We recently sat down for an interview with James Pozenel, the man behind the horse…shark…well, Horse Shark Games, anyway. Let’s see what he had to say!
Who are you and what makes you a member of the DCC/MCC Community?
Hi, I’m James A. Pozenel, Jr. I’m a fan, player, judge, and author. I have written several third-party adventures, articles, and supplements for DCC RPG & MCC RPG. I also contributed to Goodman Games Yearbook #8.
I have to ask: where did you get the name Horse Shark Games?
Heh, funny story. Before I started publishing my own books, I coded a set of auto-fill DCC character sheets to release on DrivethruRPG.com. I was all set to upload it, I didn’t have any clever idea for a publisher name. Photoshopped animal mash-ups were popular on social media and I remembered the shark body on horse legs which is in itself way more terrifying than a sep – it was basically a mouth on horse legs. So Horse Shark was the publisher for these character sheets and forgot about it. A year later I’m about to release The House of the Red Doors and I still didn’t have a clever publisher name. I gave in to inevitability and adopted Horse Shark as my brand.
You’ve put out a very popular pair of releases, but they are very different. What was the inspiration behind them?
The House of the Red Doors, is a judge and one-player adventure for DCC RPG. It is really a “What If…?” scenario from the epilogue to “Death’s Master” by Tannith Lee. The character in the story wants to change his life through the magic of Lord Death’s bonded miracle worker, but chickens out. I wanted a “fun house” experience that skewed more towards puzzles than combat. The virtue choices as the determiner of your starting character class in Ultima IV were a big inspiration. Symbolism and a sort of tarot reading were early parts of the development as well as the idea of paths and alignment. When Doug Kovas turned in the centerpiece of the adventure which was going to be a drop table, it inspired me to bring in the idea of Mexican Loteria cards instead.
Enchiridion of the Computarchs has its genesis in MCC RPG itself. I felt that the shamans needed more options and the best place to look was the flagship, Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. Joseph was kind enough to let me leverage the spells section of DCC RPG and convert many of them into programs. There’s some programmer humor in there as well as lots of Neuromancer and other Gibsonian literature, Hardwired series by Walter Jon Williams, Ubik and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, and lots, lots more. Films like the Matrix, Tetsuo: The Iron Man, and Ghost in the Shell (from 1995) also get a nod here and there.
Enchiridion of the Computarchs is a very tech-y setting. Tell us a little more about it.
A year ago I don’t think I would have called it a setting, but my thinking has evolved since then. Nonetheless, the book is greatly informed by my professional career. I’ve been a self-taught software developer and architect for the past 20 years. I poured several computer science concepts into the book to make it as real sounding as it could be for entertainment around an RPG table. Its purpose is to provide some level of parity with DCC RPG’s magic system in high-tech settings. I think it has great utility for settings where computers exist and there are player character “casters” that can manipulate those set pieces. It’s designed for people playing in dystopian-future, far-future, modern, science-fantasy, and post-apocalyptic settings. One of the crowning jewels in the book might be the Appendix to create ICE (Intrusion Countermeasures Electronic). Lots of cool tables that leverage the Demon entry from DCC RPG as a way to create big, mean guardians of cyberspace. Take a listen to Glowburn episode 31 to get a sense of what madness is possible!
You’ve got a new release that will be out very soon which expands on the Computarchs world. What can you tell us about it?
Enchiridion of the Computarchs was conceived as a bigger book with not only a list of new programs but also some alternative casting mechanics and several new patron AIs. Uncertainty with the pandemic made me scale back the book, but I still had lots of content developed. Scions of the Computarchs is a limited series of patron AIs. The first issue presents the Erebus Network which is, I think, the 1st published patron to have 1st-5th level spells. Inspired by the film Shredder Orpheus, so there are elements of TV preachers, internet addiction, hacks into dangerous projects, media manipulation, and of course Greek mythology. I was able to speak with Robert McGinley, the creator of Shredder Orpheus, which was also a great experience.
You’ve also got a new book that you’ve done in cooperation with Pyschoda Press. Let’s talk about that.
Right. About a year ago I started messing around with a framework to create Pure Strain Human classes that leveraged DCC Lankhmar benisons and dooms mechanics. Donn and I use each other for sounding boards and I showed him the article. He loved the PSH article and pitched the idea of a collaborative zine for MCC. Turns out Donn had a couple of articles for MCC laying around that he wrote. Kickstarter Zine Quest 3 was a few months away so the rest is, as they say, history.
You also ran a tournament at Gen Con 2019. Any memories from that you’d care to share?
My crazy self said, “I think I will take my 2 tween-age kids off my wife’s hands and run a solo player tournament over three days.” Besides the experience of juggling all that, I think the players of the tournament left some strong impressions. The serious players that really took their time with the adventure blew me away. The woman who won the Saturday tournament was careful and really used the clues provided to navigate the mansion. The Gen Con winner made sketches of all the symbols of the reading and notes on the back of his sheet.
How did the Covid-19 pandemic affect your personal gaming and professional publishing?
I don’t have lots of spare time so the ability to game over the internet actually allowed me to play more. I prefer in person but it’s a lot easier to get together online. Publishing has been good, too. Lots of time at home means more spare time to write. End of 2021 is crazy! I hope to have 4 books out in 3 months.
What’s in the future for Horse Shark Games beyond the releases we’ve already talked about?
There are 2 more issues of Scions of the Computarchs coming by the end of the year. Psyche/Net and OHM-13 each clocking with 20 pages. Psyche/Net brings familiars into high-tech settings and OHM-13 has a program and tables that create a synthetic vessel for your caster. It’s a mashup of DCC RPG sword magic and a new character class.
After that, I have a couple of new adventures cooking. Cats of Rahtlu will be released in GFA 2021, but I think I’ll give it the full treatment as a Horse Shark release in 2022. My daughter Ophelia helped develop it. Not to be outdone, my son is also collaborating on an adventure with me. After that, I am thinking of writing a full setting for Computarchs to pull together and expand that line fully.
There are lots of other bits and bobs hanging around so keep those eyes peeled.
Thanks for taking some time out and speaking with us. We can’t wait to see what’s in store!
Thanks for having me!