A Few Words With Venger Satanis

Venger Satanis is a Tabletop Role Playing Game Designer and a prolific blogger on the subject of RPGs. He publishes his work through on the DriveThruRPG platform as Kort’thalis Publishing.

His work falls under the general descriptor of OSR or Old School Renaissance–the RPG equivalent of PulpRev. He has an irreverent, often scandalous style and his game materials are full of sleazy sex, graphic violence, weird linkages, and blatant pop culture references. There is the same kind of satiric (and satyric) energy in his work as in Harry Harrison’s Star Smashers Of The Galaxy Rangers  or Norman Spinrad’s Iron Dream.  I don’t think he’d object to me calling him New Wave.

I consider myself a fan of his work, although I’ve never actually read any of his adventures. (I have read Old School Renaissance Like A F#cking Boss, and I recommend it not just for gamers but also for short fiction authors.) My experience with his work is all as a player in games run by The Mixed GM.

I first played in a module called The Liberation Of The Demon Slayer. You can read the GM’s description of that game session here. (Spoiler: We all died. But then we made up new characters and tried again.)

After we eventually liberated the eponymous Demon Slayer (it’s a magic sword and we “liberated” it in the sense of “found it and kept it”) we went on the explore the extraordinary world of Cha’alt, a kind of post-apocalyptic savage wasteland setting. Since Venger Satanis is about to release a new book in the Cha’alt setting, I thought it would be a good time to do an interview with him.


Misha Burnett: Role playing game modules are designed to be run by a GM. How does that effect your awareness of your audience when you write? Are you writing for the GM, or writing for the players? Who do you consider your audience to be?

Venger Satanis: I write specifically for the GM and how he will engage the players. So, all at once, I’m writing for multiple readers – and think of all the different kinds of GMs there are! Even if the GM alone reads the adventure, that GM will have to deal with player actions and questions. I have to put myself in the mental space of everyone at the table. Ultimately, though, the adventure needs to be good, fun, scary, entertaining, or whatever you’re going for. That’s my job as the adventure writer – I’m providing as many tools and as much guidance as I can to help everyone at the table have an amazing session.

MB: Recently you posted on your blog a brief series describing your process in RPG adventure design. I found it interesting that when you laid out the rooms you included one that was just atmosphere, with no encounters either good or bad. Do you think that pacing an adventure by including such spaces is important?

VS: Yes, I do. Early on, there should be space (both physical and temporal) for the players and their characters to adjust to their present circumstances. It’s the idea of starting an adventure with entering the mythic underworld or it could be a dank dungeon or wizard’s tower. Once you’ve crossed this line, all bets are off. We’re not in Kansas, anymore. Empty rooms containing stuff to look at, lore to discover, things to pick up and fiddle about with, those are great additions to any adventure. It also gives the PCs an area where they can think and talk, not be forced into an immediate interaction from one room to another and another.

MB: Your work has a real Drive-In Movie/Direct To Cable aesthetic. Some people say that Fantasy as a genre is about recapturing the magic of childhood, but I’ve always been drawn more to the magic of adolescence and young adulthood. Would you say the same is true of yourself?

VS: I’d say there a gray area between childhood and adolescence. That time period between 1981 and 1987 was the most influential to me, and I consider to be the best regarding fantasy and sci-fi. Those years put me between 7 and 13. Since a lot of my work is also infused with a certain amount of exploitation, grindhouse, sleaze, and the drive-in / direct to cable aesthetic you mentioned, there’s definitely a return-to-adolescence kind of escapism that I go for.

MB: Your Crimson Dragon Slayer system has the simplest set of rules I have ever seen, in direct contrast to the massive rules cyclopedias of the big name games. Do you think that fewer and simpler rules makes for a better gaming experience?

VS: I do. “Less is more” has never been truer than when it comes to RPG manuals. Roleplaying, at its best, is cooperative imagination using rules as guidelines, interpreting worlds as the adventure unfolds I like to include just enough to cover the basics, leaving the rest up to the GM and, to a lesser degree, the players. Too many rules, too much system gets in the way. Pretty soon, it becomes less a roleplaying game and more like stereo instructions to codify and confuse those who just want to pretend to be elves and sorcerers and barbarians in a fairy-tale world!

MB: Your world of Cha’alt mixes Science Fiction and Fantasy elements. Have you gotten any negative feedback on that from genre purists who think that they should be kept separate?

