Interview: Shane Ivey of Arc Dream Publishing

This weeks interviewee is Shane Ivey of Arc Dream Publishing, publishers of “Godlike,” “Delta Green,” “Wild Talents” and “Monsters and Other Childish Things.” Shane Arc Dream Publishingprovides some updates on new supplements for “Delta Green” as well as Arc Dreams “Godlike” game and a very interesting contest that could win you some free art. Read on for the whole interview.

Trask, The Last Tyromancer

Trask: Tell me about your gaming background. What made you want to start Arc Dream?

Shane Ivey: I started gaming in 1979 at age 10. A friend and I picked up Basic D&D after hearing about it from some other kids, gave it a shot, and fell in love. We started playing non-stop, and I’ve really been gaming pretty much non-stop since then.

In 1982 the same friend and I picked up Call of Cthulhu, because it sounded like an intriguing change of pace from D&D. We fell in love with that even harder than D&D.

Not quite 10 years later, I stumbled across a copy of The Unspeakable Oath in a game store. The Unspeakable Oath was a little fanzine-looking magazine dedicated to Call of Cthulhu. It looked like it had been photocopied and bound with thin cardstock paper, really cheap looking. It was amazing. These guys obviously loved Call of Cthulhu as much as me, or even more, because they went to the trouble of printing a magazine about it. So, again, in love.

I tracked down the earlier issues and started corresponding with the guys who made the Oath through America Online, which was really high tech and fancy of us at the time.

I joined their stable of play-testers, and started dabbling with writing, which I hadn’t really done up until then.

In 1992, they published Oath #6, which included a modern-day Cthulhu adventure called “Convergence,” which was about this fictional government agency called Delta Green. It was FBI agents secretly investigating weird Cthulhu cases and going insane.

At the time I was in college getting a degree in criminal justice, about to start law school in New York with an eye toward being an FBI agent.

So, Delta Green wasn’t just falling in love, it was love on Valentine’s Day with a system full of Spanish Fly. It was like they’d written that stuff just for me.

We’ll skip ten years again, and in 2002 I had been working with Pagan Publishing, the guys who did the Oath and Delta Green, for quite a while. I ran the Delta Green website since 1998, I still play-tested and proofread a lot for them, I had written some things here and there. I was a really enthusiastic booster for Pagan and Delta Green.

In the meantime Dennis Detwiller of Pagan Publishing had written a new game that Pagan developed and that some friends of his were going to publish. The friends created a new publishing company called Hobgoblynn Press with plans to publish this new game, Godlike, as their debut title, and they had another one or two in development by other authors. I started running the website for Hobgoblyn.

And around this time I had made the transition from working in my day job as a webmaster/editor to a magazine editor.

Dennis and I worked really well together. After a while he started getting frustrated with Hobgoblynn Press. And eventually we decided we could start our own thing, combining my editorial experience with his established audience and reputation as a creator.

So in 2003 that’s what we did. We borrowed our company name from a secret agency in Delta Green and launched Arc Dream Publishing. We bought all the remaining Godlike books that Hobgoblynn Press still had, got Greg Stolze’s permission to use his rules set in further publications, and started publishing for Godlike and for spin-off projects.

Trask: You mentioned “Godlike” the game. Can you briefly describe it?

SI: Godlike is a World War II role-playing game, with superpowers. Its tag line is “superhero role-playing in a world on fire,” but we always have to add a caveat that it’s only about “superheroes” in the sense that they have powers. People who come to it wanting to play muscle-bound guys dressed in colorful tights with strong jaws and ludicrous plot immunity are inevitably disappointed. It’s more like “Saving Private Ryan” meets “Heroes.”

As a player, you play a Talent, who’s basically a normal man or woman of the 1940s who’s drawn into the war for whatever reason — most games are about commandos or other soldiers — and you have some weird power.

Some of them are really useful, like Healing or Flight or Invulnerability. Others are just strange, like the commando team captain who can inhale hundreds of pounds of material and then spit it back out again.

The game takes the war’s history fairly seriously, so the metaphysics behind superpowers serve to keep history more or less on track. Super-powered “Talents” tend to cancel out each others’ effects.

And because it takes the war seriously, it’s very dangerous. If your character gets shot, it’s entirely possible that you’ll be maimed or killed. Players learn pretty quickly to keep their heads down and move fast.

And it has a very effective “mental stability” mechanic that kicks in if you try to pull off heroics that your character can’t quite live up to. So you get player characters who break down in the middle of combat because they’re overwhelmed by the carnage and fear.

It’s awesome.

Bear in mind, this is superheroes done by Dennis Detwiller, a history buff who won awards for his horror game writing; and by Greg Stolze who was best known for the occult underground masterpiece Unknown Armies.

So it’s a kind of superhero gaming that I just love. As with Call of Cthulhu, it gives you a chance to play characters who are genuinely heroic — not because they’re so bad-ass, but because they put their lives at risk trying to do what they have to do.

Trask: There are some “Godlike” supplements available, such as “Saipan.” Do you plan any future supplements for this game?

