[19:05] <+Ken_Spencer> I am Ken Spencer, line developer and lead writer for Cubicle 7’s Rocket Age RPG.
[19:05] <+James-M-Spahn> I’m James M. Spahn, contributing author to Rocket Age, The One Ring, and I run my own small press that focuses on OSR games called Barrel Rider Games.
[19:06] <+AnneToole> I’m Anne Toole, vagabond
[19:07] <+AnneToole> who’s written several episodes of Rocket Age 🙂
[19:07] <+Matt> I’m Matt Haines i wrote Mind Dunes of the Moon and an episode of Trail of the Scorpion for Rocket Age.
[19:07] <+Ken_Spencer> Trail of the Scorpion is Rocket Age’s first campaign length series of episodes (adventures for the uninitiated). The six episodes in the series can be played together or as stand alone adventures, and take our heroes from Venus out to the edge of the Solar System.
[19:09] <+Ken_Spencer> I wrote the overarching plot and my cohorts filled in with their own wild episodes, bringing the whole thing together into a radium fueled battle against the machinations of the evil Red Scorpion Crime Syndicate. Not only is Trail of the Scorpion the first campaign length series for Rocket Age, but it is the first project of this scope, and involving this
[19:10] <+Ken_Spencer> many writers that I have managed. It was a lot of fun, frustration, and sweat, but I think the result is well worth the effort.
[19:10] <+Ken_Spencer> Perhaps we should each give a brief introduction to our episodes, in order of appearance in the book?
[19:11] <~Dan> Sounds good.
[19:13] <+Ken_Spencer> The series kicks off with “In the Scorpion’s Claws”. Our heroes are on Venus and are hired by a somewhat shady freelance photographer to help him reach a remote batab’ik tree (one of the most massive trees in the Solar System, its branches cover square kilometers of jungle). The photographer, Butch Sanders, has information that hints that a somewhat intact
[19:14] <+Ken_Spencer> Erisian ship might be located in the branches of the giant tree. A simple job, find the tree, search for the wreckage, take pictures, collect priceless artifacts, fly back home. Naturally things do not go smoothly. James, you are next.
[19:15] <+James-M-Spahn> Heroic resuces, thrilling chases, and untold dangers are faced by our heroes as they fly at breakneck speeds over New York City! The 1938 World’s Fair is endangered when its star Nikola Tesla is kidnapped! Not only must the heroes rescue him from the Red Scorpion, but save the entire city before his newest invention is turned into a weapon of deadly power!
[19:15] <+James-M-Spahn> Oh, and the adventure is called “Tesla’s Torch.” (done)
[19:15] <+Ken_Spencer> Matthew?
[19:17] <+Matt> In ‘walk right in and steal em blind’ our heroes are directed to Mars where stolen armaments lead them to Jastariv, ruined technopolis of the ancient Martians.
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[19:18] <~Dan> (Howdy, Songtress!)
[19:19] <+Ken_Spencer> By stolen armaments he means things like rocket tanks, RAY guns, and war walkers. Anne, tell us about your episode.
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[19:19] <+AnneToole> In Scorpion’s Sting, the adventurers find themselves on a Jovian Pleasure Cruise, flying over Jupiter, when they stumble across a Ganymedian spy
[19:19] <+Matt> a mystery must be solved before the red scorpion escapes with the secrets of an ancient weapon
[19:20] <+AnneToole> They soon discover the Red Scorpion has a facility on Ganymede, and the adventurers must find allies in the wild west of Ganymede to stop the Red Scorpion’s plans
[19:21] <+AnneToole> Ultimately, they must venture into the mysterious Black Fog on Ganymede… and survive.
[19:21] <+AnneToole> done 🙂
[19:23] <+Ken_Spencer> The series starts to come to a head in “Escape from the Arena of Death”. Our heroes are contacted by an alliance of Rocket Rangers and the enigmatic Europans. These two sometimes foes are working together to bring down a greater threat, the Red Scorpion. An Allaince agent has managed to secure the location of the Red Scorpion’s secret base, but was captured
[19:24] <+Ken_Spencer> before she could transmit it. The heroes are sent to Mars where they must rescue the missing agent, or retrieve the information, before she is killed in a mad Martian prince’s gladiator pit. Honestly, the whole plot was because I have always wanted to write an arena scene.
