AetherCon Magazine Interview with Jason Nelson of Legendary Games

I recently interviewed Jason Nelson of Legendary Games for AetherCon VI. Check out more cool interviews in the AetherCon VI Convention Magazine when it is released Halloween Day here: www.aethercon.com

JAMES: Legendary Games has been leading the third party chase into Sword and Planet roleplaying ever since the Legendary Planet Kickstarter and now they’re making awesome Starfinder products. How do you approach making one of these products as opposed to a straight up medieval fantasy or sci-fi product?
JASON: Sci-fi is a really broad genre, so I think it’s important to think broadly about what constitutes sci-fi. Something like Battletech or Firefly is entirely human-focused; there really are no aliens. Star Wars or Star Trek is very humanoid-centric, with a lot of humanoid alien races. The cosmic universe in Marvel or DC comics has a lot of humanoid aliens, but also a lot of very strange alien creatures as well. And of course you’ve got the cosmic horror angle of Lovecraft or movies like Alien or The Thing, where alien things are purely, wholly, and completely ALIEN (and almost always hostile). All of these can be elements of a great sci-fi story and setting, and in creating something awesome and fun for sci-fi you need to not pigeonhole yourself into thinking about it just one way.
We started the Legendary Planet project as a “sword and planet” pulp kind of adventure saga, what used to be called “planetary romance,” that focuses on alien worlds and planets and cultures rather than on flying through hyperspace in your starship. It blends John Carter with Thundarr the Barbarian in the grungiest parts of the Mos Eisley spaceport, linked by lostech Stargates. That’s a very specific vision of sci-fi, one that feels a lot more like Flash Gordon than the Starship Enterprise, and one we thought then and still think now is a ton of fun to play and to run using a blend of elements of traditional fantasy-style adventuring (yes, there are space dungeons) with the tropes and trappings of sci-fi.
That said, not everything can be translated from one genre to another. The feel you want in your sci-fi game is important, and the stories you tell are apt to be more about exploration, espionage, and discovery than just “kick in the door, kill the orcs, and take their gold.” Good fantasy stories need more than that too, but when we talk to authors about what they want to do, it’s important that they have a vision for why someone would want to play this adventure or use this new item or race or class or whatever in their game. Does it evoke a classic sci-fi trope or story? Does it let them do something fun and exciting and new? How would someone connect to this from a more traditional fantasy mindset?
At the end, though, it’s all about being true to your vision for what this product is. I learned years ago in my doctoral program that any given research project cannot be about everything. Don’t just try to throw every bit of stuff you can think of in there, and don’t try to make *THIS* project be the one that answers every possible question. Decide what it is that THIS project is about, and let it be the best expression of whatever that is that it can be. There are a million variations of what sci-fi can be. Choose your vision and be true to it, and that’s how you’ll make it awesome.
JAMES: Now that Starfinder is here, what do you have coming for that system? Do you have any plans beyond the Alien Bestiary?
JASON: Our initial project focus for Starfinder was bringing the Legendary Planet Adventure Path to the new system. This is a massive adventure saga taking heroes from 1st to 20th level, with each new adventure taking the heroes to a new world of adventure. Each installment is set up like a traditional Paizo AP, with a big adventure, new monsters, magic and technology items, planetary gazetteers, bonus articles from authors like Sean Reynolds, James Jacobs, Tim Hitchcock, etc., and an ongoing fiction story series by Chris A. Jackson. The first adventure, To Worlds Unknown, is already out, as is the Legendary Planet Player’s Guide (with 4 new alien races and tons more great stuff), with the second adventure, The Scavenged Codex, heading to layout shortly.
In addition, we’ve been publishing a series of ready-to-visit planets called the Legendary Worlds series, each one of which brings you an amazing array of richly developed planets ripe for adventure no matter your game system of choice. From fantastic asteroid hives to burning foundry planets and from endless ocean worlds to dreamlands of mystery and magic, you’ll find fantastic opportunities for adventure for your heroes, with hooks to draw them in and delightfully detailed history, culture, geography, and some new surprises on every planet like new monsters and playable races, new feats, spells, class options, and other rules elements or even a micro-adventure, and of course a set of adventure hooks as to why your heroes might want to go there. Sci-fi campaigns can be very open-ended because of the heroes’ ability to travel via spaceships, gateways, hyperspace, and so on, so whenever your players decide to go off-script and explore what lies beyond the next stargate or hyper-jump, you drop in one of these planets and boom, there’s always a world of adventure waiting for them! These are about 20 pages each, and are awesome for adding depth to any space campaign. Plus, they’re very modular, able to be used together or separately, and as part of a big campaign like Legendary Planet, the official Starfinder setting, or your own homebrew galaxy.