VS: I’ve heard a few gamers say that’s a reason for them not to pick up Cha’alt, but so many D&D type worlds do mix fantasy and sci-fi, that most gamers expect it, nowadays. But the real caveat is the super-gonzo aspect of Cha’alt. About half the gamers I’ve talked to either like zero or low-gonzo campaign settings / adventures. Full-tilt gonzo is more of a niche area. There’s less audience, but of course that particular audience is under-served because of its niche appeal. So, Cha’alt’s triple helping of bat-shit crazy funhouse weirdness is complete fan-service for gonzo lovers.

MB: In most “grimdark” settings the world is described as being very bleak—everything is black, except for a few things that are dark gray or occasionally a sickly green. In contrast, Cha’alt is full of vivid, brilliant color—chartreuse and fuchsia and vermilion. Is this just as a reaction to the stereotypical “black tower of black stones with black mortar and little black windows with black curtains” or do the colors you use have some deeper symbolic meaning?

VS: My color choices are both a reaction to established norms and Venger living his best life via eccentric hues. I’ve always loved deep, rich, vibrant, and unorthodox colors! It’s been a not so subtle theme running through my RPG writing. Some colors have symbolic meaning, I do try picking colors with care… just like I would with paint on a canvas.

MB: I have not actually read Cha’alt—I have simply experienced the environment as a player. Tell me why I should buy my GM a copy of Cha’alt: Fuchsia Malaise. What sort of material do you include in it—new places to go, new things to kill, new stuff to acquire? Do you have any material for new player characters classes or races or abilities? What’s in the thing that you can tell me without spoilers?

VS: Cha’alt: Fuchsia Malaise adds to the eldritch, gonzo, science-fantasy, post-apocalyptic campaign world of Cha’alt. It’s more of the same, but there are twists. Some time has passed. There aren’t lengthy chapters with meta-plot, but here and there in descriptions and bits of background information you can see the world is changing, evolving. There are, indeed, new PC races. I’ve also included GM material, several “dungeon” areas to explore, creatures, magic items, NPCs, random tables, the works! Additionally, the latest version of Crimson Dragon Slayer, Cha’alt Ascended, and Old School Renaissance Like A Fucking Boss will be included in the appendix.

Together, Cha’alt and Cha’alt: Fuchsia Malaise will provide you with more world building and ways to build that particular kind of world than you could ever use in a lifetime… until I release the third book in the trilogy, of course. Haha!

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SFWA is a Terrorist Organization

I stand with Cirsova.

Cirsova

SFWA is a terrorist organization.

For several years, we have remained agnostic on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

While we have had a few friends who have had “beef” with SFWA, we have also had a number of authors and friends who have been members of the SFWA.

When authors asked us about SFWA, we tried our best to point them towards helpful resources and current members, and authors who we have worked with who have considered joining, we have done what we could to support their applications when asked.

While SFWA’s decision to discriminate based on race in a desperate attempt to become “diverse” is a gross and shallow attempt to remain relevant and deflect criticism of their organization and their members’ behavior and survive the contemporary ideological purges going on in the left side of the political spectrum, their pledge of support for terrorist organizations…

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Cirsova Publishing Acquires Serial Rights to All of Mongoose & Meerkat

Cirsova

I can now confirm that Cirsova Publishing has acquired the rights to the entire remaining Mongoose & Meerkat series!

We will begin serializing it one story per issue, beginning with Hunt of the Mine Worm in the winter issue out this December, until all 18 stories in the cycle have run.

If you JUST got into Jim Breyfogle’s Mongoose & Meerkat via our kickstarter for Pursuit Without Asking and want to keep on top of things, the next story in the sequence, The Golden Pearl, was the cover story of our spring issue.

Read The Golden Pearl in the Spring Issue!

Missed the Kickstarter? Tales of the Mongoose and Meerkat is on Amazon!

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Beyond Kings And Princesses

This book was written by Oren Litwin, who is the publisher of Lagrange Books. Lagrange Books is the publisher of Bad Dreams & Broken Hearts, and also several anthologies that feature my stories.

Having admitted that connection between us, let me go on to say that I think this is very handy reference work for writers of speculative fiction and I highly recommend it.

What Oren does in this book is break down the different parts of governments and how they work and interact with each other, with an eye to incorporating speculative elements into historical governments.

He challenges worldbuilders to consider the implications of magic and advanced technology on the mechanism of government. Suppose, for example, that a king didn’t just claim to be a demigod, but actually had superhuman abilities–how would that effect the balance of power between the Palace and the Nobility?

And while the book is written specifically for writers of fiction, it would be very useful for gamers creating their own campaign worlds.

Oren uses clear, easy to understand language and historical examples while avoiding proselytizing about this or that political system. The goal of this book is not to write “political fiction” in the sense that it is generally used, but to help writers set up conflicts within a fictional world to drive exciting stories.

