Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Interface Zero 2.0 Kickstarter - Interview with Curtis Lyon

 Welcome to Emerson's Bookshelf, within this offering we'll be talking with Curtis Lyon about Interface Zero 2.0's Kickstarter. Not only am I an interviewer here, but I'm also a backer of this kickstarter and, if the interview does it's job, maybe you'll be one, too.


So, Curtis, introduce yourself to folks, if you would? What's your background? How'd you get started, both in general and with Interface Zero?

Hi… I'm Curtis Lyon. I've been a gamer (particularly of RPGs) for a good thirty-five years – ever since I first discovered D&D as a teenager. Being something of an introvert, I loved to create worlds or live vicariously as my character, and I started eating up almost every setting or gaming system that caught my eye. Rather than try to do an exhaustive list, let's just assume I've tried a lot of them.

The Savage Worlds engine is one that caught my eye, when Pinnacle published Pirates of the Spanish Main. Yeah… I've got a thing for pirates. Anyway, the system was easy and clean (even before they made it easier and cleaner). Perhaps more importantly, my wife, Sarah, got it. She always played when we were doing other systems, but she usually drifted along letting the 'experienced' players tell her what she needed to do mechanically. Savage Worlds was different – all of a sudden, she was explaining the rules to me.

About four years ago, Savage Mojo (it was Talisman Studios back then) put out a beta version of their Savage Suzerain setting. Since I'd bought several of their products, I got the email inviting me to download it, so I did.

Sarah and I played around with it. We loved it, and we offered some constructive feedback on it. One thing led to another, and it was a few months later that Miles (Savage Mojo's CEO) offered us a chance to work on one of the first setting books for Savage Suzerain. That would have been Noir Knights. Suffice it to say we took the offer, and have been regular writers and editors for Savage Mojo ever since.

It was about a year after starting up with Savage Mojo that Dave Jarvis (Gun Metal Games) released the Savaged version of Interface Zero. I was impressed with the setting – especially since I'd seen a void in the cyberpunk genre ever since Cyberpunk 2020 went out of print. Some people point to Shadowrun, but that's really more of an urban fantasy setting than classic cyberpunk. Don't get me wrong – I like the urban fantasy motif, but it didn't grab me like cyberpunk. And while there were a few halfhearted attempts to fill that void, none of them quite worked.

Until Interface Zero. When Dave put out a call for any writers interested in doing work for IZ, I crawled to him on my hands and knees and groveled. He must have liked the groveling bit, since he gave us a shot. We've been doing work for him ever since.

If I remember right, you said that your wife, Sarah, offered some encouragement? Also, did you say that the two of you have worked together on projects before?

To say that Sarah offered me some encouragement is something of an understatement. It was more like she dragged me kicking and screaming into freelance writing.

Actually, I've always been introverted and creative, but my family had instilled in me a strong sense of needing to have a 'real' job. So, while I've sold artwork, recorded music and have generally been creating and performing all my life, it always ended up by taking a back seat to a 'real' job.

Well, my last 'real' job was (literally) killing me with the stress, so Sarah told me I needed to quit and start writing (she was already a big fan of my unpublished fiction). When I tried to argue the point – something about money and bills – she told me to put a sock in it and do what she said.

Ironically (we were both working for the same company), when I put in my notice our employer apparently decided I'd somehow duped poor Sarah into letting me quit working so I could sit around while she brought home a paycheck. So she fired Sarah, and then asked me to stay on.

That's more or less how Sarah became my partner in crime.

Almost everything we've done to date has been done as a team, and credited to 'Curtis and Sarah Lyon'. It's led to a little confusion here and there – some people seem to think we're a single entity, and it's hard to look up 'Curtis Lyon' in places like… You can look up 'Sarah Lyon' or just plain 'Curtis', but 'Curtis Lyon' is apparently something of a myth.

Anyway… I tend to be good with the creativity, while she tends to be good with the mechanics. Our typical modus is to brainstorm until we get the kernel of what we want to write, and then Sarah writes an initial bit and passes it to me. I trim, graft, shape and mold until I get something I'm satisfied with. Then I pass it back to Sarah to do an edit of what I've written and to put stats in for any creatures or characters, then she passes it back to me one last time so I can double-check stat blocks and do a final proof.