[19:26] * ~Dan chuckles
[19:26] <+Ken_Spencer> The series reaches it thrilling conclusion in “Heart of the Scorpion”. The Alliance has grown to include several Earthling nations, their allies, Martians, Europans, and even a few Venusians. A massive flee tis gathered and our heroes take part in the largest space battle of the Rocket Age, culminating in a mad chase through the rings of Saturn to catch the
[19:26] <+Ken_Spencer> Red Scorpion! (done)
[19:26] <~Dan> Very impressive!
[19:27] <~Dan> So aside from the adventures, how much new game information is included in Trail?
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[19:28] <+Ken_Spencer> In addition to the episodes, Trail of the Scorpion has new equipment, traits, alien beasts, and organizations. Mostly it is the episodes, we only added things that needed to be added to make the adventures work, much like with the pdf series.
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[19:29] <~Dan> How difficult was it to include areas that haven’t been fully detailed yet in sourcebooks?
[19:30] <+James-M-Spahn> Can I speak on that for a second, Captain Spencer?
[19:30] <+Ken_Spencer> James and Anne had the biggest task as far as that is concerned, Matthew and I worked in known locales.
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[19:32] <~Dan> (Howdy, Lassek!)
[19:32] <+James-M-Spahn> I got the honor of being the first author to tackle Earth. I looked to real world history as a base-line. The NYC World’s Fair that year really was called “The World of Tomorrow,” and several of my NPCs were real world figures. Rocket Age does such a good job of setting a tone that I took the real world, turned it up to 11, then ripped the knob off….
[19:33] <+James-M-Spahn> …and threw it across the room. Motorcycles started to get popular in the 1930s, so I took that and made them Rocket Boards (radium powered flying surfboards), the mob was growing strong in NYC, that was a good baseline to address the Red Scorpion and local mafia, etc. It was really fun getting to use history as a playset. (done)
[19:34] <+AnneToole> There was very little about Ganymede in the original sourcebooks
[19:34] <~Dan> Sounds like you had a lot of responsibility, giving us our first look at the retrofuture Earth.
[19:35] <+AnneToole> oh, sorry, am I stepping on Earth? ha
[19:36] <+James-M-Spahn> It’s a small planet. 😉 But, I was done – go on, please, Anne.
[19:36] <+AnneToole> biggest one I’ve ever been on 😉
[19:36] <~Dan> No, sorry, please proceed, Anne. 🙂
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[19:36] <+AnneToole> Anyway, Ganymede in real life is outside the habitable zone, so there’s a lot of creative license
[19:36] <~Dan> (Howdy, GenoFoxx!)
[19:37] <+AnneToole> And I also think in real life, technically Ganymede couldn’t have any metals like gold
[19:38] <+GenoFoxx> (hiya Dan, everyone)
[19:38] <+AnneToole> but it is described as a gold rush planet, so since the gold rush in California would still be in people’s living memories in the 1930s, that made it plausible to have a wild west type town
[19:38] <+Matt> for Mars i was fortunate because i had a few fairly open paragraphs for the area and was able to flesh it out.
[19:39] <+GenoFoxx> well since it’s the ’30’s wouldn’t be more like Alaska?
[19:39] <+GenoFoxx> it^
[19:41] <+AnneToole> true, alaska gold rush
[19:42] <~Dan> How much leeway did you guys have to define these areas?
[19:42] <+AnneToole> but I live in California and have been to California gold rush towns 🙂
[19:43] <+GenoFoxx> point
[19:43] <+James-M-Spahn> Ken pretty much told us “Go nuts, have fun!” He was and is great to work for. The impression I always got was that he believes an adventure that’s fun to write is going to be fun to play.
[19:44] <~Dan> There was no concern about contradicting forthcoming sourcebooks?
[19:45] <+AnneToole> He only had a couple points for me — make sure Ganymede is forested, and also that there is no native animal life.
[19:45] <+James-M-Spahn> Well, that’s just it. Ken told us to have fun, and then we’d work with stuff that was forthcoming. It was a very much a group effort.
[19:45] <+Ken_Spencer> As long as a writer doesn’t contradict established canon, or goes off in a tangent that doesn’t fit the setting, I feel they should be free to add to Rocket Age. I know what is coming and how I want that to go, so I do not assign projects that will hamper the development.
[19:46] <~Dan> Very sensible!
[19:47] <+Ken_Spencer> I should note that my overarching plan is very skeletal, I don’t want to hem myself or my writers in if I don’t need to.
