Kratas: The City of Thieves Interview

After several weeks of "development", I am proud to present you all an interview that was held between me, Delano Lopez (main author of the upcoming Kratas sourcebook), Steven J. Black, Eike-Christian Bertram and Carsten Damm from RedBrick Limited.

Kratas: The City of Thieves, your first sourcebook about a big city in Barsaive, I hope there will come other descriptions of cities of course, but why did you choose Kratas?

Delano Lopez: I have always thought Kratas was one of the most interesting locales in Barsaive because it embodies many of the darker aspects of the game world that distinguished Earthdawn from any generic fantasy setting—the city itself is a giant breached kaer, it is the center of espionage and mercenaries in the province, it is regularly visited by scorchers, it is both rowdy and mysterious. Heck, it even has a blood-elf in residence and an especially nasty one at that. Kratas is a great example of the unique aspects of Earthdawn—rebuilding civilization among the post-apocalyptic, anarchy, in the ruins of the fortress city. It also has some iconic characters, like Garlthik and Vistrosh to work with. Adventures need danger, and Kratas is one of the most dangerous places in Barsaive. Playing the scoundrels is often more fun than the knight in shining armor, and writing this was like playing the bad guy, or at least moreover, much of the classic works of fantasy had thieves of one sort or another as their protagonists—Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Conan, the Stainless Steel Rat (okay, Sci-fi), etc.—even Bilbo was hired as a "burglar". Kratas is a whole city of such characters, at each other’s throats and backs.

Who or how many people were involved to make the book?

Steven J. Black: As mentioned above, the primary writer was Delano Lopez. Editors include our usual team: Eike-Christian Bertram, Carsten Damm, Josh Harrison, James D. Flowers, Lars Heitmann, Jason U. Wallace, Donovan Winch, Hank Woon and myself. Artists include Kathy Schad, David Wright, and Damien Coltice; who did a good number of new drawings (including the cover) in addition to the licensed artwork we use. Kathy and Carsten are also in charge of layout. So I count thirteen people. 13, a frightening number!

I know that a special edition of the german Foliant des Abenteurers, “In den Schatten Kratas” exists—was the book influenced by this project?

Delano Lopez: I do not read German, unfortunately, so I was not influenced by it at all. Two smaller sections were translated into English and integrated into my manuscript (see Eike’s answer, below), and was a great addition.
For inspiration, I first poured through all of the published FASA first edition material for any mentions of Kratas, Garlthik, etc, both for inspiration and to make sure I did not contradict any of the established gameworld. I was also influenced by classic fantasy works mentioned above, and, like any writer, by some real world experiences. The Dinganni plains were modeled somewhat on the "Llano Estacado" or "Staked Plains" of my childhood home in west Texas. Much of the feel of city was inspired by my time living in the cities of Guatemala City and Managua, where crime is much more rampant than the US, and the citizens are rebuilding after devastating civil wars, much like the citizens of Barsaive rebuilding after the Scourge, but not as extreme, of course. My conception of the gangs was in part based on anthropology field work I did years ago in the US with street gangs (long story). I also relied on plenty of historical readings about pre-industrial cities, etc, as well. Then I added the Earthdawn elements of magic and fantasy, of course.
Eike-Christian Bertram: Kratas: the City of Thieves includes two short sections on Kratan locations that Kathy developed for the very first draft of the german Kratas fanwork many years back and that she wanted to see in Kratas: The City of Thieves. Other than that, I don't think so. To not be influenced, I chose to not get involved into the development of the german Kratas book (despite being involved in the other Foliant des Abenteurers fanzine issues, same as Carsten and Lars), and haven't even read the book just to be on the safe side. I read the first drafts some years ago, though.

You already posted some teasers about Kratas to give us a foretaste of the content. Can you give us an overview about the content of Kratas: The City of Thieves?