As a backer of the project, I'm curious as to your thoughts on the current kickstarter for Interface Zero?

I was happy with the original version of Interface Zero, but there were 'clunky' bits in it from the get go. IZ was ported into Savage Worlds from what were essentially various shades of d20 mechanics, so it didn't quite follow the format veteran Savages expected from a product.

As a result, it's been evident from almost the beginning that there would eventually have to be an updated version of IZ that streamlined some of the mechanics and eliminated some of the confusion people had over various parts of the rules – particularly in the area of character building.

Gamers being who they are, there may be a small-scale version of 'edition wars' (since some elements of the mechanics are being entirely reworked), but I, for one, am happy to see a cleaner, updated edition come into being. In fact, I think the Kickstarter speaks for itself in terms of desires and popularity – I was much less surprised at the response than Dave was, but it still made me all warm and fuzzy inside when the initial funding goal was reached in less than twelve hours.

The bottom line is I think you made a good choice in backing IZ 2.0.

What projects within Interface Zero have you worked on before? Where can we find your fingerprints, so to speak?

The first one was Zeeks: Psionics in 2088. Zeeks had been mentioned in the core book, but weren't really given any kind of a treatment. I also had an idea for a psychic mechanic that would take the core of the Savage Worlds rules and expand on it a bit so Zeeks could tire themselves out while doing their thing. I pitched the idea to Dave, who let me run with it. Zeeks was technically the first project Sarah and I did that wasn't handed to us by the publisher.

Then came Boston: Broken Cradle of Liberty. Originally, Boston was going to be part of a larger supplement that was going to give a treatment of something like five cities on the North American continent, but due to both time delays and the fact we were getting so much material on Boston alone that the final book would have been in excess of 300 pages, the decision was made to give each city it's own treatment.

We also did San Francisco: Ruins by the Bay, which hasn't quite made it to print yet, but has been available in PDF format for a while now. San Francisco was also going to be in that original North America book.

The last project I worked on was Road Rage… That one was handed to me by Dave when he wound up with an incomplete set of rules, and he patiently waited for me to fluff and pad it. I've always been keen on the street racing genre, so I had some fun with it as well.

I kind of downplay my role in the IZ 2.0 material, but that's only when compared to work like Zeeks or Boston, where almost the entire text was my writing. The Zeeks mechanics will still be in the new book, for example, and I've written bits to update areas like Boston and San Francisco (since the calender is being moved ahead two years, to 2090).

In terms of new material, I've done a brief bit to expand and clarify the Techno-Shogunate of Japan which will appear in the book and act as a launching point for the supplement Stan! Brown will be writing. I'm also covering South and Central America (outside of New Brasilia), and Sarah is doing a treatment of Las Vegas.

So we'll definitely be present in the New World Order.

What sort of encouragement would you like to offer to potential backers? How about for current backers, what sort of things are there now that they might like to increase their pledges for?

Hmmm… Well, obviously anyone jumping in to back at this point is jumping into a win-win situation. The Kickstarter is already funded (at this moment, it's at something like 481% funded), and Dave has done a great job of providing perks and bonus material for backers, as well as a plethora of options.

In fact, I need to remind Sarah that we have to go back and do some add-on funding ourselves.

Basically, if someone wants to come in and fund at this point, they can pick and choose from a lot of material and how they want it done (one thing Sarah and I want to add on is the digest-sized versions of the printed book). It's almost as good as a Mal*Mart Catalog (which I'd also like to see get funded in the stretch goals)! Custom dice, bennies, cards… In fact, there are goodies that are available to backers from the moment they pledge – like all the original IZ PDFs.

On the other hand, anyone who's already pledged but hasn't bothered to go back in and check out what's going on might want to do it. Adventures, sourcebooks, novels… All sorts of things have been unlocked that can be added on for a few more dollars (and I mean a few, not a lot).

Where would you like to see Interface Zero go? Are there any future projects or ideas that you have in mind?

Wow. You actually kind of caught me by surprise with that one.

