The Business Of Madness: A Conversation With Venger Satanis

Venger Satanis is the High Priest of Kort’thalis Publishing, and the fact that he refers to himself by that title, rather than editor or publisher, is characteristic of this indie RPG dream peddler. He cultivates a distinctive online presence, rather like Anton Szandor LaVey re-imagined as 1970’s Saturday morning cartoon supervillian.

Kort’thalis’ catalog (sixty-odd RPG books, over twenty successful Kickstarter campaigns) shares that high camp aesthetic—garish colors, sleazy artwork, superfluous apostrophes. Even his detractors (of which he has more than his share) have to admit he has mastered the subtle art of branding. His books look like the covers of the kind of Direct To VHS movies that Blockbuster refused to carry.

Venger, let’s talk first about your product line. While lately you’ve been focused on the world of Cha’alt, that’s not the only setting you’ve created. How would you group the products you have available?

I have several categories.  There’s the setting neutral OSR adventure stuff like Liberation of the Demon Slayer and The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence.  I have books geared towards gamers themselves, like How To Game Master Like A Fucking Boss and the two Adventure Writing Like A Fucking Boss books.  There’s the Alpha Blue product line which stretches as far as the naked eye can see.  Finally, we come to the aforementioned Cha’alt… my eldritch, gonzo, science-fantasy, post-apocalyptic campaign setting.  And I use Crimson Dragon Slayer D20 to run it.  Additionally, there are the “odd ball” titles that were one-off projects, like my OSR vampire RPG Blood Dark Thirst.  I suppose The Outer Presence falls into that category, as well, even though I did put out a couple adventures for it. 

Do you have plans to expand your Crimson Dragon Slayer system for use in your SF and Horror settings? Can we look forward to Crimson Bug Eyed Monster Slayer?

 As you can see from my last answer, I’m kind of all over the place with my output.  Now that I’ve been doing this for awhile, I think I want to focus on what I do best and leave the cul-de-sac titles for someone else to write.  Crimson Dragon Slayer can handle science-fantasy and Lovecraftian horror fantasy just as easily as sword and sorcery fare, so no plans to fix what isn’t broken.

How did you make the jump from RPG fan to RPG publisher? Do you have any advice to give to people wanting to write and publish their own game materials?

 As soon as I started playing (back in 1983), I was eagerly eyeing the Game Master’s chair.  And once I did that, writing my own content became second nature.  I was decent at it, which helped.  Through the years, I would come up with something neat and send it off to places like Dungeon Magazine, but no takers.  When the open gaming license for D&D came about, just as the OSR took off, I decided to go for it and self-publish weird D&D type adventures to see if anyone was interested in buying it.  Sure enough, there was a market.  

My advice is to start small and make whatever you write and publish really awesome.  Don’t half-ass it!  See what others have done, that works, and put your own spin on it, trying to improve the medium’s particulars as you go.

On that same subject, are there any major missteps you’ve made in the business? If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?

Nothing huge.  Sure, I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, but that’s been part of the process.  Even my failures bear some fruit… however strange the taste.

In July you’ll be hosting VengerCon, an gaming convention in Madison, WI. What goes into creating a con? How did you reserve the venue? Is there a set procedure for setting up something like this?

Yep, I’m excited for Venger Con.  It’s going to be the Woodstock of gaming conventions.  It won’t have a lot of the bells and whistles you see with modern cons these days, but the gaming we do there will live on for decades to come.  Venger Con focuses on old-school, OSR, and traditional RPGs.  It doesn’t have a massive dealer hall and a room for board games and another for card games, etc.  It’s just RPGs.  

I scouted out several locations, called to see if they were suitable, went there to look around and talk to the staff.  Eventually, I found the ideal place.  Filled out the paperwork, put money down, and now I’m just waiting for that weekend to come.  Oh yeah, I used the Tabletop Events platform online to help with hosting the convention details, keeping track of tickets (of which there’s only 100 available – I want to keep this affair small and intimate), handling the money, etc.

What’s next for you? You’re currently wrapping up the third Cha’alt sourcebook, but once that’s finished do you have your next project in mind? Will it be more material for one of your existing settings, or something new?

I do own the Encounter Critical property, so might do something cool with that.  A new edition and perhaps fancy hardcover?   But first I need to sell-out the Cha’alt books, or come damn close.  I still have a few hundred of the first and second book.  Once the Kickstarter’s fulfilled, I should have a hundred or so of book #3 to sell, also.  My wife has told me that once I move the vast majority of Cha’alt books out of our basement, I can start work on a new hardcover book.  They’re all professionally printed, top quality, and truly beautiful to behold.

After that, assuming I’m still alive, I’ll probably start work on a fourth Cha’alt book.  It’s my favorite setting; I like to think of it as my home away from home.  That’s where the best adventuring takes place.  To me, it’s very real – even more real than someplace I’ve never been, like Kansas, North Dakota, or France.  

About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle.
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