Designer’s Diary: Triple Ace Games – Wonderland No More (Savage Worlds)


Wonderland No More
Wonderland No More is a complete setting for Savage Worlds published by Triple Ace Games.
By Kevin L Anderson, Lanse D Tryon, and T. Jordan Peacock

Welcome to the thirty-second Designer’s Diary, a regular column where designers are given the opportunity to take readers on an in-depth ride through the design and development process of their system, setting, or product. If you’d like to share your product in the Designer’s Diary column, send a message to aaron@roleplayerschronicle.com.

The following article was submitted by three writers for Triple Ace Games. Their comments are preceded by their initials equating to:

KLA — Kevin L Anderson
LDT — Lanse D Tryon
TJP — T. Jordan Peacock

Description
KLA — Wonderland No More (WNM) is a chance to “play” in a world already created by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (better known by the pseudonym Lewis Carroll), being based upon the two books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, And What Alice Found There. Referees and players can read the books and immediately get an idea of how the world operates and what can be found there.  If you like, the setting has two sourcebooks both freely available on the internet!

Archetypal races from the books are available: “normal” Humans, anthropomorphic Animals, animated Chessmen, ambulatory Plants and the rotund Tweedle.  Magic is catered for by gourmancy (using food to cast spells), faith (some believe Alice is a divine being; others worship the Spirit of Conflict) and even witch queens!

Taken as written, the book presents a situation occurring after Alice left Wonderland and leads the players into a campaign where they get to meet royalty, right wrongs, behead cards and maybe liberate the whole of Wonderland in an eight-chapter story.  Twenty-seven Savage Tales provide more adventures, while a whole bestiary provides fearsome opponents such as slithy toves, mome raths and the terrifying Jabberwock!

LDT — Wonderland No More is an exploration into the world of Lewis Carroll’s books, extrapolating events years or decades past Alice’s last recorded visit.  For many inhabitants of Wonderland, the two Alice books constitute Holy Scripture, and Alice herself is worshiped by many as an absent goddess. The Queen of Hearts has gone mad, and it is not abnormal for the player characters to very soon rack up prices on their heads exceeding that on the head of the White Rabbit.

The boundaries between the Real World and Wonderland have thinned, and sometimes characters from either world cross over. Meanwhile, a deeper threat is stirring, and the player characters play an instrumental part in the world-changing events to follow.

Purpose
KLA — I was going through a bit of a low time in my life and needed something to occupy my spare time. One of my friends, Dave Blewer (of Sundered Skies fame), suggested I write something, and after some time mulling over what to write I came up with the idea of Wonderland No More. I still don’t know why Wonderland caught my imagination as I was not a fan of the books before starting Wonderland No More — maybe it was a random particle of inspiration that happened to find a home in my head. ;)

LDT — It caught my imagination and I ran with it.  I wasn’t thinking too hard about reasons.

TJP — I’ve long had a fondness for the Victorian aesthetic, but in particular I’ve found Wonderland to provide a rich source for fantasy imagery with a twist.  Some time ago, when most of the games I ran involved exploring dungeons with the possible threat of running into dragons, I had read a particular “module” that featured an adventure with a Wonderland twist.  Having read the stories myself, I felt that I could do one better, and wrote up and ran a “dungeon” game heavily based upon the events of the original Alice story, kitbashing an assortment of miniatures for “card guards,” a white rabbit, a Hatter, a sinister-looking Dire Cheshire Cat, and so forth.  The players loved it, and, to my surprise, one of them was able to quote the entire Jabberwocky poem from memory.  Later, then I was approached about this project, I couldn’t help but sign on.

Influences
KLA — Obviously the Alice books (of which I am now a huge fan). The original format of the book was based upon 50 Fathoms and Sundered Skies, although it warped over time into what it is now.  I studiously avoided the Disney film (the original cartoon — the Tim Burton version was released after WNM was almost finished) and the PC game American McGee’s Alice until I had the whole thing written, as I did not want outside influences to affect WNM.  Incidentally the soundtrack to American McGee’s Alice is ideal for WNM games.  I did read Alice Through the Needle’s Eye and contacted the author’s agent to see if I could use his extensions to Wonderland but was refused — in hindsight, this was probably a good thing, as WNM already has two realms and a third would have made the book’s publication unfeasible due to page count!