[19:48] <+James-M-Spahn> What’s funny is, in hindsight, the links seemed to develop very organically.
[19:48] <+Matt> i based Jastariv on an area north of the Gammon Ranges in Northern South Australia where i spent time doing geological surveys in the early 90s
[19:48] <~Dan> One concern I had about the setting is that with the possible exception of the Europans, there didn’t seem to be a “Big Bad” threat. Was Red Scorpion designed to address that?
[19:50] <~Dan> (Well, and the Nazis.)
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[19:52] <+Ken_Spencer> The Red Scorpion serves as the big bad for the series, and can be used in other episodes if you want. In fact, a GM can easily run their own episodes in between the published ones in the series to expand it if they want. Assuming the PCs don’t fail horribly at the end, they should be able to end the Red Scorpion once and for all, or do they?
[19:53] <+James-M-Spahn> Personally, I never saw Rocket Age as needing a “big bad.” It’s not like say, Star Wars, where it’s the Rebels vs. Empire. Rocket Age always felt like a giant sandbox full of POTENTIAL big bads. That’s the strength of the game – it can be molded to fit an individual campaign.
[19:54] <~Dan> Can you say a bit about how Red Scorpion interacts with other potential enemies, like the Nazis, the Soviets, etc.?
[19:54] <+Ken_Spencer> As far as a big bad and Rocket Age, I see the setting as having dozens of bass, some of them bigger than others. For example, could do an entire series based in on Martian principality and the battle to overthrow the local tyrant. Then there are the 31st Seal terrorists, the Soviets, and a host of other ‘small bads’. (done)
[19:55] <+Ken_Spencer> The Red Scorpion uses other potential enemies as it sees fit. I don’t want to give away Big Red’s overall plan, but it has its fingers in a lot of pies. That is why at the end of the series an alliance forms to get rid of him.
[19:55] <+AnneToole> When there’s no big bad, chances are it’s you 😉
[19:56] <+Matt> i agree with James.
[19:58] <~Dan> Well, I’m thinking in terms of a technologically advanced threat to challenge the Rocket Rangers, for example.
[19:59] <+Ken_Spencer> The Europans are even part of the, as they sometimes call it, “Alliance for the Independent Nations of the Stellar Body Agreed upon to be Named ‘Sol’ for the Time Being” or the “Alliance of Europa and Other Lesser but Still Worthy Planets.”
[19:59] <+James-M-Spahn> The Europans have everyone outclassed, I’d say…
[20:00] <~Dan> They do, but they almost seem to be the opposite end of the scale: a threat that you can’t face without starting a full-blown war.
[20:01] <+Ken_Spencer> We have had rangers get killed in the playtests, largely due to armor penetrating weapons, and even had a pair of Venusian warriors armed with woodaxes beat a small war walker to death (and then lit a biiig fire under it to cook the meat out of the shell, much to their disappointment).
[20:02] * ~Dan chuckles
[20:02] <~Dan> Fair enough. I guess I’m thinking in terms of a classic space pulp Ming-type threat.
[20:03] <+Ken_Spencer> I think the threats are fairly well balanced, there are few Rangers and they can’t be everywhere, the Europans talk big but also contradict themselves and have bizarre motives, the Martian princes command thousands of warriors, the Nazia and Soviets have advanced tech, there are a lot of threats.
[20:04] <+AnneToole> if a threat is big enough, people unite in a common cause, and where’s the fun in that? 😉
[20:04] * ~Dan chuckles
[20:05] <+Ken_Spencer> Other that the Red Scorpion, nothing of the Ming the Merciless level of threat, and that is what makes Trail of the Scorpion such a good series, it provides a foe that is worthy of the greatest of deeds, the highest of sacrifices, and can unite the (some of the) various factions of the Solar System, if only for a time.
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[20:07] <~Dan> As we’ve discussed previously, Ken, one thing that strikes me about Rocket Age in general is its mix of pulp scifi tropes with a kind of realistic worldview. Assuming you agree, to what degree does that impact Trail?
[20:07] <~Dan> (Howdy, MonkofLords!)
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[20:10] <~Dan> (Howdy, Monochrome_Tide!)
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[20:10] <~Dan> (Howdy, egyptian!)
[20:11] <@egyptian> (hi!)
