lost its appeal for me. I got laid off from my job and Chris called me to suggest I use my free time to finally write up the book that the Role Aids project was supposed to be. I dusted off the Great Sage Matalou document and completely rewrote it, changing the names of most of the gods to more consistent sounds and crafting a cosmology more consistent with Legions of Hell and Armies of the Abyss than with Role Aids’ Demons.
3) Did you contact Green Ronin or did they contact you? What was it like working with them?
It was Chris’ idea to bring back the project. I hadn’t even really thought of writing for RPGs again. I hadn’t done much since my last foray into RPGs, Pariah Press (where I was managing editor), went belly up. I’d since moved on to the computer games industry, and was enjoying that work very much. But I’m glad Chris thought of it.
Working with Green Ronin was peculiar from my perspective because, of course, it’s a dear friend’s company. It’s far more important to me that the company make money and do well than that I get paid, for instance (though a note to freelancers: Green Ronin pays well and on time). So, when the book was going way, way over length, I was freaking out because I knew I was creating extra costs for my friends. Every 10,000 additional words was taking food off their table! On the flip side, Chris is extremely encouraging of creativity, so he wasn’t freaking out at all. He kept encouraging me to add the detail I felt was necessary, really pushing for the best product I could create — we’d figure out the cost implications later. It was an excellent experience, but definitely a different one than I’m used to. I’ve been a professional writer for nearly ten years and it was the first time I’d ever had an editor saying “no, it’s cool, blow your deadline, write more!”
All that said, if you’re reading this and you’re freelancing for Chris, don’t follow my example! I think Nicole will gut the next person who pulls what I pulled. ;) By the time all was said and done, the book was 300% larger than contracted.
4) What other RPG products might our readers expect to find the name Aaron Loeb on?
You’d really have to fire up the way, way back machine to find paper and pencil RPGs with my name on them. I wrote an article for Dragon Magazine last year and that was the first thing since The Providence World Book in 1997 (or something). I wrote the fiction that introduces each of the chapters in that book. I wrote the fiction at the opening of the Underground Companion, and Chris and I worked together on the Underground Player’s Handbook. I was in all the Whispering Vault products as well when they were published by Pariah. Other than that, I worked on the Role Aids product that got canceled and a Shadow World supplement right before ICE canceled that product line. And, of course, the stuff I did on Underground came out just before it got canceled. For a while, we joked that any product line I wrote for would get canceled, no matter how successful. Watch out, d20!
5) How did writing for those products compare to the Book of the Righteous?
There’s no real comparison. All of them (except the Mayfair Gods book, which got canceled early in its development) were joint projects where I contributed just little bits and pieces. This was the first RPG product I had complete control over from cradle to grave. That made it much, much harder in almost every way, but also a lot more rewarding.
6) The Tree of Life has been set up reader support site for the book. What exactly does that mean? What sort of plans do you have for that?
Well, since so much of the Book of the Righteous depends on mythology, and since there are so many mythology enthusiasts in our hobby, I figured people using the book in their campaigns might start crafting their own myths. I hope they do. As that happens, I really wanted to provide a single location for people to share their ideas and creations with each other, thus helping to create a living, breathing mythology where people have access to heroic tales and epics that they may introduce into their game should they need them. That’s the idea. It’s also a location for me to provide more details on areas I could only touch on in the book — like more magic items, more evil cults and groups, more small cults. It’s just a way to keep expanding the book and do it for free.
7) Do you have any future books or other projects line up that you can tell us about?
I just recently wrote the first chapter for the third book of fiends. I recently saw someone say on ENWorld that they can’t imagine the third book will be as good as Legion and Armies as Green Ronin no longer has historical occultism of evil to mine, having already done demons and devils. I think people will really like the angle Chris and I took in thinking out the nature of the evil in Gehenna, which has definite, strong ties to medieval mystical notions of wickedness.
I’m working on another project for Green Ronin right now that should be a hoot, but won’t come out for quite some time.
Also, I’m working on an action game for “next generation consoles” (we haven’t announced which platforms yet) to be published by LucasArts. That’s my day job.
8) Have campaigns that end up with player characters taking out deities, defeating armies of demon lords or essentially get crunchy with god level stats gone horribly wrong?