I received an early draft of this book for beta reading, and it influenced how I set up the political structure of Dracoheim, making me consider how the Lord Mayor and the Parliament balanced each other in a Palace/Forum polity. Now that the book is complete, I’ve gotten an advanced review copy, for the purposes of this review.

Posted in Bad Dreams & Broken Hearts, On Promotion, On Publishing, On Writing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Young Dragons

Okay, so I have another project in mind.

This one is intended to encourage writers who haven’t made the step to being published.

To that end, I am going to be offering more feedback than the usual call for submissions–not quite a workshopping, but I want to help authors work on their stories and make them the best they can be.

I won’t say “don’t worry about it being good enough”, but I will say, “don’t worry about it being perfect”.

What I am looking for is stories from writers who have not published fiction stories in a book or magazine. Writers who have put stories up on a blog are eligible, as are writers who have put stories up on fanfiction sites or other internet forums.

I want original Fantasy short stories of between 2000 and 7500 words, with 5000 words being ideal. Stories should not be set in existing IPs or include characters from copyrighted works.

All genres of Fantasy are acceptable (I don’t even pretend to know how many genres of Fantasy there are anymore) but no explicit descriptions of sex–romance is fine, even spicy romance, but I don’t want erotica.

I am looking for stories that involve magic and fantastic creatures, preferably in a world of your own devising–a basic D&D or Tolkien-clone world won’t make me reject a story out of hand, but I’d like to see more exotic locales.

Submissions should be in a standard text format– .rtf, Open Office, MS Word documents. PDFs will not be opened. Times New Roman or similar font, 12 point, double spaced, first line indent via a “paragraph format” command–not the Tab Key. At the top of the first page I want to see your name, contact information, and word count rounded to the nearest 100 words. (If you search for “standard short story format” you should be okay.)

Submissions can be sent to mjb63114 [at] gmail [dot] com–or you can use my contact page here at the blog.  Submissions should be as an attachment to the email with file name of [Last Name]-[Story Title] (.doc/.odt/.rtf/etc.) Subject line of the email should read Submission/Young Dragons/[Last Name]/[Story Title].

Questions? Feel free to drop me a line.

 

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Dark Fantasies available for pre-order

I love it when a plan comes together!

Yes, I do have a plan, although it may not be evident from my publishing schedule.

Ever since I realized that short fiction is the ideal medium for me, I have been working towards building a body of work. As I’ve said several times in this blog, I am now writing stories with an eye not just to first publication, but to inclusion into a series of collections.

My third collection, Dark Fantasies, is now available for pre-order from Baby Katie Media, the publishers of Storyhack magazine.

This collection, as the title implies, is of my Fantasy Short Fiction. It contains stories spanning my entire career, from the very first Eldritch Earth story, “A Hill Of Stars” published in 2016 in the first issue of Cirsova.

It also contains stories that have been published in a variety of small press anthologies as well as a couple that have never seen the light of day until now.

I’m very pleased with this collection. There is variety–a number of different settings, a rather broad range of characters–but there is also a consistent theme, or flavor. These are all stories about magic, not in the abstract but how it impacts the lives of the characters in both positive and negative ways.

The Kindle edition is available for pre-order now for release on June 15th. Information on the paperback release should be coming out soon, including an edition with a signed bookplate.

I’m proud of this project, and I think fans of my work will be pleased with the collection.

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Storyhack Presents

A while back I decided that I had enough Fantasy short stories to make a collection, and I started looking around for a small press to publish it. Storyhack Magazine was my first choice, primarily because of the graphic design talents of the publisher, Bryce Beattie. I love the look of his magazine, and also the books he’s written and self published.

I have also had a story published in Storyhack, (“My Foe Outstretched”, in Issue Four), and I liked working with him as an editor. So I sent him an email and pitched the collection.

We went back and forth for a while, hammering out the details, and we finalized the contract yesterday. So I can finally announce that my next short fiction collection will be published by Storyhack. We don’t have a firm release date yet, but we’re looking at early Summer of this year.

It is, as I said, a collection of Fantasy stories. There are swords (one sword in particular with a magic all its own) and sorcery and monsters and exotic lands far away and long ago.

They are, I believe, the kind of stories that fans of Storyhack expect and I think this collection will be good for both of us.

I’ll be giving out more information as it becomes available.

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Pulp On Pulp, moving forward.

A reminder that the collection of essays that Cheah Kit Sun and I are putting together is open for submissions.

I don’t know that Pulp On Pulp will be its title when it comes time to publish it–I just needed to call it something. 