I hadn't really thought about it much beyond my current obligations – if we reach the stretch goal, I'll be looking at doing the Mexico City sourcebook.

But what I'd really like to see is more of a treatment on the frontier of space. It's a segment of IZ that was left almost entirely unexplored in the original book other than the brief statement that humankind was exploring and colonizing out in the solar system. There's currently a stretch goal to unlock a book covering that – but I'd like to see it happen regardless.

How about other work out there that you've worked on or are about to work on?

Well… As I mentioned, we've done a lot of work for Savage Mojo. We've got credits for doing a great deal of work on Noir Knights, Shanghai Vampocalypse, Caladon Falls and the Suzerain Adventure Deck. We've also had a hand in Dungeonlands, which was recently funded through Kickstarter. Millennium Knights (a sequel/prequel to Noir Knights) is imminently being released as a single-book supplement (including a Plot Point Campaign), and our next big planned project is Untamed Empires.

We've also done a fair bit of work for Mystical Throne Entertainment, largely in contributing articles to both the regular Savage Insider publications and the premium editions of Savage Insider.  Sarah has also helped with the editing on most of the Ultimate Guides MTE has recently put out.

Our big project with Mystical Throne, though, is Twilight Continuum. It's just started as a Kickstarter, and is designed to be a complete adventure campaign that takes characters from Novice through Legendary Rank. If the project is funded, I'll be writing the first book, and overseeing the creating of the remainder. This one's kind of a pet project, since I first created the Twilight Continuum campaign twelve years ago, when I ran it with the BESM engine.

Lastly, Sarah and my own company, Three Sages Games, is ramping up to create a new setting called Dragons of Avalon – sort of, but not quite, a steampunk-ish fantasy setting – for the Savage Worlds engine.

Lastly, is there anything that you'd like to say in closing or share with folks?

Gaming is all about social interaction and using your mind for entertainment. Have fun with it. If you pick up Interface Zero, or any other setting Sarah or I have been involved with, we'll happily answer questions about what we had in mind, but I encourage everyone to take those settings and make them your own.

If you're curious about what Sarah and I might be up to, we have a fan page on Facebook (Curtis and Sarah Lyon… go figure), as well as a page for Three Sages Games. You can also find blogs and bios by and about is on the Savage Mojo website (

Three Sages Games also has its own website (, as do Gun Metal Games ( and Mystical Throne Entertainment ( They all also have Facebook pages, usually for both their company and individual product lines.

Thanks for putting up with my ramblings… and Great Gaming to everyone!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Still alive and kicking...

It's been awhile since I've used this space, but that's going to be changing here over the course of the next few days and weeks.

Whether it's general editorializing my thoughts about gaming, interviewing companies about a product of theirs that I like, or whatever else strikes my fancy at the time, Emerson's Bookshelf shall return to activity. It's been almost a year and a half, but I wasn't totally idle.

Currently I'm the Editor-in-Chief of Rite Publishing's Adventure Quarterly, as the name implies it is a quarterly offering of adventures. Our focus is not only on adventures that use the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game for their mechanics, but also focus on the more unusual and unique adventure styles and tropes. All in all, it's an enjoyable project and we're doing quite well.

We're accepting submissions, by the way.

Additionally, I'm also a full-time case and office manager with a regional private non-profit legal services company in southern Oregon. It's an emotionally satisfying job that happens to pay well enough; it's definitely a nice day job that fuels the fun stuff.

Anyhow, there'll be more to come in the following days.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Kobold Guide to Board Game Design

If you'd like to read my review of the Kobold Guide to Board Game Design then feel free to click the linkage and enjoy.

I did it over on my G+ since I like tinkering with new things. ;)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Open Design - Northlands

Northlands - Roleplaying in Winter's Chill (Print+PDF, PDF)
by Dan Voyce
Published by Open Design

Disclaimer: The copy used for this review was provided by the folks at Open Design, which is really cool of them when you think about it since, honestly, they didn't have to do that. I mean, seriously, while my readership is fierce, it is also tiny. *grins*

One of my favorite things is the amalgam of historical ethnographic aspects and fictional groups and places, I'm just a massive sucker for it. Whether it's Tad William's world of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn or Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea, or Robert E. Howard's Conan, I just love it and eat it up like teriyaki beef and noodles — seriously, if you've not seen it, I'm a beast when it comes to pan-friend noodles with various flora and fauna thrown into it.

