We’ve been awfully excited about Atomic Overmind Press‘ release of Ken Hite’s all-new Savage World setting, The Day After Ragnarok. In fact, I’ve been so jazzed about it that I’ve gotten our resident non-gamer, Paul, stoked about it as well.
Brother Hite has a distinguished career in tabletop RPGs. He’s written for GURPS, White Wolf, The Star Trek RPG at both Decipher and Last Unicorn, and Deadlands among others. When he’s not busy authoring RPGs, he’s writing Cthulhu books for kids such as Where the Deep Ones Are.
Hite’s newest work, The Day After Ragnarok, debuted at #2 on Drive Thru RPG‘s Hottest Items List. A pretty big deal considering that the the #1 item was the new Exalted release.
Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Ken…
You hold a bachelors degree in cartography, which seems like a degree perfect for gamers. You share a cartography credit with Hal Mangold on Day After Ragnarok. So, do you spend just tons of time drawing awesome maps? What type of software do you use? Or do you draw free handed?
I used to spend tons of time drawing awesome maps, free handed because back in those days “software” meant a Letraset. Nowadays, I don’t have tons of time for it, which is kind of a shame. For the map in THE DAY AFTER RAGNAROK, I downloaded a base map and drew boundaries on it in Seashore and colored in the empires. Then Hal made it look vastly better. Vastly. Better.
Day After Ragnarok is dedicated to Jess Nevins “Two Fisted Scholar” and you have some kind remarks about him at the end of the book. What’s the story there?
Jess Nevins is my kind of guy. He’s the author of THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FANTASTIC VICTORIANA, writes essays on steampunk and pulp, edits penny-dreadful fiction, and has compiled three volumes of Alan Moore annotations. He may be the world’s leading authority on the “Yellow Peril” trope. He also dresses staggeringly well. In short, he’s coolness personified. He was nice enough to shoot me an advance draft of his forthcoming ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PULP HEROES, which I mined for this book — and for the TRUTH & JUSTICE game I ran last year, for which he was the unwitting co-GM, as far as I’m concerned. So he deserves a shout-out. Hell, he deserves a Booker Prize.
Please pardon me while I gush. I love THE DAY AFTER RAGNAROK. I’ve never before encountered a setting that in my capacity as GM I didn’t feel I needed to modify to my own ends. DAR suits my tastes just like it is right off the shelf. Amazing! It is wonderfully well conceived. The parts all fit together in marvelous fashion. Nazis, monsters straight out of the Prose Edda, weird science, and Soviet Man-rillas? You’re scratching me right where I itch, Mr. Hite. DAR has the feeling of a setting that you’ve been noodling for a long, long time. In fact, the book lists that an earlier version appeared on Pyramid Online back in 2007. How long have you been living with Ragnarok?
Well, in a way, I’ve been noodling with it since I first read Roy Thomas’ CONAN comics and watched PLANET OF THE APES, back in nineteen-seventy-mumble. As your very kind highlight-tour indicates, there’s a lot of stuff in there, much of it unpacked from everything I was reading or viewing in the Seventies. But the specific setting just sprang pretty much full-blown from my head one May night in 2007 when I had a “Suppressed Transmission” deadline looming up. When I started writing this book, I thought it would be about a quarter as long as it turned out to be — it turns out that, like the Serpent, there was a lot more waiting inside. That just seems to be how my head works — Odin only knows what’s brewing in there right now.
What’s the difference between the prior incarnation and this other than the application of the Savage Worlds system?
The “Suppressed Transmission” version was much shorter, and systemless, but the big difference is that it really privileged the British-agent, “Servants of the Crown” story. As I wrote more and more of the SAVAGE WORLDS version, Robert E. Howard kept muscling his way into the setting, along with the whole “Wolves Across the Border” feel. When I added the Random Poisoned Lands Encounter table, I knew I had a whole different kind of thing going.
What excites you most about the setting?
Primarily, I’m most excited that other people are excited by it. Writing is solitary by nature, so it’s good to know that other people are reading and enjoying what I wrote. As far as the setting itself, I like the sheer scope of it — smashing whole continents, trillion-ton monsters, all that. It really feels big, and “go big or go home” was very much a design goal.
