A Word in Edgewise… with James D. Sutton of FASA


James D. Sutton of FASA (formerly of RedBrick)
The following interview took place on-the-spot at Gen Con Indy 2012 and has been transcribed here for publication.
By Aaron T. Huss

James Sutton is the new President and CEO of the reemerging FASA, and the former head of RedBrick. The interview was conducted by Editor-in-Chief Aaron T. Huss, denoted by the prefix RPC. James D. Sutton is denoted by the prefix JS.

RPC: [To start] I’d like to know about your Earthdawn conversion to Savage Worlds and Pathfinder.
JS: [We have a] new revised Player’s Guide that has come out. [It’s a] smaller format book based on the third edition rules.

RPC: What was the motivation to go to the smaller book?
JS: For mainly portability, it’s got a lot of advantages. We’re moving into more tablets and eBook readers… Call it a grand experiment if you will.

RPC: What’s the difference between traditional Earthdawn and the conversions to Savage Worlds and Pathfinder?
JS: That’s a pretty good question. Really it’s just an opportunity to try and get Earthdawn out onto Savage Worlds and Pathfinder… to try and grow the game into a new audience, ideally will largely attract more people back to the core. People that play Pathfinder tend to play Pathfinder and people that play Savage Worlds tend to play Savage Worlds. The intent with Savage [Worlds] is our first foray into the Savage Worlds game. We’re going to be doing some things with Blue Planet and Fading Suns in time [for Savage Worlds] as well. It’s sort of translating the whole Earthdawn genre into the Savage Worlds rules. In the core you play adepts and in the Savage Worlds version you play adepts. Pathfinder is a little different. We took the approach that we didn’t want to upset the Pathfinder core anymore than we needed to. The Pathfinder products are more of a bolt-on to Pathfinder.

RPC: It’s just a layered setting…
JS: Right it’s a layered setting. You can play a human, wizard, sorcery, warrior hybrid in Pathfinder and then bolt-on something like a nethermancer… that’s no problem you can do that. We’re seeing how it goes.

RPC: From a setting standpoint, did you make any changes to the setting?
JS: Not really. Savage [Worlds] and Pathfinder we set from the get-go are based on the first edition core FASA. Fundamentally it’s not meant to be anything more than the core material converted over. People have been going along the lines of “I’ve got Earthdawn, I’ve got this and I’ve got that…” well, the target audience is Savage Worlds players, the target audience is Pathfinder players.

RPC: From a Savage Worlds standpoint, what is different about Earthdawn compared to other Savage Worlds settings? Not worrying about the core mechanics…
JS: Earthdawn’s cool… and a very mature setting. The key elements of Earthdawn tend to be edits, like people have the ability to use Karma to fuel their abilities and do things that are much more powerful than the average person.

RPC: Did you take away Power Points?
JS: We’re using Power Points for magic, and what we’re hoping to do, actually, is extend the Earthdawn thread weaving system in a supplement to possibly give the best of both worlds. It was basically to get the flavor as much as we could across. Whether we succeeded or not… there are people playing it and it’s had its ups and downs to be honest. You can please everybody all the time.

RPC: Did you do a lot of playtests?
JS: There was a reasonable amount of playtesting on the initial products, but it’s a relatively complete product and you can’t really deal with all combinations…. and Savage [Worlds] is quite well-balanced.

RPC: Moving on to Fading Suns… What is different about this version and the last?
JS: We’ve put this out as a Revised Edition. We were going to be doing a Third Edition, but there were some politics involved with that which we can talk about some other time.

RPC: It’s a Revised Second Edition
JS: Right, Second Edition. A lot has changed. In the core rulebook itself, if you’re familiar with the Victory Point System…? What we’ve done with the Victory Point System is gotten rid of the “whiff” factor that was quite prevalent in Second Edition. It’s a lot simpler; one roll, divide by two, and that’s your number of Victory Points. Everything’s based on those successes, there’s not need to look up additional charts. Much, much simpler. Combat’s been streamlined. We’ve done away with the whole multiple-action “am I doing this, am I doing that”… with the penalties… So the combat system’s been completely overhauled.

RPC: How many actions do you get now?
JS: You get one basic action, but you have stances and have special fighting styles that let’s you get extra bonuses. Fighting styles are being included in the actual traits category and people can learn those and develop those as well. It’s really just a tidying up of Second Edition; we did some streamlining in the character life path systems to allow you to create characters better and faster.

