Intergalactic Diseases & Cosmic Mystery: An Interview with Clarence Redd
  • Intergalactic Diseases & Cosmic Mystery: An Interview with Clarence Redd


    In preparation for our review of Odd Soot, the wonderful new gaming experience from Frost Byte books, we sat down with game creator Clarence Redd to discuss the creation process and inspiration behind the game. His answers were detailed and thoughtful, shedding some light on RPG design and research. When we received our review copy, the game wasnít quite finished, but had been thoroughly playtested. Clarence even built some of the aliens with LEGOs to expand upon the visuals a bit. This game is worth checking out.



    David J. Buck (DB): What was your inspiration for "Odd Soot?"

    Clarence Redd (CR): Diseases are powerful story devices. They can literally change the course of history. The Black Death killed half of all Europeans in the 14th century and delayed the Renaissance by a hundred years. Diseases turn global threats into personal struggles, making them ideal for storytelling. Inspiration for the game came from several different sources. I read books on the history of medicine and studied old anatomy drawings. That was amazing sources of strange afflictions, weird behaviours and uncanny illustrations. Ironically, most treatments in those days just made people worse. But Iím also fascinated by people who refuse to give up, despite their illness. They re-invent themselves to overcome the limitations of the disease. I find it truly heroic to fight an illness like that and I wanted to explore that in a game setting. Iíve also read a lot of HP Lovecraft over the years. Call of Cthulhu was my favourite RPG for many years and I love the quirky investigations and not-quite revealed mysteries. Other authors in the Weird genre, like Jorge Luis Borges and Karin Tidbeck, have also been big inspirations. Palladium never found its way into my gaming groups, however, but I can certainly see a connection to Odd Soot.



    DB: The artwork has a cool period feel to it. Will there be miniatures or any supplements available down the road?

    CR: There are several campaigns and scenarios on the drawing table. Odd Sootís alternate 1920s universe will be detailed with new worlds, more aliens and even weirder antagonists. There are many mysteries to unravel. Iím also hoping to have a modeller recreate the alien species digitally in 3d. That will allow us to do all sorts of cool things - miniatures being one of them. Iím very excited to see how it develops.

    DB: What was the developing process for "Odd Soot" like? How long did it take to develop, write and play test?

    CR: Itís taken me 10 years to go from initial idea to final book. The actual writing, layout and illustrating took about four years, with a lot of research, testing and reworking to get everything right. The initial spark came when I had a severe case of burnout. I was confined to bed for long periods and out of sheer boredom started daydreaming. I scribbled down notes of my daydreams and after a while I felt an urge to organise them. That led me to a rough outline of the setting. But then it felt like something was missing and I got stuck. So, I set out looking for inspiration and, in a stroke of luck, found the beautiful anatomy drawings of the 19th century. I thought, if I could craft aliens in that style, I would be onto something unique: vintage aliens. So, I spent a few months leafing through thousands of old drawings. Picking out the best, I cut them apart and painstakingly reassembled them into aliens. Intestines, claws, seed pods, tentacles, algae - repurposed, they turned into LEGO pieces of interstellar anatomy. And this graphical Frankenstein process brought the project back to life. Intuitively, I had learned the aliensí behaviours, weaknesses and quirks during the tedious hours of cutting and pasting. The setting came alive when the various species had been defined. After that, writing and illustrating merged into a massive creative spiral. It just kept going.

    DB: What sort of challenges would you say are involved in a putting together a project like this? It's incredibly detailed--a player's handbook, game master guide and monster manual all rolled into one!

    CR: RPGs are complex beasts. They combine detailed rules, advanced layout and lots of artwork. Many different competences are brought together in a tight package. And itís all there to strengthen the overarching concept - the setting. Everything else is trimmed away. As in any creative work, you need to look at your work with fresh eyes as often as possible. And then make the necessary changes, over and over again. When a project stretches over several years, it becomes a challenge to stay on target. In many ways, it comes down to sustaining hope. Even if you only make tiny additions, you must keep the image of the final product in your head. As a target and motivational device.

    DB: What made you decide to go with the Mythras system for mechanics?

    CR: The gritty style of play in Mythras fits Odd Soot very well. Characters are ordinary people and combat is deadly, giving it an almost noir mood out of the box. The skill-set is well-suited for investigative scenarios. With rules for Passions and Luck Points added in, there are just enough storytelling devices to tell cool, player-oriented stories. And BRP games are eminently hackable. The core is really stable. Adding new systems on top doesnít break the mechanics. It was easy to bring in extensive new rules for Relationship Maps, The Soot, Circles and difference engines - they just clicked into place.

    DB: Where can our readers learn more about the game and/or purchase it?

    CR: We have just relaunched our webpage - www.frostbytebooks.com - with Odd Soot material. There are aliens, starships and a description of the game. The game is released October 8 on DriveThruRPG.

    DB: Do you have any cool stories from the play test or advice for running the game?

    CR: What surprised me most was how close the players got to their PCs. It turned out that the systems for disadvantages and Circles made players appreciate their characters much more - despite being a kind of ílevelling downí. Walking with a limp, being unable to run or having a tragic background from an orphanage, for example - all these made the players care more for their characters. The struggle with the disease brought out something new in the playerís relationships with their PCs. It was intriguing to watch.

    DB: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

    CR: Make sure you check out all the vintage aliens on www.frostbytebooks.com/denizens

    We hope youíve enjoyed this interview and be sure to check out Odd Soot, available Oct. 8!

    This article was contributed by David J. Buck (Nostalgia Ward) as part of EN World's News Columnist (ENWC) program. We are always on the lookout for freelance columnists! If you have a pitch, please contact us!
    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Cripes's Avatar
      Cripes -
      Sounds real exciting! The aliens look weird, creepy and real different - loved to hear about their creation method!
    1. R Karan's Avatar
      R Karan -
      Looks awesome. This is a must-buy for me.
    1. Gorath99's Avatar
      Gorath99 -
      Clarence even built some of the aliens with LEGOs to expand upon the visuals a bit.
      As I understand it from the interview, he used cut out bits of anatomical illustrations like metaphorical LEGO, not actual LEGO pieces.

      Shame, I was really curious about those LEGO aliens. :-)
    1. R Karan's Avatar
      R Karan -
      @Gorath99: My thought exactly.

      Odd Soot has been released now on DriveThruRPG. Just ordered my print copy : )
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