The Darkest Age Interview

The Darkest Age Interview

by Judy Spring Spectacle Publishing Media Group has recently published a horror role-playing game, The Darkest Age, collaboratively written by Eric Staggs, Rob Gee, and Julia Gengenbach. Based on the d20 OGL system, The Darkest Age is set in 14th century Europe where an unusual strain of the bubonic plague creates a world full of zombies, corruption, fear, and paranoia. Eric Staggs has answered a few development questions to give us insight to the frightening experience that is DA. Where did The Darkest Age originate? What was the motivation behind the role-playing game? There have been quite a few attempts in the tabletop gaming world to capitalize on the zombie craze. I wrote an elaborate research paper on the sub-genre of zombies when I was doing my undergrad. work and since then have spent much time considering this phenomenon. I wanted to try to explain all the inconsistencies, to create a viable game world that would allow players to explore a dangerous environment, yet without the futility of a true “extinction level event.” How did the project mature or expand over time? The initial idea was intense—profound almost. What happens when the Black Plague, which killed ¾ of Europe, also turns the infected into zombies? We had to determine how the world would react, how would a medieval/pre-Renaissance society survive? Could they at all? We had to do some detailed anthropological work, as well as extrapolate concepts from other writers, like Max Brooks (Zombie Survival Guide and WWZ). What aspects of DA are different from other RPGs? First, DA has unique character classes. Most character classes are based on a cultural concept—the Skald for example. We worked hard to find a way to logically create a measure of gender equality in this historical setting. The Midwife and Mystic are great examples. The mystic is a historical figure not often mentioned in church history—a heretic or prophet [with powers] a church official thought they might use to their own advantage. It’s pretty shady stuff, but imagine if you were accused of witchcraft, yet offered this chance to have the ear of a bishop? The midwife has evolved into something much more powerful than a nurse or medicine woman. They’ve become an organized power group that literally has control over the future of humanity. Further, The Darkest Age is a role-playing game. The precarious grip of this civilization requires players to be clever, and to think. The typical, “I draw my sword and attack,” scenario simply won’t work. What aspects were important to keep the same, and why? Well, it’s still a d20 based game system. This is important because anyone who’s played Dungeons and Dragons 3.0 or above will know...

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Learning to be a Writer

Learning to be a Writer

By Yen Ooi The journey in becoming a writer neither starts nor stops at writing itself. Of course, producing copious amounts of stories, prose, poetry, and text is vital for a writer, but there is also the much ignored fact that in becoming a writer, one must be like a writer. Don’t worry—last I checked, writers are not a different species or a specific sub-species, but there are two important characteristics of a writer that I believe are key. These characteristics are probably true across all creative types, all artists. Neil Gaiman famously said that, “If you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise, and then just behave like they would.” So, I twist his words and say, pretend to be a writer and just behave like writers would, and slowly, you will be one. But what is it that makes a writer, a writer? In the last few years, I have met many people in various creative careers—writers, artists, designers, musicians—and I realised that everyone is creating something, and that we are all passionate about our own creations. I also realised that there are those, like Gaiman, who are a cut above the rest. I believe that this is because of two characteristics. Good artists are: 1) humble 2) proud.   Yes, I know. It sounds like the above makes all artists hypocrites, but hear me out. All artists, people who create, know that their skills and quality of their creations can always be improved upon, and that there are always people out there who are better than them. This keeps them humble. This also is how they are able to accept criticism at a level that no other jobs require, whilst giving them an open heart and mind to be able to work with others collaboratively. However, to be a good artist in today’s world of social media, self-publishing, and accessible technology, artists need also to be proud. Proud enough to believe in their own work and sell it. The solitary writer is a dying breed, preserved only by the archaic functions of traditional publishing houses. A writer needs to be able to approach future readers and say, “I know you’ll love this!” and believe it. Writers and other artists have a difficult job to do today. Humble and proud are antonyms of the other, but they go hand-in-hand in creating a good artist. It is the balance of the two that we all seek, in order to survive in a very harsh environment that destroys all who fail, and makes celebrities of those few who shine. So, if you are thinking of becoming a writer or if you are in a transition to do so,...

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An Interview with SPMG’s CEO, Eric Staggs

An Interview with SPMG’s CEO, Eric Staggs

By Judy Spring Behind the scenes here at SPMG there are many gifted people dedicated to offering their best to our authors to achieve their publishing goals. As a segmented part of our newsletter, we would like to bring you an inside look at this enthusiastic and committed group of people. To start things off, we presented a few questions to Eric Staggs, CEO and co-founder of Spectacle, to better understand from his perspective what SPMG has to offer, as well as his vision for its future.   Can you share the progression in your life that led up to Spectacle Publishing Media Group? Like many writers, I’ve had a slew of jobs in a vast array of industries. I found them all interesting, but my true passion has always been story. Following that to its logical conclusion, a well told story is one of the things that defines a civilization: The Grand Myth. I’ve always wanted to be part of helping our civilization experience the great stories and myths that are being made.   As CEO and co-founder of SPMG, what was the inspiration behind its creation? The concept was simple: the industry doesn’t make it easy for struggling authors. Agents, Publishers—it’s all a big self-serving mess. Can’t get an agent until you get a publisher and can’t get a publisher until you get an agent. Pay your meager wages to contests in the vain hopes you might gain some recognition. Throw your ideas out into the void for less ethical or inventive vultures to scavenge. It’s a tough proposition for anyone. My high school guidance counselor told me “you’ll never make money as an artist.” In the old paradigm she grew up in, yes, it was hard for artists. But these days, we are not bound by those old ideas. We don’t have to give 70% to the publisher, 15% to an agent. SPMG is designed to bring the new and talented voices of literature to the fore without exploiting them. We work extensively with our authors to help them create the best, most marketable story they can while maintaining trueness of vision and integrity of story. Has the vision changed since the beginning, and how so? Yes, very much, and no. We intended to create online media only, eBooks and the like. We quickly found that to maintain and increase our reputation and integrity as a publisher we needed to print books as well. This meant adding new skill sets, and preparing for another battery of associated and unexpected costs. Our business model had to change, but we learned from the Six Sisters and their dinosaur ancillaries. That said, our primary advantage over competitors—technological awareness and...

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