RPC: I like the life path systems, but some of them seemed a little bulky.
JS: They were and they’ve been thinned down a bit. Skills have been trimmed down as well, there aren’t quite as many skills. The only area we’ve increased skills is combat, a bit ironic. There’s a couple more that have been added to round out combat a little better. But that’s because we’ve done away with the Second Edition rules of everyone can use this type of fighting action and now you need a fighting style, you actually need to be trained in it. The goal is… you get some core abilities and can add on to that with various stances that give you bonuses and penalties in certain situations. Someone who’s a pugilist can do good things when it comes to boxing, but when they’re outside that particular skill of competency, not quite so good. Psi, theurgy, again they’ve been streamlined and overhauled. We’ve done a lot of revisions with the actual abilities themselves, but they remain largely unchanged, depending upon how you approach it. Characteristics is a big one; we’ve done away with the whole passions thing. You now have spiritual characteristics; three body characteristics, three mind characteristics, and three spiritual characteristics.

RPC: And what do those do?
JS: They do something similar to what you used to get in Second Edition… you still have Wyrd, that’s its own characteristic, but now they allow you do things like Faith for example. If the Faith is strong in this one, then I have some specific abilities I can use my Faith characteristic on.

RPC: What was the motivation to do the separate Player’s Guide and Game Master’s Guide? Page count?
JS: Page count primarily. This [Fading Suns Player’s Guide] is a 384-page book in small format, which is probably equivalent to a 320-page book in 8 1/2 by 11. There’s a lot of stuff in here, each chapter has been expanded hugely.

RPC: What did you do with space combat? Is that still in here [Fading Suns Player’s Guide]?
JS: It’s still here and is fairly abstract, because the focus of Fading Suns is on the characters. We’re doing Noble Armada as well, and update to Noble Armada. That will really focus on starship construction.

RPC: Is that Mongoose [Publishing’s] Noble Armada?
JS: No, not the Mongoose edition, it will be the Hollistic [Designs] one. We’ll still use the Mongoose miniatures… different set of rules, different scale, different detail. It focuses on ship-to-ship combat, small-scale combat rather than fleet combat, and boarding actions are obviously much more important.

RPC: Is it still a miniatures game or is it a subset of the RPG?
JS: It’s still a miniatures game, but we’ll probably be using deckplans… a lot more. It depends on what you want to do. If you want to play ship-to-ship combat and blow-up broadsides, then cool…

RPC: If you want to board somebody…
JS: Which is actually quite normal for Fading Suns. It’s actually very rare to just blow ships out of the sky.

RPC: You moved the setting ahead…
JS: We didn’t move it very far. The original plan for Fading Suns 3 was to move it to 5010, we actually ended up moving it to 5002, to try and align ‘2 with ’12 and hopefully we’ll get some new stuff next year that’s 5003, 5004…

RPC: Are you going to continue moving it forward every year?
JS: [That is] the plan. We’ll have to see how it goes and how it’s received and move on from there. It’s a game, like Blue Planet and many others, that has been on hiatus. I had a life changing event that sort of knocked me out for three years, and that’s what it is. No real excuses, just reasons.

RPC: I like the cover. It harkens back to the old cover, like an homage.
JS: The Game Master’s Guide will be out in December, we’re taking pre-orders on it now. As you can see on the actual cover [looking at a poster spread of the two core books side-by-side], it’s a complete cover… Blue Planet is the same as well… It’s the same game, just a little more streamlined.

RPC: Let’s talk about Blue Planet. What are the major changes to Blue Planet?
JS: One of my favorite games. Still uses the Synergy System from Second Edition, the Fantasy Flight [Games] edition. What we said we were going to do with Blue Planet and what we ended up doing is combining the Fluid Mechanics book in with the main core rulebook so you don’t have two books to do things. We’ve introduced a revised action value system to Synergy to make it faster. Synergy is pretty quick anyway, but the initiative was a bit clunky and we wanted to streamline that. We’ve introduced a few new factors such as recoil for guns, delay for actions, systems to make the initiative works a little better.

Character creation’s been streamlined completely, we’ve gutted it down to just the core skills. The focus is on character concepts and packages to build your character quickly, to get what you want out of it. As I said Fluid Mechanics has been incorporated into it, the sourcebook for various bits and pieces to the game. That’s been revised and all the stuff from the original Player’s Guide has been revised. Vehicle combat’s in there, it’s sort of an all-in-one player’s book for that. Again the GM’s Guide for that is coming out for that in October. It focuses on the background setting, building non-player characters more quickly and efficiently, and we just move on from there.

RPC: Are there any setting changes?
JS: Not really, no… There is a supplement that Biohazard Games had in announce mode, but didn’t actually do any development on called Storm Surge which really deals with what happens once things get rather ugly on the blue planet. I don’t think we’ll see that in 2013, I think it will be 2014. The game line itself is fairly well-established. Like the key to all these things [referring to Fading Suns and Earthdawn] is to get it back into print, get it back into shops, get the supplements combined, get it done and get the book out. And then focus on some of the supplements like Undercurrents, which is an expanded version of the adventures to make it a bit more accessible to people, Storm Surges that I was talking about to advance the metaplot, and deal with conflict with the aboriginals, the settlers, the colonials, and other parties. Some of the other stuff we have is Airlock, which expands the next step beyond Blue Planet. The people that actually created the wormholes that lead us to this particular water world, this isn’t the only place they’ve been playing around. Again those things are sort of in the future and outlined at the moment and if the line persists, we’ll get to play with those.