[20:11] <+Ken_Spencer> The Red Scorpion is very pulpy as a villainous organization, in fact it transcends the classic pulp of the 30’s and has a certain amount of late 20th Century spy thriller about it (as Anne shows in her episode). Honestly, a massive secret criminal conspiracy that stretches across the Solar System is hard to bring a realistic touch to. Instead, we focused on
[20:12] <~Dan> (Cut off at “we focused on”)
[20:13] <+Ken_Spencer> the smaller touches in the episodes. Hank’s American BBQ in Roosevelt Station on Venus. Traffic jams in the skies above New York City, the plight of workers and slaves in Justariv (not to mention the dog). Small things that add up to a look at a retro future where people don’t just shoot beams and zoom around, but actually live and work. (done)
[20:14] <+James-M-Spahn> YOU HAD TO BRING UP TIMMY!
[20:15] <+Ken_Spencer> Only because I wish I had thought of it first.
[20:15] <+James-M-Spahn> That’s how I feel about all of Matt’s stuff. I’m still jealous of Mind Dunes.
[20:15] <~Dan> I take it that there’s not a lot of moral ambivalence in the campaign itself, then?
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[20:16] <+Ken_Spencer> There are some moral questions posed, and hard choices need to be made at certain points.
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[20:18] <~Dan> You mentioned an Erisian ship in the first adventure, correct?
[20:20] <+Ken_Spencer> The wreckage of one that crash don Venus eons ago. It is a little hint at what is going to come in Lure of Venus, namely more on the Erisians and their history. Mostly, the exploration of the batab’ik tree deals more with lizard monkeys, swarms of giant insects, and falling (plus Erisian hunter-killer robomen). (done)
[20:21] <~Dan> I ask because I didn’t think the Erisians were known yet. Or has that changed somewhere along the way?
[20:23] <+Ken_Spencer> There are hints to them in the corebook and in Asteroid Belt, as well as in Bring ‘Em Back Alive you meet an Erisian. Somehow the Erisian chapters have been the ones cut out of several books to save space for material that is a bit more focused. It will have a home in Lure of Venus, and feature as a major setting and plot element.
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[20:23] <~Dan> Ah, I see.
[20:24] <~Dan> (wb, Matt-Haines!)
[20:24] <+Matt-Haines> sorry i dropped out folks- doing this on a phone.
[20:25] <+Ken_Spencer> And from half a world away.
[20:25] <+Matt-Haines> lunch is over here so i have to get back to work.
[20:26] <~Dan> No problem, Matt! Thanks for chatting with us!
[20:26] <+Ken_Spencer> Thanks for joining us!
[20:26] <+James-M-Spahn> Catch you later, Matt!
[20:26] <+AnneToole> thanks Matt
[20:27] <+Matt-Haines> anyone who has questions or wants to contact me can find me on rocket age Facebook or through my blog:(Link: http://quicktimevent.blogspot.com.au/?m=0)http://quicktimevent.blogspot.com.au/?m=0
[20:28] <~Dan> (brb)
[20:28] <+Matt-Haines> thanks everyone and Merry Christmas!
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[20:32] <~Dan> (back, sorry)
[20:33] <~Dan> For a while, it seemed like published adventures were out of favor. Do you see that changing?
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[20:34] <+Ken_Spencer> I think they went out of favor with certain fan bases, but when you look at how important an adventure is to Call of Cthulhu, you see that they are still a big part of the industry. C7 does a campaign book for just about every one of our product lines.
[20:35] <+James-M-Spahn> I certainly think it’s changing. But my work outside of Cubicle 7 is primarily in OSR gaming, which harkens back to the days when published adventures were king. I think we’re finding a balance between railroaded published adventures and open ended adventures.
[20:36] <+Ken_Spencer> Definitely, James, I got a large part of my start writing adventures for Frog God Games and the OSR fan base wants those adventures.
[20:37] <~Dan> I’m a big fan of published adventures, myself. For one thing, I don’t always have time to come up with my own adventures. For another, a published adventure shows me what the authors think an adventure in the setting looks like.
[20:38] <+James-M-Spahn> I think when the swing in gaming went to more “storytelling” games, there was a backlash – now we’re finding a balance. Trail is like that. You’re not forced to go from 1 to 2 to 3. You can use the elements as you see fit to tell an overarcing story in your own existing campaign. Enhancement, not replacement.
[20:38] * ~Dan nods
[20:38] <~Dan> So it’s fairly open-ended?
[20:39] <+Ken_Spencer> Yes, even down to who the Red Scorpion really is.
[20:39] <+James-M-Spahn> Yep.
