Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Being A Palladium Freelancer: Interview With Jason Richards

I hope everyone enjoyed yesterday's kickoff of Palladium Week. We're keeping things rolling today by interviewing someone who actually works as a Palladium Books freelance writer. Jason Richards is the author of Rifts World Book 28: Arnzo--Vampire Incurison, contributor to D-Bees of North America, and also works on the Chaos Earth line. He's also a friend of the site, and was kind enough to answer all our questions regarding his time working with Palladium, writing for a "kitchen sink" setting, and looking for the profound in Rifts:

1) There's been a lot of talk online about the relationship Palladium has with its freelancers. You've worked both on the Chaos Earth and Rifts lines as a freelancer for Palladium. What's it been like for you as a Palladium freelancer? What's the editing process been like?

Freelancing for Palladium is a great experience. Not only do you get to work with such original and amazingly deep source material, but there are very few people that are better to have looking over your shoulder than Kevin Siembieda.

As a freelancer, there isn’t a lot of back and forth in the editing process. If I have questions or things I want to bounce off of Kevin, I certainly do that, but after my proposal is accepted and I’m told to get to work, I basically produce a complete manuscript and then turn it in. I make sure to give it a good edit on my own, and usually turn to other friends or colleagues during the editing process for another set of eyes. Same goes for playtesting.

2) Amongst your contributions to Palladium's Megaverse have been Rifts: Arzno, a part in D-Bees of North America, and have also worked on some Chaos Earth material. Which is your favorite Palladium line, and why?

Chaos Earth has become my one true love in Palladium. I just think that the setting is so dramatic that you can’t help but get great role-playing out of your group. So many games lend themselves to the accumulation of power, wealth, prestige, etc., but Chaos Earth is really just about surviving in a world gone wrong. There’s really no “saving the world” in the conventional gaming sense; the drama is far more personal, which I think makes the struggle that much more epic.

3) Palladium's fans have a reputation for being exceedingly, exceedingly loyal. What do you attribute this to?

The love between the fans and the company is a two-way street. Fans love Palladium and are fiercely loyal, I think, because Palladium is loyal to them. You don’t have to know Kevin too well to get that he really wants to please the people that play his games. He’s always on us to create new, dynamic, and exciting material that won’t just be interesting to read or fill in some little niche here or there. He wants us to write stuff that jumps off the page and make the fans think, “I wanna play THAT!”

4) What's the most profound thing you've seen written in regards to the Rifts setting?

Trick question, right? There’s nothing profound in Rifts!

The first thing that I thought of was the discussion of the Juicer character class in Juicer Uprising. Juicers, being effectively roided-up supermen, were always portrayed as devil-may-care hotshots in the earliest source material, but in Juicer Uprising the conversation was expanded to include things like how once juiced, people often regretted the decision, or started to view life as being far more precious than they once thought. Plus, you have discussion about people making the choice to undergo this procedure with the full knowledge that it will kill them, but they have no other way to support their family. There are a lot of things in Rifts that are like that; they seem very shallow, but you can find some real depth if you’re willing to look.

5) What are the challenges and advantages of writing for a "kitchen sink" setting such as Rifts?

The advantage is the same as the challenge, I think: the versatility. I have a hard time not coming to rely on the “kitchen sink” aspect to solve my design or thematic problems. When looking for a new character background, or a plot point in an adventure, it’s easy to just give up a little bit and say, “It was Rifted in!” or “It’s a new kind of magic!” or whatever else you want to throw at it. There are times when those can be very solid answers to whatever issue I’m trying to resolve, but that can become tired and cliche very, very quickly. If I come up with a story and the best villain is the cybermagical genius from a parallel universe where humanity has evolved into a race of hyperlizards, well that’s available! However, more often than not the answer is somewhere already within the existing canon.

6) OK, you're in charge of Palladium, you have $100K in your pocket to spend, no restrictions or strings to the money. How would you spend it?

I’d love to see some weight lifted from Kevin’s shoulders when it comes to day-to-day operational stuff. I know how hard it is to be creative and write when you have paperwork and administrative things hanging over your head. It would be awesome if he had a personal assistant to take care of paying bills and other minutia of running an office, so that he could have more time to do the creating that he really loves to do. I think $100K would go a long way toward that.

7) What RPG writers do you look up to, and why?

Erick Wujcik was my absolute #1. I had the chance to spend some time with him one-on-one a few years ago and I can’t even begin to describe how brilliant a game designer he was. That shouldn’t be any surprise to Palladium fans, but I was just floored. He was very down to Earth and understated in his approach, but the depth and complexity of his ideas for new projects were just overwhelming. He had the unique gift to create games that were simple and elegant, but perfectly balanced and logical. He is definitely missed.

8) What's the next Palladium project you can tell us about?

As I type this, I have the manuscript for Chaos Earth: First Responders up in the other screen. It will give players and game masters more information on playing characters that aren’t tied to the North American Alliance (or their military/law enforcement arm, NEMA), be they regular Average Joe types, or the types of emergency responders that get swept up in responding to the disasters of the Great Cataclysm. There will be lots of new source material in there for fans of the game that I think will greatly expand the setting. The section I was just writing is called Consumer Transporation – The technology of vehicles of the Golden Age. Hopefully that’s the sort of thing that everyone wants to see.

9) What's your current dream project you'd like to do for Palladium?

I’m looking forward to continuing work on more Chaos Earth titles and really building that game world into something epic and expansive. On the horizon I’ve got Brothers in Arms, which will cover the Golden Age militaries of the North American Alliance, and Psychic Storm, which will outline the first psychic classes of Chaos Earth. Hopefully I can work those up over the next year or so, and follow them with more. Eventually it would be nice to give it the same “Ultimate” treatment that Rifts got a few years ago, and update the ruleset and tweak the setting a bit to bring it in line with the new standards set out in the Rifts Ultimate Edition.

Thank you, Jason! You're always welcome at RPG Blog 2--thanks for being a big part of our Palladium Week!


Anonymous said...

Great interview. Arzno's one of my favorite books for Rifts, and I can't wait to see what Jason has for Chaos Earth. I definitely think it is a tighter, more desperate and grim setting than Rifts. Not better or worse than Rifts, but a fun change.

Great job this week Zach! Can't wait to see what's next!

Zachary The First said...

Thanks! I'm glad you liked it! Judging from today and yesterday's hits, we have a lot of Palladium fans who read RPG Blog 2! Nice to know!

Anonymous said...

Excellent, excellent work. Now how about a joint one with Maryann and Preacher? They did contribute a lot at one point and are still highly visible icons of Palladium.

The Deific NMI

Zachary The First said...

I'd be open to that, sure! I doubt I have any time this week for it, but I guess it doesn't need to be Palladium week for an interview..