RPC: What is the tentative release schedule, every three to six months?
JS: That’s a good question with Blue Planet. I think realistically we’re going to get two to three books a year. It’s a hard one to write for because it’s hard sci-fi, so the research work is there. We have a Savage Worlds version coming out very soon. That will be out by Christmas.

RPC: From a release standpoint for the other two… Fading Suns, is that about the same two to three books a year?
JS: We’re probably aiming for more from Fading Suns, because we’ve got the whole Second Edition base to play with and work with.

RPC: Are you going to update the previous supplements?
JS: That’s the goal. The original plan is something we call the 80/20 rule. The goal is to introduce twenty percent more content into the game so that there’s a value add that actually makes it worthwhile otherwise it’s the same old same old.

RPC: Are you going to take the old Fief books and update them?
JS: They’ll be in the GM’s Guide. [The] GM’s Guide will effectively will to the realm plus a whole bunch of other stuff related to the GM. It will be quite a comprehensive book.

RPC: What’s the compatibly with the old supplements?
JS: Pretty compatible. With a little bit of tweaking you can pretty much run out of the gate with the old Second Edition stuff without any problems.

RPC: Are you going to publish an errata to go from Second Edition to Revised?
JS: I think Hollistic probably would like us to and if we get the time, that’s definitely in the cards. That’s sort of a hard one, we’ll see how we go on that one. The other focus, of course, is the Earthdawn stuff. We have a lot more material coming out for that as well. We have a number of books that we will release for Third Edition that are still in the production pipeline and we’ll be seeing those over the next twelve months.

RPC: Are you going to translate a lot of the Third Edition books into Pathfinder and Savage Worlds or are these a stand-alone, as-is with their own supplements?
JS: They are considered to be stand-alone game lines, so certainly dealing with the core. When it comes to these particular products [pointing to the Earthdawn Third Edition books], that’s not being reprinted ever again, it’s going away. The Shards collections are going away, they’re never coming back. Once they go through, then they’re done. I can’t see Kathay being translated into Savage [Worlds] and Pathfinder, as of yet, though it is on the release schedule – it’s a long ways off. The next releases for these ones [pointing to the Savage Worlds and Pathfinder Earthdawn books] is Parlainth, is probably the big ones I’m working on next. We have the Parlainth campaign setting guide for Savage [Worlds] and Pathfinder, and we also have an adventure path set with the first adventure for that coming out [soon] for Savage [Worlds] and Pathfinder.

RPC: You’re obviously familiar with Savage Worlds and being that a lot of the settings are plot point campaigns… Are you going to develop a plot point campaign?
JS: There are no plans to. That doesn’t really work for what we’re doing and there are a number of games that don’t have plot point campaigns.

RPC: The problem there is that with a plot point campaign, there has to be an end of “this is how you fix the universe and the setting” and if you don’t that to happen, then the campaign is kind of moot.
JS: The stuff we have discussed around that is the adventures around Parlainth, because the design goal is to do Parlainth and six adventures that will take you from start to finish. Similar to what Paizo [Publishing] does with Pathfinder…

RPC: The Adventure Path…
JS: The adventure path, but we can’t call it that for obvious reasons, but it does a similar thing. But basically if we had a campaign book then we may be able to do something with that [referring back to the plot point campaign]. I don’t know at this stage, we’ve got a lot on our plates.

RPC: Parlainth…
JS: Parlainth is the ruined city. It is the ultimate, horror infested, bad place to go, full of all the best treasures, with a little corner that has been cleared out called Haven which is the perfect adventurers outpost. It reminds me a lot of Pavis from the old RuneQuest. It’s awesome, anyone who’s played Earthdawn seriously, Parlainth features heavily in it.

RPC: And that will be a campaign setting guide?
JS: It will be a campaign setting guide for that which is based on the Parlainth boxed set… and again that supports the actual adventures. And after that Sky Point and Vivane, with six adventures for that. And Kathay, I believe, is shortly after that, with six adventures for that.

RPC: Are you going to release them together in groups or release the setting guide and then the adventures every month?
JS: Setting guide with an adventure, and then probably every couple months… every couple of months is the plan. Number one’s already done, all the artwork’s been done for it, it’s just waiting for me to get off my tush and put it into layout and get it out.

RPC: Are you going to continue with the dual release?
JS: Dual release is the plan. We’re fairly happy with that.