LDT — I read a lot of fairy tales as a child and would find myself sinking into those story worlds.  I would reread the Alice books a couple times a year throughout my childhood, and I also had a lot of night terrors during that period. Therefore, Wonderland No More, like the Alice books, is full of things that would make sense to a child, and can tap into childhood fears if necessary.  Most of this is implied in the books — the final effect depends on what influences the players bring to the table themselves.

TJP — Art-wise, the illustrations of Sir John Tenniel were the primary inspiration for my contributions, as I tried to ape his style as much as possible for a consistent look to the interior artwork (to the point of trying to make a “Tenniel-esque” signature for my own sketches).

Research
KLA — I kind of covered this above. I did a lot of reading of blogs and other online resources analysing the existing Alice books but eventually stayed with my interpretation of the setting and characters.

LDT — I deliberately avoided other interpretations of Alice in Wonderland.  I wanted my part of the project to be new and unbiased, as much as possible. I detest the Disney movie — they completely missed the point of having an intelligent nonsense book, and instead made it stupid.  I also recognize that going creepy and gory with Alice is like shooting concussed fish in a rain-barrel, with an elephant gun.  We made the decision to not go that direction, partly because everyone else was, but more so because Wonderland No More was to be an extrapolation, not a reinterpretation.

TJP — For artwork references, I looked up several of Tenniel’s illustrations outside of the Alice books (particularly his political cartoons for Punch).  For context, my wife has a wonderful book, The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition (Lewis Carroll, with introduction and notes by Martin Gardner), full of all sorts of interesting notes in the margins that help to give historical details about much of the “nonsense” in the books.  I also read samples of Lewis Carroll’s other works (The Hunting of the Snark, Phantasmagoria, excerpts from Sylvia and Bruno, etc.) in the hopes of gaining a little more context, and further inspiration.

Art Direction
KLA — I always wanted the artwork to be black and white and similar to the original art by John Tenniel.  When Pinnacle first talked about publishing the setting, there was talk of full color, but I was really against this.  Luckily when Triple Ace Games took over the publication they allowed me free rein for the art and Jordan was certainly up to the challenge.

For the map, I wanted a certain look, derived from a map I saw for American McGee’s Alice (an example can be found here: http://xahlee.org/p/alice/i/am/ss/Alice_Map.jpg) and Jordan came up with the goods.

LDT — We made a concerted effort to use either the original John Tenniel artwork or as close as we could get with other artists.  The art was a primary influence on how I at least read the books as a child, and we wanted to recreate that same effect in our game.

TJP — As much as possible, the illustrations are meant to evoke the imagery of Sir John Tenniel’s artwork or, on occasion, that of Henry Holiday (original illustrator of The Hunting of the Snark).  As such, the interior illustrations are in black and white, although we’ve been free to use full color in much of the support material (map tiles, item cards, figure flats, etc.).  For the maps, I started with actual building floor plans from appropriate periods (or pretty close to it) whenever possible, modified to fit the needs of the adventures, rather than just conjuring up something from scratch.

Gaming Experience
KLA — WNM is not designed to be any sort of gaming experience; it is up to the groups playing it to create their own experience.  I guess you could say from a purist point of view that it is designed to run stories akin to those of Lewis Carroll and this is reinforced by the personalities and places the players can visit.  During my own playtest of the campaign we had moments of pure “Alice” when the players interacted with the royalty of the realms, mindless slaughter (mostly brought about by the somewhat unintelligent Tweedle Don’t with an executioner’s axe and cries of “Don’t cut her head off!” followed by a meaty thud!) and even several Dr. Seuss moments (hiding the fox hero in a box — the classic “fox in a box” gambit).

LDT — Again, it really depends on what the players bring to the table themselves.  It could be straight fantasy with talking animals, chess pieces and cards, or it could be Cthulhu-style horror.  It’s an opportunity to explore childhood nonsense and how much sense it makes.  While one of my playtest group was becoming a Conan-like animal warrior and another was developing chivalry as a Chesspiece knight, my brother and I were debating Alician theology in character and paralleling contemporary Protestant debates.  We provide a framework of internally-consistent nonsense, and let the players go where they will.

TJP — I’ve run games with my home group and at Necronomicon (a convention in St. Petersburg, Florida, USA), and I’ve tried to explore a range of “moods” the setting can evoke.  For convention “one-shots,” I’ve treated it as lighter fare, encouraging heroes to ham it up and get into the “nonsense” — treating it as a “dungeon” game with Wonderland trappings, or taking the heroes on a strange sea voyage to visit Snark Island.