[20:39] <~Dan> Really? That’s an interesting touch.
[20:40] <+AnneToole> yeah, we had a bunch of different options for RS, but I think only 2 made it in
[20:40] <+James-M-Spahn> In my own adventure, Tesla’s Torch, there’s a long chase sequence. It doesn’t say “This happens then that happens.” Instead it gives game masters a few ideas to use, develop, or to inspire them to something I never would have thought of.
[20:40] <+Ken_Spencer> The last two episodes work best together, but can still be ran on their own if need be. You would just get more if you finally have your shot to bring the Red Scorpion down after battling the syndicate for some time.
[20:42] <+Ken_Spencer> I had to cut it down to two for a couple of reasons. We were already past the word count limit and Andrew was giving me the stink eye at cons, and one of the options was a great idea and would have been a lot of fun, but also would have changed the setting in a major way. Still, that one might come out at a later date in a different product.
[20:43] <~Dan> You said the climax is a major space battle, right?
[20:44] <+Ken_Spencer> Part of it, ships burning in the void, beams flashing back and forth.
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[20:45] <~Dan> How difficult is something like that to run in the game?
[20:45] <+James-M-Spahn> When I read it, I couldn’t help but imagine the space battle in Return of the Jedi, done with 30s pulp imagery. The sky filled with crusiers and rocket fighters.
[20:46] <~Dan> That’s awesome. 🙂
[20:46] <+Ken_Spencer> I worried about that and it didn’t play out right in testing. The big battle is largely happening in the background, it serves to show how high the stakes are and give our heroes a little more desire for payback before the climatic confrontation.
[20:47] * ~Dan nods
[20:48] <~Dan> Is this the first full-blown space battle that’s happened in the setting?
[20:49] <+James-M-Spahn> That depends on how enterprising your GM is… 😉
[20:49] <~Dan> Heh. Well, there is that. 🙂
[20:49] <+Ken_Spencer> There are several skirmishes in various episodes, and a few in Trail of the Scorpion, but this is the first look at when the big guns come out.
[20:50] * ~Dan nods
[20:51] <~Dan> So in what remains of regular time, is there anything you’d like to bring up that we haven’t discussed?
[20:51] <+Ken_Spencer> I might note that I have mass combat rules setting on my hard drive, waiting for the right book to put them in. I’m thinking Imperial Jupiter might need some fleet actions. They will require a lot of testing, but my folks can handle that.
[20:52] <+Ken_Spencer> I loved working with the entire Trail team, though it was a bit worrisome at first giving that much control of my baby, but James, Anne, and Matthew had shown in their pdf episodes that they had the chops, and they did not disappoint.
[20:53] <+James-M-Spahn> I was shaking like a leaf the whole time; I wanted to do Ken proud.
[20:54] <+AnneToole> I normally write vidya games, so it’s nice to create something wholecloth and not have anyone say “Yeah, we can’t build that.” Or to give players tons of options, without having to worry about breaking the game haha
[20:54] <~Dan> Was this your first gig for the line, James?
[20:55] <+James-M-Spahn> My first gig was an adventure called Warlord of the Gravitic Portal, but this was my first product that would see mass print release in the industry – so I was very intimidated.
[20:57] <+Ken_Spencer> We got backed up on the pdf episodes, there are around a half dozen making their way through the pipeline, James’ is one of them.
[20:57] <~Dan> That’s great! I know he’s a big fan of the game. 🙂
[20:57] <~Dan> And yes, I can see that amount of freedom being refreshing, Anne. 🙂
[20:58] <+James-M-Spahn> I was (and am) a rabid fanboy before I had the honor of contributing. I also run the unofficial Rocket Age facebook community and have been an RA evangalist from the PDF release.
[20:59] <+James-M-Spahn> In a moment of serendipity, my physical copy of the core arrived the day I got confirmed on Warlord of the Gravitic Portal.
[21:00] <~Dan> Cool. 🙂
[21:00] <+Ken_Spencer> Thanks for having us on, and I hope everyone runs out and picks up Trail of the Scorpion. It would make a great Christmas present to the GM in your life (and one that will give back to you in the form of hours of fun role-playing). I will leave things with this quote, slightly paraphrased, from George Rogers Clark: “Great things have been effected by a few people well conducted.”
[21:00] <~Dan> Nice. 🙂
[21:00] <~Dan> Thanks for chatting with us, guys!
[21:00] <+James-M-Spahn> It was an honor.