JS: What else is happening… 1879.
RPC: What is that?
JS: 1879 is FASA’s release for next year, Gen Con 2013. It’s effectively, I was going to say steampunk, that’s not quite true. It’s more of an alt[ernate] history game. Bottom line is this, in Victorian England, in the early to mid-1800s, technology’s becoming the thing. An experiment is successful and opens up a gateway to another world. It’s basically conquering new worlds in the name of Queen Victoria. “God save the Queen!”

RPC: So it’s actually steampunk set in the Victorian era?
JS: Kind of, but not really the steampunk element. It’s more alt[ernate] history. And that’s supported with a miniatures line, which I have somewhere [referring to available at the booth]. We have a tabletop application as well for iOS at the moment, we’re looking at Windows. It’s been a busy three months. We haven’t announced it but it will be out for Gen Con. RedBrick is no longer publishing games, this is our first and last Gen Con. I’ve been given the role of President of FASA. Hence the dual booth, which people were wondering about on various forums. All of these books [pointing to the inventory of new books at the booth] are branded as FASA books.

RPC: Is that public information, can I post that?
JS: You can post that. We will be making an announcement. [Yay!! This is really big news and Roleplayers Chronicle is proud to present it to our readers via this interview at Gen Con.] RedBrick has been good for the last nine years, we’ve been around for nine years in September. This is something we had in mind for next year, we decided to bring it forward a year. This is an opportunity to bring FASA back, the company itself is co-founded with L. Ross Babcock, one of the original founders of FASA, he and I are in business together.

RPC: These [pointing to Earthdawn, Fading Suns, Blue Planet, and 1879] are going to be your core lines?
JS: No [meaning they aren’t stopping there], Demonworld is a FASA property anyway, we’re doing RPGs and tabletop miniatures, it’s about 500 skus for that alone. Blue Planet has obviously come across from RedBrick, Fading Suns as well. 1879 is an original property, Earthdawn’s a FASA property anyway, sort of come back to roost. We’re also working on four new games to be released over the next five to six years, filling in the gaps around the second world, sixth world, and eighth world of the FASA cosmology. All of those games are intended to be interlinked properly unlike with what happened to Earthdawn and Shadowrun.

RPC: You’re free to talk about it if you’d like.
JS: The second world is effectively the age of dragons. It’s high magic, it’s the birth of Earthdawn. That may end up being the last game that we’re doing because it’s dragons, it’s harder to do. They’re all to be supported with miniatures and supported, hopefully if we get it off the ground, with the tabletop platform we’ve been developing. RPGs, fiction, hopefully card games and board games if all goes well, it’s fairly ambitious. Fourth world, Earthdawn, we’ve already got that, that’s already in progress. The sixth world game we have in mind is a post-apocalyptic reset, post scourge if you’re familiar with the Earthdawn and FASA cosmology.

Every 5,000 years there’s the Mayan long calendar, so there’s a period of high magic and there’s a period of low magic. During the peak of high magic these things called horrors come out of netherspace and ravage things and things go horribly wrong for humanity usually, which is what happened in Earthdawn. Everybody went underground, wait until the magic level dropped and low and behold. Shadowrun sort of deals with that as well, it’s part of the FASA cosmology but we’re ignoring Shadowrun, completely, for obvious legal reasons. The sixth world game is effectively a post-apocalyptic. The corporations have been shattered by the horrors, there’s bikers… the whole Mad Max thing, just taken to the factor of “lots.” The eighth world game we’ll be working on… “nuke ’em from orbit” it’s the only way to be sure.

RPC: Nuke ’em from orbit?
JS: It’s “take the fight to the horrors.” We really don’t want another scourge.

RPC: Is this going to be like a Warhammer 40k style…?
JS: No, the thing with the magic cycles is you get your metahumans like orks and stuff. The whole idea was the concept of space cruisers that are basically captained by trolls, which would be troll skyraiders in Earthdawn in airships. In the eighth world, they’re so far advanced that dreadnoughts would be the order of the day, and dealing with worlds and the enemies. In a nutshell, that’s pretty much what we’re working on plus miniatures support and all the other things as well.

RPC: And those will all be unique systems?
JS: All unique systems. FASA intends to develop new and unique intellectual property, which is the same way as FASA used to be.

RPC: Are these systems going to be based on a single core system?
JS: Single core system. We have a house core for our miniatures games, which will be released with 1879 and likewise with the RPG.

RPC: Is that going to be released separate or is it going to be kept in house?
JS: It will be kept in house, there’s not going to be a separate stand-alone core. What that means to Blue Planet and Fading Suns, they just carry on as their own game lines. They’re licensed properties so we continue to carry on with the license as well. We just have a lot ahead of us in terms of getting all this stuff underway.

I’d like to thank James Sutton for taking lots of time to speak with Roleplayers Chronicle about the future of their properties and the future of FASA. Keep your eyes open as you’re going to see a landslide of new material from the reemerging FASA Games!

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