Ashley Warren, Uncaged: An Interview

Uncaged Volume I sprang onto the scene in early March of 2019 and quickly became one of the best selling products on the DMs Guild. We caught up with Ashley Warren, who sparked a small fire that turned into a conflagration of creativity, and asked her a few questions about Uncaged and how it has grown.



SM Hillman (SMH): Ashley, how did you become involved in the Uncaged project? What was the genesis of the project? Who were some of the others who worked behind the scenes to ensure Uncaged’s success.

Ashley Warren (AW): I originally had the idea about a full year prior to it becoming a major project. I had intended to just write a trilogy on my own, with each adventure focused on a different female mythological creature. But on a whim, I shared the idea on Twitter and it totally took off. It was pretty clear to me that the project would be better if there were more people involved, so I put out a call for submissions and received more than 100. Our cover artist and creative director, Samantha Darcy, joined early on and has played a substantial role in the general aesthetic of the book. DMs Guild, which is where we had already planned to publish the book, also reached out to us early on to do a hardcover version. They’ve been amazingly supportive from the get-go

SMH: What was the process like for bringing so many talented people on board to work on this project? There are so many great writers and artists involved, were they recruited or was there a storm of interest around the project that drew people to it?

AW: A bit of both! I put out a call for submissions on my website but I also reached out to some new creators who I knew were looking to get started in RPG writing. For the most part, the community formed organically. It was quite the storm!

SMH: Was the project conceived as being multi-volume from the beginning or did that come about from the success of the first Uncaged? Has Uncaged Volume 1’s success exceeded expectations?

AW: I had originally planned for one volume because I only expected a handful of submissions. But as submissions came in I realized there was no reason to keep it to one volume. I wanted to ensure that we could include as many creators as possible, the majority of whom were new to RPG writing and publishing. Given the nature of the project, it was important to illuminate new voices in the community. The response to volume I has been incredible. I’m so grateful for the RPG community for believing in this project and showing so much love and support for it.

SMH: Can you talk about the theme of the volume and how that informed the adventure creation process? Did certain pieces of art also have a hand in the inspiration or did the writing inspire the art?

AW: The volumes aren’t necessarily themed, although we do pick a specific creature to “represent” each book. Our first cover monster was Medusa, who was the inspiration for the whole project, so it was fitting that she’d grace the first volume. We also try to include at least one adventure that features the cover monster. The first volume has quite a few adventures inspired by Greek mythology, although there are plenty that represent other mythos. Volume II features a rusalka on the cover and there are several Slavic-inspired adventures and creatures. The writers and artists in the books work closely to ensure that the art is representative of the adventure content.


SMH: The book itself is not laid out in the typical way many of the DM Guild products are. Was this a specific choice to differentiate Uncaged from the typical adventure or supplement? Or was it just simply a choice to create something unique without worrying whether it matched other books or not? It feels a bit old school in the design, though that could just be my age showing!

AW: I wanted it to have somewhat familiar trade dress and organization but since our cover art is so unique, I didn’t feel beholden to making it look like other D&D content. Our priority is readability, and most of the modules follow a similar structure. Each volume has unique design elements that correspond with the cover, like different border colors, although the goal is to have the four volumes feel congruent as a collection.

SMH: The Tale of Two Sphinxes by Jessica L. Washburn is a Tier 4 adventure. Was it important to have at least one adventure for higher level play? Some players lament the lack of high level content for the D&D 5th edition, was this a consideration when soliciting content for Uncaged?

AW: It was — we do try to have a fairly broad range of adventures for each volume. The writers based the level of their adventure on the creature they chose, and it just so happens that many of the creatures fall into the Tier 1/Tier 2 range. We are planning for a fifth book later this year, tentatively titled Uncaged: Goddesses, that contains only Tier 4 adventures.

SMH: Uncaged deals with creatures from folklore and mythology. In our fantasy role-playing games we make direct and indirect references to mythology as designers and players. Where do you feel these new looks and approaches to the creatures in Uncaged fall in terms of those mythologies? Are they adding to the mythology or are they taking a more honest look at the folklore itself?

AW: I think it’s a bit of both. As you said, RPGs already pull so much from mythology, legend, and folklore. The project was inspired by these creatures as they are portrayed in the Monster Manual, so much of the subversion focuses on their role in the worlds explored via Dungeons & Dragons.