We’re also working on bringing the amazing Aethera Campaign Setting to Starfinder. We co-published this incredibly detailed campaign setting (almost 600 pages) with Robert Brookes at Encounter Table Publishing, and while already probably 450 pages of that book are system-neutral campaign setting material, we want to bring the whole package to Starfinder and 5th Edition D&D. This setting blends sci-fi and fantasy with elements of art deco steampunk noir and cosmic horror. It features starships and high-tech gear formed by a mysterious mineral called aetherite, which spawned sentient robots called the phalanx and an enhanced race called the infused, but at the same time a mystic barrier seals the entire system from the rest of the cosmos blocking the influence of the gods and trapping the souls of the dead within the inky blackness of the void. Demon-worshiping taur invaders to the system found themselves trapped as well, along with their extraplanar allies, and the entire system is reeling and rebuilding from the devastating Century War. It’s a terrific setting, and another very cool take on the sci-fi spectrum, a few degrees more in the direction of classic space opera than Legendary Planet, but still playing with the elements of the genre in a very cool and exciting way.
We also are working on bringing psychic classes to Starfinder, and also looking at bringing the Starfinder races and classes back to Pathfinder. There are plenty of folks interested in straddling the systems in both directions, and we’re happy to make that happen!
JAMES: Legendary does a lot of charity bundles. What is the best way for the gaming community to have a positive impact on the world?
JASON: Pay attention. See what’s going on in the world as a whole, and in the games industry too. Look for under-represented voices and find an avenue for them to speak. Look for unmet needs and find a way to do what you can. You don’t have to boil the ocean all at once. As the cliche tells us, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Don’t let the immutable fact that you can’t fix EVERYTHING get in the way of doing SOMETHING. Don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good. Perfection is a great goal, but a troublesome strategy.
Put into concrete terms, look for opportunities to do something for someone else, and talk to other people in the industry. You’re not alone. There are a lot of great people out there, and they might be interested in helping out in some way too. They might just need a push, and you might be just the one to give it to them. Team up and partner with others on charity projects to boost visibility for what you are doing. But if you’ve got a specific desire, then follow that one too. We did a big multi-publisher mega-bundle for Hurricane Harvey, but we also did a smaller bundle of just our stuff, the Heroes for Harvey Bundle on DrivethruRPG, because we had some specific charities we wanted to support. You can do both.
JAMES: One of my favorite Legendary Games products is Trail of the Apprentice, which is made for families to play together. Why was it important you to make a product that families can enjoy around the table?
JASON: The tabletop RPG hobby is great, but we need to think about how to pass it on to the next generation. The hobby is great fun. It’s a great bonding time. I played with my kids when they were younger. My oldest is out on her own now, but my 19-year-old still plays in my Friday night game. My 13-year-old likes playing off and on, though he never caught the fever quite as much as the older two. It’s great for learning math and social and problem-solving and teamwork skills. It’s also a great time to sit around the table and just share time together.
The lead author on Trail of the Apprentice, Paris Crenshaw, started writing those adventures for his daughters as part of a Girl Scouts activity, and it built up from there. Someone showed me a D&D-themed patch for Girl Scouts that they could get. It was pretty awesome.
Of course, it’s also a financial investment in the future of the business. That generation that started playing back in the 70s and 80s is graying. I started playing when I was 10. I’m 47 now. I’m not going to be around forever, and neither are the people who started playing when I did in 1981 or even before then. If we want to keep this a viable business, we need to do our part to make sure there are easy on-ramps for people to learn how to play and become customers!
JAMES: Legendary Games seems to have a fascination with things that are alien but it outer-space, otherworldly forests, or the occult. What is it about alien places and creatures that fascinates you?