For my own home games, I’ve deviated a bit from the adventures as presented in the Wonderland No More book, basing my adventures in London circa 1888.  I’ll confess to figuratively “shooting concussed fish in a rain-barrel with an elephant gun” in my interpretations, since I decided to pursue more of a “horror” angle for my own players.  But then, that just illustrates that the Wonderland No More setting guide provides a starting point that a GM can adapt to his or her own style.

Comparison
KLA — I don’t believe there is a similar product to Wonderland No More, or at least not one that treats the subject matter as we do.  It is very similar in format to many other Savage Worlds products with a single core book detailing character creation, equipment, arcane backgrounds, GM material, a campaign, Savage Tales, and bestiary.

LDT — Again, WNM is an extrapolation, not a reinterpretation.  We tried to stick with concepts that could be rooted in the books, rather than superimposing some Alician aesthetic on a horror film or completely reworking the original premise into steampunk or whatnot.

Development Process
KLA – Lanse covers our process now pretty well below so I thought I’d give some of the background to the project instead. The original book was completely written by myself over several years.  Midway through I decided to “test the waters” for Alice-derived products and wrote the standalone campaign The Egg of Seven Parts, releasing each chapter for free on the internet.  At some point during this Shane Hensley (yes, he of Savage Worlds fame) contacted me and suggested I submit the setting to Pinnacle.  After some discussion it was decided that they would first publish The Egg of Seven Parts.

When Triple Ace Games was formed, Pinnacle graciously allowed me to allow them to publish my work, something Robin Elliott (of TAG) offered to do in exchange for me developing their website.

During the development, Lanse read the draft of Egg of Seven Parts on the Pinnacle forums and as he put it, “I bugged you in private messages until you sent me the drafts of the players’ and GM’s guides.”  While looking for figure flats to use in my WNM games, I came across some artwork on http://greywolf.critter.net/ for anthropomorphic animals for the Ironclaw setting; I contacted the artist and asked if I could use some of his artwork. The artist was Jordan and before I know it he was very generously providing me with artwork for figure flats for all manner of things (lice and other insects, cards, chess pieces).

Both Lanse and Jordan did a lot of editing “for free” and kept me going through the long development process.  In fact, if it wasn’t for them, I am not sure that Wonderland No More would be done now — especially as I was easily sidetracked by such things as writing scenarios for Sundered Skies and the four Daring Tales of the Sprawl.

Eventually though, The Egg of Seven Parts was done, TAG laid the document out and it sold reasonably well.  We persevered with the main setting and at long last it too was finished.  The Wonderland No More setting book was laid-out by Jordan, which is why we could include all the “space filler” illustrations amidst the text unlike a lot of books that have their pictures in strict places (usually ¼ or ½ a page).  We think the final product is true to the original books as we could make it look.

There was a long period between the release of The Egg of Seven Parts and Wonderland No More and unfortunately the rules and background information changed between the two.  This is why we decided to update The Egg of Seven Parts and allow buyers to download the new version for free — we also changed the layout to match WNM and included a whole bunch of new maps and illustrations.

LDT — Kevin is the primary author of most of the text.  I have made countless editorial passes through the text, and the overall shape of the book has been reformed at least three times during development.  After a couple years of this, Jordan joined the team and his imagination was on fire!  He dove in and transformed the text, both in the actual text, the underlying concepts, and the layout.  What generally happens with something new: One of us has an idea and sends it to the other two, we kick it back and forth over e-mail for a week or so, and then send it to Jordan for layout while we figure out a release strategy.

TJP — Layout-wise, as noted by Kevin, being able to do art and layout together allows for a lot more freedom.  (E.g., there’s a conspicuous gap on this page?  Delve into the public domain to see if Sir John Tenniel has something we can use … or create a custom illustration to fill the space.)  A lot of the support material (free accessories for WNM available on the TAG web site) was originally created to support my convention and home games, and then I polished them up for general use as layered PDF downloads.

Also, through the development process, play-testing was a critical element.  Many of the changes were based upon the results of that — to clarify rules, to deal with play-balance issues, to accommodate “Wonderlandish” character archetypes that players wanted but which weren’t already covered, or perhaps just to take advantage of moments of “player inspiration” that came up during actual play.  No adventure totally survives contact with the players, but I’m confident that our setting is more robust for all the runs made through it.

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