So I'm sure you can imagine my excitement when I first heard about the Open Design patronage for Midgard, and it's not just because I've been a patron for several Open Design projects or that I'm a sucker for a lot of things that come from these folks and their projects — well, it's not totally because of that — but it's also because I enjoy that source folklore and mythos. It could be the norse in me, or the gael in me, or even that odd mix of norse-gaels, but you get the idea.

Now let's move the timeline forward a bit and there in my inbox is an e-mail for Wolfgang Baur's other half, some might say better half yet this is not a review for talking sides and weighing the worthiness of kobolds. Within this e-mail is a link, which once followed down the rabbit hole led to a file known as Northlands.

Yeap, a piece of the Midgard within my grubby little HDD — okay, it's more dusty than grubby, as I don't mind dust as much as I do garbage.

It's Pathfinder Roleplaying Compatible; although as I've said in several other reviews, Open Design is one of those publisher who's  work I enjoy and use in any and all systems. I mean it, too. I seriously think that they could use a codified version of Rock-Paper-Scissors, such as that used by various LARPs, and it'd still be just as awesome as everything else that they've done.

With cover art by Aaron Miller, and cover design by Crystal Frasier, we're given a crisp, clean and enticing window into the wintry lands of the North. Once we're within the offering, we're met with the teamwork of designers Dan Voyce with Wolfgang Baur, Thilo Graf (also the linguistics lead), Jim Groves, Chris Harris, Jonathan McAnulty, and Christina StJles — I swear, if I typed that right it's a miracle — as well as the artwork of W.G. Collingswood, Rick Hershey, Arthur Rackham, Carl Wahlbom. We also have Liz Courts on layout and Hank Woon, Jr. as editor.

Now I don't know about you, but that seems a group worthy of the price of admission, and that's just the credit's page. Of course, there is also the classy move of giving the patrons a healthy slice of the pie with their gratis page. Always a nice touch.

As with the ever eccelctic nature of my reviews, which those who read my blatherings should be use to by now, I shall throw out some quick crunch and then gloss over the details.


I hope so, because I'm gonna do it anyway as I'm a jerk like that...I also always tear band-aids off before I actually say three when I count to three. I've also short-sheeted folks, yelled weird things out car windows as I drive by people I don't know, and I've thrown mayo packets at douches. I'm sure there's some issues in there, but I'm a psychology major so it comes with the territory and it grants me an awesome CR.

Northlands is over one hundred pages of material that's cut up rather nicely into six chapters. It's got nice artwork, solid layout, and a nice mix of crunch and flavor. As an editor, it's look like it was picked over rather nicely and I'm sure Huginn and Muninn would approve, and I rather enjoy pointing out when I think something was well-edited, regardless of being able to prove it. It's more an article of belief than fact, and it's my blog so it works.

The Northlands takes its time and bathes you in the setting material, and in many ways it's not only a primer for sending your PC's a viking, but it's also a lesson in how to immerse folks in a culture. They do it often, they do it well, and I think it pays off handsomely.

For me slang and words are a good thing to have in a game, with respect to cultures, since it not only sounds cool when you use them but it also helps a player 'think' in the terms from which the words are driven. In sociology it's one of the things that helps break down the fundamental attribution error since thinking like someone who is not you weakens the reflect to not give them the benefit of the doubt, or apply negative motivations to the actions of others. Basically, you go beyond the stereotype of someone and actually start to understand their motivations. 

Anyhow, that seems weighty of thought so I'm gonna go back to blathering and saying that this book is awesomey.

If you're someone who wants a campaign thrown into the wintry lands of epic tales and wonder, then you could do so much worse, and rarely better, than Northlands. It's meaty, it's chewy, and it's thick in all the right places. It has culture, mythos, sociology, teratology (I know, not the totally right usage yet I do it anyway), and it can be dropped into any campaign that needs it. There's solid environmental rules, haunts, magic systems, features for PCs, and location, location, location.

