Welcome back to another entry in the Creating a Universe series, where I go behind the scenes and discuss what I’ve been creating and why. I believe in developing a battle plan for every dream, working my tail off, and not giving up until I’ve either achieved it, or no longer draw breath. You can’t fail if you never give up, but I also believe in being realistic, doing research, experimenting, and getting additional pro help (Pro editors, artists, designers, etc.)
Ego/arrogance/pride/secrecy/worry/doubt only hurts your dreams, as does living an unbalanced lifestyle (relationships and health are more important than any career.) As for my dreams, I’ve been working on them for a very long time and thought I’d talk about the process a bit, as it relates to my universes, hence this latest series.
In Part 1, I provided some context and talked about a few of the goals I’ve had since the beginning (a thick blend of high fantasy and science fiction, caches of uber-advanced technology, the ability for even an average joe to change things in an extraordinary way, for better or worse, superheroes, flawed gods, the GodStorm, and other fun elements in my campaign settings.)
Wait, campaign settings? By that, I mean Toonaria and the Cosmoverse, which are sprawling, imaginary universes—backdrops for both my fiction and tabletop rpg/board and card games.) For an expanded overview, read Part 1!
In Part 2, I discussed QT Games’ unusual take on magic. Be sure to check that out too, if you haven’t. And I’ll shed even more light on these concepts down the road (and you can pick up a free book on my publishing site for an even juicier bite! There’s also a big excerpt for my anthology: Arcane Synthesis here!) I also have a forum and site for all things Cosmoverse and Toonaria at QT Games. ‘Nuff said, let’s roll . . .
Today, I’m going to spend some time talking more about what I’ve been up to, and why I started creating Toonaria when I had (and still have) such big plans for the Cosmoverse. (The Cosmoverse is also blended-genre, includes some of the same elements as Toonaria, and is even bigger — If you’ve seen the giant star map, then you know the Cosmoverse is really quite vast. I printed only 3 maps and put one up on my wall–it’s a giclée art print, even! It’s quite “purdy”, I think — one day I hope to have a “need” to print many more.)
In addition to being an author and game designer, I’m a commercial artist, and have always brought a notebook or clipboard everywhere I’ve gone. I’ve been doing this for as long as I can remember. If I’m not designing a new creature, I’m brainstorming a game mechanic or laying out a new story. Some of my most productive moments have been at red lights or while walking the dog (for that, though, I have to wait till I get home to flesh out my ideas.) Cartooning has been one of my many loves, and I’ve come up with a large number of critters over the years, more than a few of which were cute, like this one you’ve seen before (I didn’t have time to chase down another):
In the late ’70’s, refusing to let my young age stop me, I started making board and card games spotlighting my characters. Inspired by Tom Wham’s comic book-styled backstory for his Awful Green Things From Outerspace board game, I started drawing comic strips to tell the backstories for my own games. Being very young and still very rough around the edges, I didn’t realize just how rough my work was back then.
I submitted one of my games to the same company that published Tom Wham’s games (then TSR, now WotC), but they told me they were only accepting Tom Wham’s games in a cartoony art style. That turned out not to be entirely true, but looking back at my work then, as fond as I still am of many of those early concepts, I’m not surprised. They were turning me down gently. I didn’t let it discourage me, but kept designing, drawing and writing like mad.
My 7th grade English teacher had been pushing me hard to pursue a career in writing after a continuous flow of A+’s, so I switched to writing short stories for my own games. I never stopped doodling, however. When it came to games, Wham and I thought alike for the most part. I’ve always avoided crunchy rules, preferring simpler mechanics and storytelling, and my Epic Destinies Roleplaying Game, a card-based game using my toony critters, is no exception.
Even so, I do like a rich reading and gaming experience, having cut my teeth on Dungeons and Dragons and numerous other roleplaying games. As such, even Epic Destinies and my Toonaria Campaign Setting include some deeper elements, and enough mechanics so you aren’t left scratching your head guessing how to handle things. Epic Destinies is still under heavy construction and I’m revamping and expanding Toonaria.
