Community Publisher Profile: ZOG

We caught up with the individual behind the blackout! Well, the one in Crater Valley at least. It’s an interview with the head of Terminal Games—a person known as ZOG!

Who are you and what makes you a member of the DCC/MCC Community?

I am ZOG, an avid player and Judge of DCC/MCC as well as many other RPGs and the writer and publisher of Blackout in Crater Valley. In my day-to-day life, I’m also a social worker and I play in bands but we are here to talk about games! RPGs have been a part of my life for almost as long as I can remember. I have very early memories of seeing ads for D&D in comic books when I was a little kid in the 80’s and then thanks to games like Hero Quest and Battle Masters I began to actually learn how to play them at the age of about 9. I played Shadowrun and AD&D with my siblings and cousins and then, later on, got into other games like RIFTS, TMNT RPG, D&D 3.5, and the various Games Workshop games. 

I sort of drifted away from the hobby in my mid 20’s and was more focused on playing in bands and collecting records. At some point, my brother and I got invited to play in a drop-in B/X game at a coffee shop and it sort of rekindled an interest in playing RPGs for me. I was sitting bored at work one day not long after and just decided to search Google Images for “D&D” or something along those lines and came across Peter Mullen’s artwork and it just blew me away, instantly transporting me back to my childhood. I sort of became obsessed when I realized he was a contemporary artist and that there were new games coming out that looked like this. Somehow I connected the dots that he did a lot of work for Dungeon Crawl Classics and was so pleased to find that it was available at my local gaming store here in Vancouver. I purchased the rule book, and I think for the first time in my gaming career read a rulebook cover to cover, making sure not to skip anything. It was so well written and really made space for the unpredictable, the funny, the exciting, and the bizarre-all major factors that I have always enjoyed when playing RPGs. I’ve always been drawn to playing Magic-related characters and the DCC magic system is just hands-down better than anything else out there, it always takes the game in such interesting directions, and involving patrons and gods provides ample opportunity for the Judge to just run wild.

I started a DCC campaign with some friends right away and I knew I’d found a system that worked really well for me. As I mentioned above I play in bands and have been involved in the DIY music community here for over 25 years and I really appreciated Goodman Games’ embracing of the fan community surrounding their games and the way that the 3rd party publishers were a major factor in the DCC scene. Seeing all this play out in the Facebook groups and on discord really made me want to publish something and put it out there for other DCC players. 

Tell us about Blackout in Crater Valley.

Blackout in Crater Valley is a zero-level funnel utilizing the core mechanics of DCC RPG but set in a small town in the 1980s. It utilizes a unique character creation mechanic to allow players to build a team of teenage misfits who will face peril as they try and rescue their friend Julie from an evil force that has returned from beyond the grave to menace their town. In traditional DCC funnels, players are encouraged not to get too attached to their characters as they will inevitably die a gristly death but with Blackout I’ve created tools that encourage players to really flesh out their characters and build a team that really feels like a group of high school friends. This creates a lot of drama and tension when the characters start dropping like flies that I feel lends itself to the VHS-era slasher vibe. I was really hoping to channel the gonzo excitement of DCC into a nostalgic setting that I truly love, drawing a lot on my own tastes and interests. Also, not to toot my own horn because very little of this can be attributed to me, but I think we have put together some truly excellent artwork in Blackout and Pontus Bjorlin, a great RPG creator in his own right was an incredible help and did a stellar job with the layout, cover and interior art, as well as all the other amazing artwork from Eric Radey, Johannes Stahl, Sally Cantirino and Simon Underwood.

Blackout in Crater Valley has a strong 80s vibe to it. Is this coming from personal memory or collective nostalgia?

A little of both I think. I am a child of the ’80s and some of my earliest memories are sitting around watching movies like Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, The Goonies, The Karate Kid, Monster Squad, and music videos on MTV. As I’ve gotten older my love for these films and other 80’s classics has only grown and I came also to love old horror films like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Sleepaway Camp, Pumpkinhead, Evil Dead, etc. I’ve always loved the music of the ’80s and it’s a major inspiration in the music I create today. All of these factors made me want to set something during this era, and it helps also that players can’t just whip out a cell phone and call for help. 

It’s also designed as both an adventure and a setting. How much more challenging was that to create?

You know it didn’t really feel challenging to me at all. I’d been thinking about how it would be a lot of fun to make something that felt like an 80’s slasher film but with a DCC vibe for a while, specifically with the goal of having something special to play with my regular gaming crew on Halloween. I attended one of the Cyclops Cons and had a truly amazing experience playing in a Lankhmar game judged by Harley Stroh and felt so inspired afterward that I stayed up until 2 am writing an outline for Blackout. Over the next few weeks, I worked a little at a time to build the core story out and then ran it for some friends over Halloween and we had so much fun, right away I began to think that maybe it could work as a module and that I might try and fund it through Zinequest on Kickstarter. I’m really fortunate to have a brain trust of RPG fanatics that I play with regularly who all gave me great feedback that really helped me flesh out the events of the game and how I wanted it to run and feel.

The setting itself is actually based on the small town in southwestern Minnesota that my grandparents lived in, a regular destination for me growing up. I brought up a map of the town online and began to sketch it out and it brought up memories of different locations there which really helped me to imagine the scenes of the adventure playing out. Developing both a story that drew on films and music that I love and a setting that evoked strong personal memories for me really helped me feel inspired and keep the momentum going while writing the adventure. 

How did the Covid-19 pandemic affect your personal gaming and professional publishing?

Well for starters I’d say that the pandemic may in fact be indirectly responsible for me to be publishing at all. I historically always played RPGs in person with local friends, which inevitably gets harder to do as one gets older. The pandemic forced me to learn about Discord and Roll 20 and allowed me to play with a much wider group of people since I was no longer limited to folks local to Vancouver. I’ve also attended all of the Cyclops cons and met so many cool people and had great experiences as a result. I think I’ve played more RPGs in the last two years than I had in the twenty that proceeded it. While the pandemic has been a major challenge in many aspects, its impact on gaming has been a really positive one for me. 

What’s in the future for Terminal Games?

I’m finishing up the last bits and pieces of the Blackout Kickstarter and working on my next project, which is an MCC module now. I’ve created the outline for RETURN to Crater Valley and hope to launch it next year once I’ve got the MCC adventure in the bag. The goal is ultimately to have 3 Crater Valley adventures that will be available as a boxed set but that’s a little ways down the road. 

Thanks for taking some time out and speaking with us. We can’t wait to see what’s in store!

My pleasure, thanks for interviewing me and supporting Blackout in Crater Valley

Check out all of James’ releases through Horse Shark Games on the Goodman Games Online Store!

Author: pandabrett

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