See that? Glossy details with works praised, I'd throw in a catchy reference to A Song of Ice and Fire, but I was doing it before the hipsters and I don't wanna justify their behavior. Next thing you know I'd be all copying Wil Wheaton, talking about how I've penetrated this town, or the other, and I'm just not Johnny Depp pretty enough to do it...this is known.

Frak! I did it anyway. Well, at least I avoided the whole frosty climax line. Or is that chill is cresting? Cold is almost here?

Eh, I give up. Go get Northlands, it's awesome.

Check them out (Print+PDF - $19.95, PDF - $9.95) and enjoy!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Kobold Quarterly - Spring 2011 - Issue 17

Kobold Quarterly - Spring 2011 - Issue 17 (PDF+Print SubscriptionPDF Subscription, Print, PDF)
by various talented folk
Published by Open Design

Disclaimer: While I was offered a complimentary copy for my review, I didn't need it as I've had a KQ subscription (Print+PDF) since the beginning and I don't plan on changing that any time soon as I enjoy it, a lot. 

Now I could go the easy and obvious route and point out that Kobold Quarterly is the torchbearer to what Dragon and Dungeon magazine was before, but that's not only too obvious its something that's been done before...over and cover again, since it's quite true. Instead, I'm just gonna blather on about some of the cool offerings that this issue has in it and why I like them. It won't be an encyclopedic review, though, because those are rather droll. 

So, in no particular order, rhyme, or reason, here we go.

Stan! Seriously, I like Bolt & Quiver, and anytime I see it in print I'm a happy camper.

Allison Theus's cover, 'Charge!', for this issue is pretty sweet, too. If that doesn't scream 'Win or lose, go down swinging' I don't know what else does.

Hell, I even enjoyed a lot of the ads, too. I know, I'm a bit odd, but one of my favorite things to do is flip through and check out the ads for anything interesting. Regardless of edition or genre, too. Sometimes you can find the most interesting offerings, be it a supplement, setting, utility, or software.

Anyhow, on toward the articles.

I like taverns, and I don't think that the cliché can be overplayed, either. Richard L. Smith the Second's 'The Black Goat' hits the spot just right. With art by Kevin Crossley and cartography by Sean Macdonald, you've a nice feel and what you need for an interesting haunt or an encounter. It could just be a place that folks enjoy, regardless of its eerie nature, or just the right sort of place to raise interests and investigations by the characters.

Next we've 'The Value of the Monster' by this Monte Cook fellow, and he seems pretty talented. *grins* Lame joke, I know, but the article is quite good and his introspective on the qualities and characteristics of a monster, of its value, is definitely a solid read. Given his pedigree, it's a given that Monte would produce such a succinct, efficient piece, too. There's something to be said about informative brevity.

Now I'm a sucker for flavor, especially if you can get it to flow off of the tongue and toss around solid coinage values with it. Matthew J. Hanson's 'Elf Needs Food Badly,' with art by Scott Foresman and Rich Hershey, does just that. Now this ain't just foodstuff for the in-character foodie, but it's magical sundries for the 4e game. Conceptually it wouldn't take much to slap down an idea for PFRPG campaigns, either.

Next we've Mark Moreland's Pathfinder Society offering of 'Ambush n Absalom,' with at by Jenny Clements and cartography by Corey Macourek. I really enjoy the organized play offerings from Paizo via the Pathfinder Society, and this one is no exception. I'm a sucker for urban adventures and throwing players in the sewers, as my Ptolus campaign folks know too well, and I could easily see using this offering to help that or just play it as part of the Pathfinder Scoiety its self.

Lastly, there's a Midgard Campaign Setting support article. Again we've another 4e offering, but the material that Stefen Styrsky puts out in 'The Scourges of Vael Turog' is just solid, and Pat Loboyko's art is killer. As I've told the folks over at Open Design before, when I play 4e it's either a homebrew setting or one of their offerings. Period.

If there's accorded neutral grounds within the d20-based gaming world, it's definitely Kobold Quarterly.

Interested? Intrigued? Tempted?