I’ve matured as an author, artist, game designer and as a person (at least a little, I hope!) And I’ve worked hard to make Toonaria a place that grown ups can enjoy at least as much as younger adventurers. I’m not actually designing Toonaria for kids, but I’ll be keeping it PG enough that it can be enjoyed by young teens and up. Okay, tangent over—back to the “Why am I working on Toonaria?”
Every time I started creating a board or card game I couldn’t help but ask loads of questions about the critters I was populating them with (In my big, Minotaur Madness board game, I included over thirty creatures and several short stories–it was a really big game.) I never cared much abstract games. I wanted stories! I wanted characters, not pawns, and I wanted to know why they were doing what they were doing, how they felt about it, how they got along in between the games, and what their lives were like. So I wrote piles of stories about them all. Minotaur Madness became this huge, intimidating thing, though if you glanced through the rulebook, you’d see over half of it was only stories. Still, it was an expensive game to make, and I had crafted a 3 dimensional game board for it.
Minotaur Madness was under review at TSR for a year and a half. They were interested enough to work with me to develop 3 iterations of the game, each simpler, slicker and cheaper to make than the last. Unfortunately, they were struggling financially and the company nearly collapsed, and so ultimately they couldn’t afford to publish it. Just as well, as I’ve grown leaps and bounds as a designer since then (you never stop growing if you never stop), and now I can have more creative control over Toonaria, my fiction and my games.
I am finally in a position to start publishing at a higher level of quality, especially with the help of Kickstarter and you. Okay, I would love to be able to say some of my games have already been published, but I believe I’m heading in the right direction (it’s just taking longer than I’d like.)
High quality is one thing I’ve always been committed to. I’m not interested in publishing Toonaria or anything else unless it rocks. That means I work hard to get things right, always use pro editors, and when my own work falls short artistically or otherwise, I find another pro to assist. I’m not above teaming up, and have done so before on my Cosmothea Roleplaying Game. I don’t rush things (my upcoming novel, The Shadow Reaper, went through around 12 drafts and two pro editors, costing me a pretty penny, but I couldn’t be happier with the results, so it was all worth it, exhausting as it was.)
As for why I’m pursuing Toonaria when I had already started developing my gritty Cosmoverse Campaign Setting, well, I didn’t set out to make another universe. Toonaria came together on its own, showing me it was needed, because I couldn’t stop drawing and writing about it! I made prototypes for over two dozen games, each with their own creatures. Toonaria filled a different niche, one that inspired laughter, hope and courage, touching on different and sometimes important concepts in ways I could never address in my more serious Cosmoverse.
Toonaria embraces a more innocent image of yesteryear, and avoids the sleazy trappings present in modern TV, cable shows and music, without pretending that such things don’t exist. It offers a breath of fresh air for those tired of reality TV, sexually-saturated media, tired tropes and intolerance, and handles interesting topics in fun ways. Oh, and it’s silly at times. It just is. At other times, it’s thought-provoking, despite appearances. It does deal with some deep topics in subtle ways. And the games are flexible enough to enable players to focus on the sort of tone and experience they’re shooting for. Those are all things that I’m betting a good number of you feel we could use more of! Toonaria and Epic Destinies (not to mention my board and card games) aren’t kiddie games with elementary school stories (nor are my Toonarian stories)—they just don’t pander to the darker, sleazier side of modern culture.
So, Toonaria is my outlet for telling different kinds of stories, stories that may not be “cool” in the way that some think of as cool, but have a special significance and charm all of their own. They’re cool in a different way. If I do my job right, many of you will fall in love with Toonaria as my friends, family and I have over the decades. I’m tired of creating and not publishing, so now I’m doing both. If you help spread the word and back my projects on Kickstarter (or just buy them), that will help me create even more, which means we all win!
I’m working on several very cool projects currently for both Toonaria and the Cosmoverse. Both The Shadow Reaper (A story I get giddy just thinking about), and Sea of Worms will be out before too long, and I’m working very hard on other projects as well. More good stuff’s coming! That’s all for today, my friends. Don’t be silent, let me know your thoughts, and let’s chat!
Till next week (when I write a shorter post!), remember that every day’s a gift, and every dream worth dreaming is one worth planning for—and working hard at. If you don’t have a dream, I encourage you to think up a good one, or stand with another and share theirs. Cheers!