SI: We have two in the works right now. One is Operation Torch, which has been in progress for years but keeps getting overtaken by higher-priority projects. Torch is mostly written but it needs a couple of chapters. My goal right now is to finish the current slate of books for one of our other game lines, Wild Talents, and a Delta Green book that’s in progress, and then spend a month putting Torch to bed. Operation Torch deals with the Allied landings in North Africa in 1942. Historically they were really kind of a cake walk for the Allies, but in the world of Godlike there are German Talents nearby in force who might make things very tough for the Allies if the Allied Talents can’t stop them.

And Allan Goodall is currently writing a Godlike source book called The Black Devil Brigade, which is about the First Special Service Force in Italy. The FSSF was a joint American-Canadian commando unit that just kicked all kinds of ass in our history. They do in Godlike, as well, but they also become famous for spawning an unusually high number of Talents.

Beyond those two we will certainly have more for Godlike, but I want to get those out the door before I get too excited about others.

Trask: Could you clarify the difference between “Godlike” and “Wild Talents?” Are they related in any way?

Wild Talents was inspired by fans of Godlike who loved the way the powers worked and the game worked but wanted to use them in settings other than World War II. So Wild Talents from the start was an attempt to distill the game mechanics of Godlike’s superpowers into a more flexible form that you could tweak to fit any setting and any tone of play. Wild Talents includes an extensive chapter on the history of the world of Godlike after World War II, but more in the way of an example than an official setting. And it includes a terrific chapter with guidelines for creating alternate histories that suit the tone of the game you want to play. Ken Hite, who did the excellent Suppressed Transmissions column for Pyramid Magazine and wrote a couple of books on alternate history for Steve Jackson Games, wrote that chapter for Wild Talents, and it’s amazing.

It breaks down four common themes in superhero settings such that you can dial them up or down in your own setting until it feels just right. It’s really cool. Since Wild Talents is all about taking this rules set into other settings, the first batch of sourcebooks present a wide variety of settings and style of play. “This Favored Land” is a serious game about Talents fighting in the U.S. Civil War, trying to keep their superhuman Gifts secret to avoid persecution and superstition. “The Kerberos Club” is about Talents in Victorian London, all of them members of a social club that was founded just for their kind — outcasts and misfits with unnatural abilities, not to mention the occasional immigrant from Her Majesty’s colonies in Faerie and Australia — and which performs secret troubleshooting missions for the Queen. “Grim War” is a modern-day setting where super-powered mutants — widely regarded as superheroes or classic supervillains — vie with underground sorcerers who specialize in summoning and striking deals with bizarre spirits. Grim War, written by Greg Stolze and Kenneth Hite, brings in the “company” rules from Greg’s game Reign to also allow the players to focus on spreading the power of the various factions, government agencies, and secret societies to which they belong. It’s pretty wild, and the spirits and magic system are fascinating and creepy.

Those three are all very close to release right now, along with the new Wild Talents hardback rulebook. There’s also a paperback version of the Wild Talents rules, which is stripped down so it includes just the core rules, not the chapters on the World Gone Mad history or the chapter on building alternate histories — it’s meant to be the thing for players who want the essential rules for cheap. It’s only $10, or $5 in PDF.

Later this year, we have plans for a Wild Talents sourcebook set in medieval Japan, called Silver Pavilion, that puts the folklore and magic of that period, as the people of that era understood them, into game terms. So just as This Favored Land kind of does for the Civil War what Godlike did for World War II, The Silver Pavilion will do for medieval Japan.

And we have a couple of other Wild Talents projects by Benjamin Baugh, who wrote The Kerberos Club and our game Monsters and Other Childish Things. One of them is a game about sorcerers whose powers literally change the world around them. Another is a guide to running Wild Talents in various historical eras, adding mythological monsters as the primary supernatural element.

And I would love to get Dennis to do a sizeable project about the world of Godlike in the modern day, too, but he’s pretty busy the next few months with other things.

Trask: “Godlike” is a game I can understand, but your other game “Monsters and Other Childish Things” begs for more explanation. I read the book description and am not quite sure I understand what the game is about.

SI: It’s “Calvin and Hobbes” meets “Call of Cthulhu.”

As a player, you play a more or less ordinary kid in the modern day. But your best friend is a super-powerful, horrible monster. Kids depend on their relationships with other human beings, so you need to keep your monster in check. But monsters love destroying things, including each other, and generally getting into mischief. And all that stuff is very fun. Which can reduce the incentives to protect those precious relationships by keeping the monster in check. And the world is filled not only with the usual things that make life difficult for kids — homework, drunk birthday-party clowns, school cliques that don’t want Your Kind around — but also people who know about monsters and are out to capture, kill, dissect or control them. Including your monster.

So, as a kid, you try to protect your monster from those nefarious forces, and the monster tries to protect the kid from lunch-money-stealing bullies and peer pressure and creepy substitute teachers. In some games, the players are all kids and the GM runs the monsters, the better to generate mischief and offer dangerous advice — but if the monsters get into a big fight, the GM hands the monster sheet over to that monster’s player to run the action. In other games, you might have one player play a kid and another player play the kid’s monster. Lay down some ground rules to make sure the monster player knows to behave in an alien, troublesome, monstrous way, and the fun pretty much writes itself.