JASON: I’m an equal-opportunity lover of monsters and strange things, so I don’t know that I love aliens any more than any other kind of monsters. My favorites are probably classical monsters from mythology and legends, and some of the classic RPG monsters that I grew up with. I think a lot of our contributors love aliens and sci-fi and strange, weird stuff, and part of the Legendary Games philosophy is following your passion in what you create. You get great people with great writing talent and rules knowledge working on things they’re excited about doing, that’s when you get something Legendary. 🙂
JAMES: What is your favorite Legendary Games product and why?
JASON: I have a deep fondness for Under Frozen Stars, largely because it was the first product I brought from concept to completion after taking the reins at LG. Our first half dozen products or so we had drawn up and started on back during our first year in 2011, when we were just getting set up with Clark Peterson (formerly of Necromancer Games). Clark had to drop out after that early phase and I took over and got us relaunched in 2012, first bringing those early products to completion, but Under Frozen Stars was all new and all me getting it up and our the door. Ironically, it also was our first sci-fi/fantasy crossover product, featuring a lost alien city at the North Pole, a cyborg ninja, techno-organic ogre magi, and a climax in a cybernetic processing factory!
JAMES: Can we can a hint about things yet to come?
JASON: We have a ton of amazing projects in the hopper, including broadening out our focus to create more original content and casual games outside the RPG sphere, as well as some new independent projects we’ll be talking about probably early next year. It’s great to produce things for other RPGs like D&D, Starfinder, and Pathfinder, but it’s also nice to have some things that are entirely our own as well.
Of course, RPG products are still going to be our bread and butter, and we’ll soon be releasing the Forest Kingdom Campaign Compendiumwhich we Kickstarted back in the spring. The Pathfinder version is already out to backers, and the 5E version is in layout now and should be done around the end of the month. This turned into a massive 424-page tome of monsters, magic, character options, spells, iconic heroes, complete adventures, and fantastic fey and forest-themed rules and systems, including a whole chapter on royal tournaments and events from athletics and cooking contests to jousting, archery, and high-stakes, high-fantasy competitions for every kind of character.
Our next Kickstarter project will be bringing the next book in that line to life, the Pirate Campaign Compendium. We originally had planned to launch that on September 19th on Talk Like a Pirate Day, but the scheduling in and around the Forest Kingdom book didn’t quite work out and we ended up flipping the Alien Bestiary project to launch first and moved the pirate book back down the schedule. Almost all of the writing is done for both the Pathfinder and 5E versions of that book, aside from whatever backers sponsor to add to the book via stretch goals and special pledges, and we actually are already ordering art and working on layout for the sections of the book that are already done. The whole idea of the Campaign Compendium series is to create themed campaign books that we can turn around and get quickly into your hands with fantastic quality that really brings home the fun for your game.
We’ve also got all of our ongoing product lines, like incredibly rich character class books for Pathfinder like Legendary Brawlers and Legendary Gunslingers coming out soon (to go along with already existing books like Legendary Rogues, Legendary Paladins, Legendary Vigilantes, Legendary Kineticists, and new hybrid classes and villain-focused class books too), as well as traditional fantasy adventures like the snow-covered centaur adventure The Horseshoe Calamity, the high-level pirate base of Fort Scurvy, and monster-focused books like Eldritch Elementalism. It’s going to be a furious finish to the year for LG for sure!
JAMES:What is one thing you want people to know about Legendary Games?
JASON: That they should totally buy one of everything! Or two. Two is good. 🙂
Seriously, though, we’re a talented team made up of some of the best authors and artists in the business, most of whom are already creating the official products people are already using. We are dedicated to excellence in what we create (one of our other company mottos: “Always. Be. Awesome.”), making premium-quality products that you’ll be proud to own and that you’ll love to read and be excited to play. There are plenty of companies out there that make great stuff, but if they want to enhance their D&D or Pathfinder or Starfinder game, whatever the genre they love from horror to sci-fi, ancient Egypt to pirate adventures on the seven seas, classic fantasy to courtly intrigue, they’ll find none better than Legendary Games!
They can always keep up with the latest at our website (www.makeyourgamelegendary.com), following us on FacebookGoogle+, or Twitter (@LegendaryGamesJ), or on messageboards like Paizo.com, ENworld.org, and rpg.net! If they have any questions, they can email us directly at makeyourgamelegendary@gmail.com.

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