Then check out the following links and pick you method of ingestion: (PDF+Print Subscription: $27.99, PDF Subscription: $15.99, Print: $7.99, PDF: $5.99)

If you can't find a method of receiving and enjoying Kobold Quarterly, then you're really not trying hard enough.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Advanced Feats: The Inquisitor's Edge

Advanced Feats: The Inquisitor's Edge (PDF)
Published by Open Design

Disclaimer: The copy used for this review was provided by the folks at Open Design.

Ain't no mixing up of my words, I've enjoyed the Advanced Feats series quite well, as my various reviews have shown, time and time again, and The Inquisitor's Edge is no exception.

But, before I get to far into things I'll share the nitty gritty pieces first:

  • 16-pages devoted to the Inquisitor class
  • 30 new feats
  • Three builds that help study this interesting class
  • Cover art by Christophe Swal, who also added interior art along with Stanislav, and Anne Trent (who, herself, was the Graphic Designer of the piece).

Now, as a head's up, this is but one of three Open Design products that I'll be reviewing over the next seven days. You see, it's my birthday week — I know, most folk have a day but I like screwing with it for a week — and I figure why not enjoy it by talking about various products and projects of Open Design. 

So onward to Advanced Feats: The Inquisitor's Edge...I like it, a lot. Now folks who read my reviews might comment that I seem to like everything, but I should point out that I don't review something I don't like...I figure that there are enough of those out there, if something sucks, and I don't wanna waste my time doing it unless something really ticks me off. I figure since I'm not paid to do this, and often I get a complimentary product in hopes of a review, why put effort into something negative.

Weird, I know. It's not like I don't rant all over the place.

But, anyhow...

I enjoy the new classes from the Advanced Player's Guide by Paizo, since each of the classes adds an extra layer of flavor and fun for those folks who'd like to add something new to their game. But, with new powers come new issues, yet the Inquisitor's Edge handles it as solidly as the other offerings in the AF series.

In a lot of ways the Inquisitor class reminds me of Sparhawk from The Elenium and the Tamuli, with the little bit of rogue and the little bit of holy warrior thrown into one thing and I think the Inquisitor's Edge hits this right on the head with talking about all the versatility of the class.

Once again both the Trent's down an awesome job, as the layout is just as evocative as the words on the page. Each feat adds something extra to the class, the walk through lends its self to solid ideas and aids on understanding the class, and then the builds exemplifies them.

At it's comfortable pride and excellent quality, not to mention usefulness, The Inquisitor's Edge is a worth addition to your Pathfinder game.


Buy yours today, for $3.95 (PDF).

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Advanced Feats: Visions of the Oracle

Advanced Feats: Visions of the Oracle (PDF)
Published by Open Design

Disclaimer: The copy used for this review was provided by the folks at Open Design.

I've really enjoyed the Advanced Feats line from the folks at Open Design, as I'm sure anyone who's read my prior reviews can guess, and Visions of the Oracle is no exception to this fact. Oddly enough, given the material at hand, Visions hits me differently than the prior offerings in the series yet that's not a bad thing.

First let's get the crunch out of the way; Visions of the Oracle covers a breakdown of the Oracle, provides 30 new feats, and advises the reader on build options using three examples within a 17-page PDF (1 page front cover, 1 page table of contents, 1 page license, 1 page back cover/blurb, and 13 pages of Oracle goodness) that is well designed and illustrated.

If you've ever wanted to play the character with the gift, or curse, of foreboding visions and insights, yet have never done so and wish to learn how, then this book is for you. As it can walk you through the Oracle class, give some ideas and understandings, and make suggestions for crafting a character that can put anyone on a good path to an enjoyable character.

However, it is also useful for veteran players, as it offers interesting insights and feats, as well as build designs, that would help any advanced player. 

Visions of the Oracle manages to do this concurrently by just covering the material at hand, slipping in designer notes as needed, and talking about what it is to be an Oracle, as well as the variety inherent to the class. Whether you're currently playing an Oracle, thinking about letting your players attempt the class, or wanting to use them as an NPC in your campaign, this latest Advanced Feats is good for folks on either side of the screen.

I like it, and plan on using it, and I think most gamers using the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game would like it, too. Everyone involved on this piece should be quite proud of it.

Buy yours today, for $3.95 (PDF).