I am looking for essays from writers, editors, reviewers, and readers of fiction on the subject of what makes fiction fun. The emphasis should be on practical considerations–do this, don’t do that. 

Current plans are to take submissions through Sunday, June 7th, 2020. This deadline may be revised based on volume of submissions. Full submission guidelines can be found at the link above.

Comments and questions can be posted here, or directed to me via my contact form.

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On Personal Taste

There are, I believe, certain objective standards of craftsmanship in art. A drawing can be, objectively well or poorly rendered, a musical phrase can be well or poorly played. A passage of prose can be well or poorly written.

However, I also believe that there is a level of basic competence in the arts which might be termed the threshold of enjoyment and at that point–while I believe that artists are always driven to improve their skills–objective measures of technique are far less important than subjective taste.

Consider the analogy to cooking. There are a certain number of kitchen skills needed to prepare a meal–frying, boiling, baking, measuring ingredients, and so on. There is a basic level of competence in these skills needed to deliver a meal that will satisfy a hungry diner. Once this level of mastery is obtained, however, the level of satisfaction is dependent more on what is being cooked than how well it is cooked.

Macaroni and cheese is a dish that requires a lower level of skill than artichoke stuffed chicken breasts–but my roommate prefers the mac & cheese. It’s a matter of personal taste.

It is the same thing with the arts. I could make a strong case that the film The Godfather is far more skillfully made than Con*Air–But I still enjoy Con*Air more.

I happen to have a passion for the craft of fiction and will gladly waste hours dissecting a work from multiple angles to discover how a particular effect was achieved and how it could have been done differently, but that’s a technical matter, quite apart from how much enjoyment a particular reader gets from a particular work.

When someone says, “I enjoy this particular story,” that is a statement regarding the taste of a particular reader–not an invitation to discuss the merits of that work. I can’t argue with the statement because I am not inside that reader’s head and can’t speak to the truth or falsehood of that reader’s affirmation of personal enjoyment.

I could say, “I don’t enjoy that story,” but why? I could also say that I feel the story in question was poorly done, and that other stories are more skillfully written, but, again, there’s no reason to say it–save a petty desire to spoil another person’s enjoyment.

Even when the statement is phrased in terms of comparative value–“This story is better than that story”–unless the statement is backed up by a technical discussion of the craft of fiction I will assume it is a statement made about the reader’s own state of mind, and hence not something that can be argued with.

There is, as they say, no accounting for taste.

Now here we come to the point of the essay, and the principle that I would like to convey to other artists, of any media.

The policy of not disagreeing with a statement regarding personal enjoyment of a work of art applies even when I am the creator of the work in question.

Artists tend to be very self-conscious about their work. I have sold a whole lot of short stories to a whole lot of markets, and even so I always think that the particular story I am sending off is crap and everyone is sure to hate it. Every. Damned. Time.

There is a reflex that I feel when someone praises my fiction to disagree with the sentiment, to explain why the story isn’t that good and point out the flaws.

I don’t think I am the only artist who feels that. In fact, I am sure that I am not.

Over the years I have worked hard to squelch that response, or to at least not vocalize my misgivings. I have tried to learn to take it as an expression of the reader’s own tastes. I have accepted that my work will never satisfy me, that I will always be driven to improve, to hone my skills, to drive myself farther.

That’s me. That’s my hangup and I have no right to inflict it on others.

The proper response to someone telling me that they enjoy my work is to say, “Thank you, I’m glad you liked it.” and then shut up.

Something to think about.

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Followup and clarifications: Pulp On Pulp

A day after I posted the Call For Essays: Pulp On Pulp I have already received one essay and queries on three others. All of them fit the theme of the collection–maybe I’m getting better at writing submission guidelines.

One point that I did want to clarify, both because it’s come up in a query and because of a conversation with Cheah Kit Sun.

You don’t have to be a writer to submit an essay. You don’t even have to want to be a writer to submit. I want to hear from fans of Pulp, from editors, and from reviewers. Tell me what it is that you want to see in a story, what you don’t want to see in a story, how things can be done better, what you find in older stories that you wish modern writers would do.

Also, I suppose I should clarify what I mean by Pulp, because that subject is getting bandied about a lot. For purposes of this collection, what I mean is reader-driven, action-focused stories of any length.

That can be Fantasy and Science Fiction, but it can also be Westerns, Mysteries, True Crime, Steamy Romance, just about anything really. You don’t have to consider yourself a member of the PulpRev movement, or be associated with any particular style or school of fiction.

If you like stories that are more concerned with pleasing readers than with impressing an MFA Committee, then I want to hear from you.

’nuff said.

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