Steven J. Black: As revealed in my 7 Sands blog, the total number of chapters was 22 at my last count, with 18 chapters focusing on flavor text and 4 specifically focused on game information. The flavor text goes into great detail about the many sections of the town both above and underground, the way the many gangs interact with each other and especially the Force of the Eye, the way Kratas and the Force of the Eye interacts with merchants and nobles from other city-states in Barsaive, as well as the general area around Kratas including Daiche. The game information includes literally a hundred plus gamemaster characters in the book, from Garlthik One-Eye to the small time gang leaders of Kratas. And for those who like to have a quick glance of the major gamemaster characters in Kratas, there is going to be a quick Character Index similar to what was presented in Nations of Barsaive, Volume One. There is a large chapter about the Secret Societies of Barsaive and how they operate in and around Kratas. There are also sections on New Creatures, New Magical Treasures, New Goods and Services, and even new Game Information on new Discipline specializations and new talent knacks.
Eike-Christian Bertram: Adding a couple of details: The bulk of the book is the description of Kratas. Next to the Gangs of Kratas chapter that really covers a lot more than the Force of the Eye or Brocher's Brood, there are chapters for each of Kratas' neighborhoods, where Delano managed to give each section of the city its very own flair and possibilities for adventuring. Kratas has no reason to hide behind other Earthdawn sourcebooks detailing cities or areas (the ones we revise in our Nations of Barsaive series).

What about the history and the arisal of Kratas, is it even known how Kratas evolved? Will this question be solved clearly in the book?

Delano Lopez: There is an extensive section on the history and development of Kratas, showing how certain neighborhoods evolved, and how the city changed rulers over the centuries. The book traces the history of the city from pre-history through all the major events of Barsaive's past. There are even some indications of what happened to Kratas during the Scourge. It is fairly clear what happened to Kratas, but like with much of the world of Earthdawn, what is accepted as the true history but most of its inhabitants and what actually happened, may diverge. If I seem coy in my response, it is because some additional information about the city's past may be discovered by playing one of the Kratas Shards...

Do you offer a lot of adventure hooks throughout the book like FASA did in the Throal sourcebook or how do you implement adventure ideas? Because you didn’t mention a stand-alone adventure section.

Eike-Christian Bertram: There will be hooks, but there will also be a Adventures in Kratas chapter, containing a number of adventure frameworks as well as ideas for adventures and campaigns set in Kratas. With each book that covers a location, no matter if we revise an old one or develop a new one such as Kratas: The City of Thieves, we try to give you a few of these frameworks as well as quick overviews over the most important types of campaigns, and sometimes overviews over “themes” important to the location. Although it is rather obvious what Kratas’ themes are, so they are not necessary in this case—Delano did an excellent job showing the gritty face of Kratas in the city’s description.

Which chapter are you especially proud of?

Delano Lopez: I am proud of the whole thing of course, and grateful to the hard work that all of the rest of the team put in to improve it. If I had to chose some favorites, the Gangs of Kratas, the Secret Societies, the Stables and the Safe Hearths and, of course, the (upcoming) Shards set in Kratas.
Steven J. Black: For me, the Gangs of Kratas chapter was surely the longest to complete and the most satisfying.
Eike-Christian Bertram: I got to go with the Game Information chapters, where I invested most of my time. As Delano handed in his draft a while back, even before the Compendiums went to print, Kratas wasn't up to date on the rules. As the rules sections had to be revised anyway, we decided to expand them quite a bit. As you would expect, there are a lot of goodies for Thief adepts to be found, but we thought it would be nice to cover what members of other Disciplines can do in Kratas or while working in the honorable trade of thievery. You'll find at least one knack for each of the Disciplines in Kratas: The City of Thieves, for example. And they aren't about the nicer aspects of the Disciplines (I received a talking to from my peers on a daily basis during development because some of them were just too nasty. Or so they said. :)). You'll also find a number of Discipline specializations befitting Kratas in the book, and we developed a new way to present them to players and gamemasters, hopefully increasing their usability by adding more options, descriptions, and additional skill choices.