SMH: Why do you think there are so many dangerous monsters and creatures of folklore that are identified as female? That is not to say there are not plenty of dangerous creatures identified as male, but do you think it says something about how humans create their mythologies? How does this inform us as game designers and adventure writers?

AW: Many of these creatures are intrinsically linked to the cultures from which they were created, so they are often a product of society at certain points in time. Many female monsters are defined by their sexuality — either they are too beautiful and drive men to their deaths, or they are old/ugly and therefore “monstrous.” Some of these monsters steal or kill babies; others become monsters because their children are stolen or killed. Medusa’s story in particular is tragic and traumatic, since she experiences sexual assault and then her own body is mutilated and used as a weapon to cause violence onto others. So when it comes to us as designers and writers, we have our own biases that we project onto the monsters we incorporate into our games. We include certain monsters for a reason, and I think it’s worth evaluating why we choose particular monsters and what their role is in the narratives we create.

SMH: Everyone loves to talk about when we were first introduced to RPGs, but especially D&D. Can you tell us a little about how you first came to rolling dice and conquering dungeons?

AW: I’ve had a lifelong passion for all things fantasy and science fiction. As a kid I was very intrigued by fantasy roleplaying games and used to read old D&D books at the library but I didn’t meet anyone interested in playing until adulthood. I feel new to the community still but also like I belong and have found my place. All of my closest friends now are people I’ve met through D&D. It’s the most special part of my life and I can’t imagine that ever changing!

SMH: Without spoilers, do you have a particular adventure in Uncaged Volume 1 that is your favorite? Is there one that blew you away when you read it?

AW: It is so hard for me to pick a favorite — they are all special in their own way. Can I pick a few? A Wild Hunt by Kat Kruger is beautiful and haunting; it features the kumiho, a nine-tailed fox from Korean folklore. The Tale of Two Sphinxes by Jessica Washburn is very ambitious and unique. Lost Children, Found Family by Catherine Evans has a really cool debate mechanic that I absolutely love and haven’t seen anywhere else.

SMH: Volume II was due in April. Will there be a Volume III?

AW: We did a 24-hour charity stream for RAINN in April (raising $4K) so we ended up moving the Volume II release to late May. Volume III is tentatively slated for late June and Volume IV in early August. We are planning for a fifth book that focuses on the evil goddesses in D&D lore, which will likely come out late this year or early next year. Additionally, there are some spin-off projects being produced by members of the Uncaged community, including a collection of diverse NPCs, a tarot deck, and a bestiary featuring Uncaged monsters (and some playable races).

SMH: Is there any hint when the hardback will be out?

AW: The hardcover for Volume I is available now, along with the PDF, at DMsGuild.com. The next three volumes will also be available in both print and digital formats on the days of their release.

SMH: Where can folks find you on the web and what other projects are you working on right now?

AW: Sure thing! My website is ashleywarrenwrites.com. I’m on social media: twitter.com/ashleynhwarren, instagram.com/awarrenwrites, facebook.com/ashleywarrenwrites. My RPG work is all found on DMsGuild.com under Ashley Warren. I am working on quite a few projects! I’m authoring the Dreams of the Red Wizards trilogy for Wizards of the Coast/Adventurers League, the first of which comes out later this month. I am also gearing up for the Summer 2019 RPG Writer Workshop (www.rpgwriterworkshop.com). I have some personal projects on the horizon, including the next two adventures in my 5e solo adventure trilogy, Tribunal, and my 5e angels-and-demons campaign, A Requiem of Wings, out this winter.

This article was contributed by Sean Hillman (SMHWorlds) as part of ENWorld's User-Generated Content (UGC) program. If you enjoy the daily news and articles from EN World, please consider contributing to our Patreon!
 
Sean Hillman

Comments

Bought this and am reading through it. Excellent idea and excellent execution. Many of the adventures deal with consequences of decisions-- sometimes from decisions made in the past, sometimes decisions made by the PCs. It is great to see the boundaries of what RPGs can do expanded. Cannot recommend this enough and I am excited for future volumes. I would rate this project 11/10.

One nit pick, hopefully the authors/editors see this comment: the adventure summaries should be summaries of what happens in the adventure, and the adventure background section should contain any information necessary to understand the rest of the adventure. Many of the adventure summaries are just abstracts of the adventure background, and therefore are not terribly useful. I just read Ghosts of Saltmarsh where the adventure summaries are very helpful.
 

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