It’s impossible for me to say. Whatever floats your boat, man. If you want to play in a game with god killing, that’s cool. I know some people are unhappy with the stance BotR takes about god stats. I’ve seen it referred to as “dogmatic opposition” to god stats. I don’t have a dogmatic opposition to much of anything involving RPGs. Here’s my thing about stats for gods, and why they weren’t included in BotR:
1) I would be the wrong person to provide them, which is the number one reason they won’t ever appear for the BotR gods. Seriously, I’m bad enough at designing monsters (which is why Chris did all the monster stats in BotR) to begin with and I’d be tempted to give gods powers like this:
Aura of War: Anyone wielding a weapon against Terak with the intent to do him harm is engulfed by the elemental power of war. The attacker is transported onto a flat plane and surrounded by 100,000 20th level fighters, all hell-bent on his destruction. A character may resist being so transported by making a Willpower save (DC 10,000). If the character defeats all 100,000 foes, he is immediately transported back to face Terak.
I mean, I’d give gods stats that would seem absurdly munchkiny and laughable, like a 1 million wisdom and ten billion hit points. I can’t conceive of the divine as merely very high-level humans. Like in BotR, there’s a legend in which Korak lifts a mountain and looks under it. What kind of strength would be required in D&D to do that? I’d want all the gods to have that sort of power, and I would be really unhappy if they didn’t. I mean, look at real-world myths. Nammu (of Summerian-Babylonian myth) gives birth to the universe (or by some accounts, pulls the earth from her fundament and gives birth to the stars). How do you apply a Con stat to a being that literally squatted down and gave life to everything? It makes no sense to me, and so I shouldn’t try as I’d surely muck it up. Perhaps it’s a shortcoming of mine as a game designer, but there you have it.
2) Pretty much everyone who plays D&D has their game touched by religion. Clerics are a key part of nearly every game. So, we all need information about the gods and their churches. Only a small fraction of us will ever need to know the stats of the gods (most of us, I think, don’t ever have gods show up in a context that requires stats). There’s nothing wrong with people who DO use god stats, but shouldn’t products about gods be useful to the majority of us rather than the minority? Most of us need information on churches more than we need a god’s sneak bonus. And yet, all of the 3E god products thus far have been created to be more useful to the minority who need to know Odin’s attack bonus. So we focused on material like organizations and titles over the more rarely used god stats.
3) If there is one thing that’s pointedly missing from BotR that people might find particularly cosmologically useful, even if they don’t use god stats, it’s a “god ranking.” A lot of people like to know that, say, Terak is a 15th-level god and Anwyn is only a 3rd-level god. I chose to leave this out to keep the plug-and-play sensibility. It’s a very different campaign world where Morwyn is the most powerful god from one where Zheenkeef is the most powerful god; it’s a decision that a DM really has to make for himself.
9) What sort style of fantasy game to do prefer playing? High fantasy with showers of fireballs and heroic Paladins wielding twin blades, gritty low fantasy dramas where the characters are low level thieves just trying to steal their next meal or somewhere in between?
I prefer games that start out low-level and gritty and then slowly build until the players are involved in issues of massive importance — to a world or to their home kingdom or other major body. Usually my campaigns involve events of great cosmological importance, and often have a moment where the faithful actually meet a god’s avatar or major servant. I like to make the players the heroes of their world’s most important story (or at least the most important story of their generation).
10) Is there a key piece of advice you’d offer to a writer trying to break into the industry? If so, what is it?
It’s the same piece everyone offers — be professional. Once you actually get the gig, turn it in on time, spell-check it, proofread it, double-check your numbers, etc. Be nice to your editor. Thank everyone else working on the project when you meet them, or via email. Polite professionalism is more important than talent or skill in getting the break, I think, and is absolutely key to keeping it going. But again, I’m not an RPG industry pro, so this is advice as much based on my background in computer games as anything else.
(GameWyrd notes – We’re in the Out of the Box section now. A couple of unusual questions for which we expect unusual answers!)
11) Imagine a strangely accented man with oddly coloured eyes thrust a battered and torn scroll at you, explained that it was of utmost importance that you read the words of the scroll from the top of the nearby hill during tomorrow’s dawn and then he then ran off before you could ask him anything else. Would you read the scroll on the hill at dawn?
Absolutely. I wish things like that happened to me more often. Having LARPed extensively, I just adore things like this, especially when they’re plausibly pulled off. I would never though, for even a moment, believe that anything magical would happen when I did read it at the top of the hill. I’d expect the strange man (and whoever had hired the strange man) to enact part two of the elaborate hoax. While playful, I actually have a desperately dull world view — I don’t believe in magic or miracles, sorry to say.
12) You’ve been given a suitcase full of small white d6. The challenge is to use them in such a way that gets you into the news – the more coverage the better – what do you try first?
My nickname as a kid was Flounder, based on the guy in Animal House, so I’d likely pull the same number he pulled. Open up the suitcase in front of a parade — the Columbus Day parade is about to happen. Oh, how people would slip and slide on those d6’s, and oh, how arrested I would be!