The following interview was held between Wojciech “Sethariel” Żółtański (earthdawn.pl) and Delano Lopez – author of “Kratas: City of Thieves”, an Earthdawn sourcebook.
Can you tell us something about your personal experience with Earthdawn. When was the first time you came upon Earthdawn?
I was already playing Shadowrun when Earthdawn first came out in 1993, so I was there at day one. Younger readers may not know that Earthdawn began as a prequel, or spin off of Shadowrun, when both were produced by FASA. Even though I had played many different role playing games, and would continue to play others, Earthdawn quickly became my favorite. I bought every FASA Earthdawn book, (I didn't manage to get all the miniatures, though). The combination of high fantasy, the rebuilding of a post-apocalyptic world, deep history, and Lovecraftian horror, really attracted me to the game. I respected the way that everything in the game world was well thought out - like having a good reason for “dungeons” i.e. kaers - to exist.
From what perspective have you been discovering the world of Earthdawn, more from the perspective of a gamemaster or a player?
In Earthdawn, and in roleplaying games in general, I usually am the gamemaster. This makes sense of course, for a project like Kratas, because, as I would when gamemastering, I had to make up many characters. locations, and obstacles for the players to encounter.
What kind of gamemaster are you? Do you think it could have got any influence on Kratas sourcebook?
Well, there are two main roles a gamemaster must play - storyteller, who sets up the action with character, setting, and conflict, and referee, who controls the action during combat. Both are crucial but I am more skilled at the former than the latter. Thankfully for a sourcebook like this, I'm mostly doing the former, and there are folks on the edit team more proficient with game mechanics. They spent a lot of time tweaking game stats, like the new talent knacks.
How did it happen that you started writing Kratas sourcebook for RedBrick? Had you worked on anything similar before?
I had written a few non-roleplaying articles that had been published, and I had written a number of Earthdawn things - magic items, new disciplines, stories, etc. - that had been published on fan sites - the great old Strands website, Sako Eaton's Bantero Soulforge site, the Earthdawn Publishing Trust's Book of Tomorrow. I had actually written the proposal and outline for the Kratas Sourcebook and sent it off to FASA shortly before they stopped publishing Earthdawn. Once Redbrick got the rights, I dusted off the old proposal and sent it to them. Redbrick liked it and gave me the go ahead.
How long did it take you to complete "Kratas: City of Thieves”?
It took me about two years working in my spare time to write the first draft of about 250,000 words - though that amount includes the three Kratas Shards that are forthcoming, as well as other things that did not make the final edit. It then took another year or so for us - the Redbrick team - to complete the rigorous editing process. It was a team effort, of course.
What was the most difficult part of the work?
One of the hardest parts is actually coming up with new names - it's important not to get in a rut and make enough variety so that the names are consistent with the established game world, yet are distinctive enough to give each character his own identity.
In-game continuity is also very important to me, so I spent a lot of time going through all the published Earthdawn works to make sure I would not contradict or ignore anything already published about the city. I put together a big file of every mention of Kratas, Garlthik or Vistrosh in any of the FASA books or novels- in the process discovering a few continuity errors that I had to reconcile.
What was the most enjoyable or easiest part?
It's hard to say which is the most enjoyable. I love writing the original fiction pieces, as well as creating characters and locations. I enjoy creating interesting back stories for characters and delving into the history of Barsaive. One aspect of this work that was both challenging and rewarding was working with the editorial team. They - all the folks listed in the credits as senior and associate editors - put a lot of effort into the work and contributed much, adventure ideas, fiction pieces, etc. It was really a collaborative effort. I also was very pleased with all of the great art, maps and the layout work that was done on the book. It's quite a thrill to see one's ideas presented in such a beautiful way.
Creating "Kratas: City of Thieves” were you inspired by real life situations or events in the world?
Sure. Much of the city was inspired by my time spent living in Guatemala and Nicaragua. Those countries are still recovering from civil wars, as Kratas and Barsaive are recovering from the Scourge. Guatemala City is very dangerous and lawless, so most shops have armed guards, and it is not unusual to see private residences with high walls that are topped with broken glass, razor wire and electric fencing. Nicaragua still doesn't have street addresses, you give directions by saying things like “300 meters east of where the old gas station used to be.”
Years ago I also did a study of skinhead gangs in the U.S., and learned a lot about gangs and organized crime. I modeled some of the gangs on that information. For example, the Forsaken, with their oath of enmity to the Force of the Eye, were somewhat inspired by the Bandidos, a real life motorcycle gang who once swore that “All Hell's Angels Must Die.”
The Dinganni Plains, and the creatures therein, are based on the “Llano Estacado,” or “staked plain” of my home town of Odessa, Texas.
In a much more general sense, my thinking in game design is heavily influenced by my career as a professional theater set designer. When designing a set for a play, I am not creating a complete work of art - I am only creating a background in which the director and actors will create the final work. In a similar way, when creating a sourcebook or adventure, I am not telling the story, I am only creating a framework within which the gamemaster and players will tell the story. In some other game systems, the game designers will get too wrapped up in telling the story and advancing the metaplot, that they will forget that their job is ultimately just to provide options for the gamemasters and players.
You pay a lot of attention to details. Many names in Kratas sourcebook are meaningfully created, derived from or inspired by classic literature and drama. Can you tell us something about it?
Not only do I think that it is important to pay attention to details in general, but as Naming in Earthdawn has magical importance, it becomes doubly crucial. It is also a way to acknowledge to the reader one's source of inspiration - a little wink, as it were. I'm thinking particularly of Ghagin here.
Can you give some more examples of such names and processes behind its creations?
Here's another example - in one of the upcoming Kratas Shards, there is an obsidiman named Blackstone - which makes perfect sense, as her skin is black, and made of stone - but there were also a famous father and son pair of American stage magicians with the last name "Blackstone" which fits, but to explain more would give away some of the plot of the Shard.
"Kratas: City of Thieves” for Earthdawn Third Edition has been published. Are there any significant differences between the new edition sourcebook and the Earthdawn Classic Edition version?
Did you contribute in any way to the conversion of Kratas sourcebook to Earthdawn Third Edition?
I'll answer these two questions together. I was not involved in the conversion, and it is my understanding that none of the game setting elements- characters, plots, adventures, etc- were changed, it is just a matter of making the game mechanics line up with the changes made to Third Edition. I am more interested in the game world elements - characters, plot,etc. - than the game mechanics - and Redbrick has folks that are very focused on those mechanics.
Thank you for the interview and waiting for your future works.