I’ve run Monsters several times at conventions and it’s a blast. Especially when you let half the players play monsters, and you emphasize that monsters all are pretty hostile to each other, even when their kids are friends. Add in some secret anti-monster conspiracy to keep things hopping and it’s gold. It’s very fun, very funny stuff. I’ve also run it for my own kids, who are 10, 12 and 14, and they love it to death. They’re always pestering me to run it for them. And since my wife works in the local schools (she’s a DARE officer for the sheriff’s department), she’s talked about the game to a lot of teachers, who are usually fascinated by the whole idea. Just this afternoon, in fact, I ran Monsters for a 5th-grade teacher who had never played a role-playing game in her life, along with my wife and my daughter. They had a blast.

For Monsters, we have published two source books already and have a couple in the works now.’One of the source books already out is Curriculum and Conspiracy, which is a setting and adventure that puts the kids (and their monsters) in a high-scoring, achievement-obsessed middle school that is loaded down with dangerous, monster-related secrets. Ross Payton wrote that, and it’s a really fun setting for a more serious, sinister kind of game. The other one is “The Dreadful Secrets of Candlewick Manor,” which kind of turns Monsters on its head. The kids in Candlewick don’t have Monster friends or relationships with other people, or even memories of their lives before they got adopted into this big spooky orphanage; they have weird monstrous powers themselves and echoes or memories of events, which they can turn into relationships during the game.

Monsters and Other Childish Things is a game that really captures people’s imagination, and is a very fun read. But honestly, Candlewick is even better. I’m really proud of the work that Ben did with it. It’s alternately creepy and hilariously funny.

Trask: Tell me about the “Monsters of Oak Mountain” project/contest?

SI: Around Halloween 2007, one of the classes where my wife Rachel teaches was doing this big creative writing project where each kid was supposed to invent a monster who was his or her friend, draw a portrait of it, and write a page about it. At the time we had the hardback core book of Monsters and Other Childish Things at the printer, so the project — kids with monster friends — caught Rachel’s eye. She told me about it, and she told the teacher about our game. It seemed like it could provide a really fun way to show off how our game works on the Internet, so I worked out a deal with the teacher where Arc Dream would donate a little money to the classroom fund for each kid whose parents signed off on a permission form for us to use the kid’s monster and drawing online. In the end, every kid in the class got their parents to sign off on it. And then we promptly got buried in the Monsters release, in writing for the new edition of Wild Talents, and in convention season, so the actual online thing went on the back burner for about a year.

But we’ve launched it now. Every school day, I put up a new monster — a description as written by the students, with first names only to protect their identities, plus the kid’s own art — and we have a form where gamers can create “Monsters and Other Childish Things” stats for the monsters. We put our favorite sets of stats online, and after all of the monsters are up, the gamer who had the most sets of stats put online wins a custom piece of art work by Monsters artist Robert Mansperger — a portrait of your own kid and monster, for instance.

It’s running now at http://www.arcdream.com/monsters/oakmountain

Trask: Do you have any new “Delta Green” material coming out this year?

SI: We’re working right now on a new sourcebook called “Targets of Opportunity.” We’re following the same scheme with this one as we did with “Delta Green: Eyes Only” in 2007: It’s published by Pagan Publishing, but Arc Dream takes the helm on editing, hiring artists and writers, and putting the whole thing together. We’ll sell a limited run of 1,000 copies of a hardback edition, then we’ll print a larger run of paperbacks for retail distribution. “Targets of Opportunity” will have several all-new organizations for Delta Green to face.

There’s a Deep One colony that’s heavily entrenched in the Pacific Northwest; think Innsmouth, but you don’t have the entire U.S. Navy to come help when you stumble into it and have to deal with it. There’s a ghoul family that’s held tremendous power in New Orleans for centuries, and which has thwarted Delta Green before. It’s so dangerous that for Delta Green, Hurricane Katrina is not just a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions, it’s also a chance to strike at this threat that’s kept them at bay for years. There’s an order of immortals, and a pharmaceutical company that thinks it has a way to bottle and sell their immortality, without looking too closely at the hideous price they have to pay for it. There’s a Canadian covert organization dedicated to fighting supernatural threats. It comes across kind of like Delta Green but with fewer mistakes, but it has plenty of skeletons in its own closet.

And there’s the Cult of Transcendence.

The Cult of Transcendence is a massive, world-spanning cult that seems to be everything conspiracy theorists are afraid of — political and economic influence spread to every corner of the globe. In reality it’s both more and less than that. But it’s tremendously dangerous, and it’s a threat that makes the men in black of the Majestic group seem tame. The Cult of Transcendence was originally. The Cult of Transcendence was originally written by Greg Stolze more than ten years ago, when Delta Green was brand new, and in fact it was mentioned in the original 1996 Delta Green book as an “upcoming” sourcebook.For the last year or two Greg has been working with Kenneth Hite, Scott Glancy and me to finally bring the material up to date and into the light of day. Delta Green fan that I am, that’s very exciting.

With that, I thanked Shane for his time and concluded the interview.

Trask, The Last Tyromancer

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trask

Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

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