Kratas Shards, sounds nice. Are you already working on them? May we get a small insight, what the scenarios will be about?

Delano Lopez: The three Shards are already written, and are going through the editing process now. I don't want to spoil any of the plot, so rather than giving specifics of the objectives, I'll describe the mood of each one. I tried for each one to emphasize a different aspect of Kratas' character. The first is a rollicking, swashbuckling adventure, where, apropos of Kratas, the object is to pull off a theft with style. The second is about skullduggery and backstabbing, involving the politics of the gangs of Kratas—I was going for a film noir kind of feel. The last one deals with the darker and secretive elements at work in Kratas, so let's just say it is very, very dark.

Could you describe that new way to introduce the new Discipline specializations, what did you change to the old system introducing them?

Eike-Christian Bertram: Previous editions and products often just dumped a short paragraph with changed talents on you, often never really putting things into context. While the game mechanics remain the same in Kratas: The City of Thieves—a Specialist Discipline exchanges some talents and abilities for others—we have approached them from a different angle. As you can see with the Confidence Trickster Specialist that was the second teaser, we do not jump at changing talents right away. These new Specialists simply become “character concepts,” and we tell you what their typical goals are, what skills they use, and what Disciplines and races fill that role best. Only then do you get a Specialist for the Discipline that is best suited to the task (and sometimes multiple Specialists, for more than one Discipline).
We hope that by showing the most likely possibilities and choices for any one “character concept,” players and gamemasters will find it easier to build their characters, and most importantly do not overlook the most important options. So while the Confidence Trickster is a Specialist Thief, you can use the guidelines to make non-adept tricksters, to turn any Discipline into a trickster by learning skills, or use them during character creation to develop a trickster philosophy that is in-line with a Discipline’s typical philosophy.

How many pages will the sourcebooks have and is a price foreseeable?

Carsten Damm: The book will be about 250 pages, and a little cheaper than Nations of Barsaive, Volume One or the Name-giver’s Compendium. The Kratas Character Codex (see below) contains most of the stats; there was no way to cram all these into the book as well.

Carsten, you mentioned the Kratas Character Codex. I think it’s a great idea to offer such a thing. What can you tell us about this Codex? Will it come out together with the book or earlier?

Carsten Damm: The third teaser is a massive PDF containing about a hundred fully statted gamemaster characters. The characters in the Kratas Character Codex are also described in the sourcebook, but the PDF will feature their game statistics and have some additional portraits.

Did you produce a map for Kratas, like the old sourcebook Throal: The Dwarf Kingdom also offered one?

Delano Lopez: When I first wrote the proposal and outline and sent them to FASA years ago, I had in mind a boxed set like the Parlainth and Skypoint & Vivane ones, with a large, folded map. Obviously, Redbrick's publishing model doesn't allow that, so Kratas only has a double-page map of the city as a whole, showing the location of all the neighborhoods.

Will you make this map free (digitally) available?

Carsten Damm: It’s very likely. I’m aware we had promised to make our new Throal map available after Nations of Barsaive, Volume One was released, but never got around to do so (sorry for that). We’ll probably release them both at the same time.

Last, like always, what is the actual state of the book and I don't get tired of asking: When can we hold it in our hands? This year hopefully!

Carsten Damm: Definitely this year. We’re trying to get this beast finished at the moment, about a year later than we had originally thought. As you know, we don’t rush things because of a self-impended deadline, we rather want to do it right (true to our motto “it’s done when it’s done”). To give you some figure: it took Delano a little over two years to put the book and the associated Shards together, it took us another year to wrestle the book into shape and into our publishing schedule, and it took the team a year to get the development down. The past months were spent on artwork and a special and somewhat darker layout. At the moment, Kathy is working on the last few illustrations before it moves through our internal sanity checking process and out for a set of proofs. Thumbs pressed, we might be able to present it on the Spiel’08 in October.

Thank you all for the interview!

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