I’ve been developing my own Savage Worlds setting. The first set of games I’m running in the setting focus on a Texas Ranger-like group on the galactic frontier. I’ve found your Texas Ranger rules VERY helpful in that regard. Thanks a bunch for that!
You’re welcome! I took a lot of inspiration from DEADLANDS, of course, which is the go-to game for weird Texas Ranger madness. But yes, the world is definitely ready for a Texas Rangers-Lensmen mashup.
I’m a Norse mythology enthusiast, have been since 4th grade. You appear also to relish the stories of the Aesir. When did you get the bug?
I’ve loved mythology of all kinds as long as I can remember. I started with the Greeks, as one does, and probably read D’Aulaire’s Norse book right after his Greek myth book. And once that happens, you’re just hooked, especially if you’re any kind of fantasy fan, because the Nibelungs and the Aesir and all those guys are always right around the corner from everything you read or watch. I think Ragnarok is part of why Norse myth is so compelling, too — having your whole religion literally be a tragedy is kind of mind-blowing, no matter what age you are when you think about it.
The mythology of the Norse gods has Thor striking down Jormungandr. Was Thor a metaphor for the A-Bomb, or is the God of Thunder still kicking around the nine worlds?
It’s not exact, but in my own mind, the Bomb is Thor’s hammer Mjolnir, and America is Thor, broken and poisoned by the Serpent it slays. But I don’t want to spoil anybody’s fun — if you want an actual red-bearded thunder god, or a hammer-hurling tulpa of Harry S Truman, or physicist Dr. Grant Farrel* in your game, have at it.
Will you be at GenCon running games set in The Day After Ragnarok?
I will be at GenCon — probably at the Pelgrane Press booth — but I don’t think I’ll be running any games there. But do please come tell me about your game, anyone who’s reading this.
Do you have plans to write supplements for the setting?
If we think there’s a demand for it, I’ll almost certainly write one or two supplements for it. We’re kicking around some ideas now, including one or two Plot Point campaigns. Plus, it would be kind of fun to come back to this world three or five centuries later — Hal really wants to read about the “Sons of Space” I mention in DAR’s Howardian cold open, and it would be fun to get my Dan Dare and Buck Rogers ya-yas out. That should be far enough in the future not to ruin anybody’s game.
What are you working on now?
Right now, I’m working on GURPS HORROR, Fourth Edition, and GURPS INFINITE WORLDS: WORLDS OF HORROR. Plus CTHULHU 101 and two or three more projects for Atomic Overmind, another TRAIL OF CTHULHU book or two, an outline for THIS SCEPTER’D ISLE (CALL OF CTHULHU in Elizabethan England), and I think I have another Lovecraft column due for “Weird Tales” at the end of the month. Depending on how you count it, that’s six or seven Lovecraftian projects ongoing.
How often do you get to game? Are you GMing anything now? Or do you mostly play?
I’ve been the “GM for life” since the fall of 1979 when I foolishly left the room for an hour to get a Slushee. Right now, I’m running a playtest campaign of a new GUMSHOE-system game best described as “RONIN, if all the shadowy guys you never see in that movie were vampires.” We try to play every Monday, and succeed more often than not. The next game we play is going to be NOBILIS, probably starting up after GenCon. I’m also in a D&D 4e game, as a player and loving it, one Saturday a month, and every so often we’ll play a wargame or a board game.
My favorite game is CALL OF CTHULHU, by several lengths. I’m very fond of the BASIC ROLE-PLAYING engine, but I choose my system based on the theme and feel of the game I’m running. It’s like choosing a golf club — you gotta match for each shot, no matter how much you like the nine-iron.
What advice do you have for aspiring RPG writers?
This is the Golden Age of RPG design. There haven’t been this many great, great game designs around ever, and the barriers to publication are pretty much completely gone. Read as many games as you can, play as many games as you can; always think about what the mechanics and the setting are doing, and compare that to what you’d like them to be doing. Pay attention to what your favorite designers and writers are doing, and try to figure out what you’d do differently, or why you’d do the same thing in another context. Listen to them on podcasts, comment on their blogs, meet them at conventions, read and play their games — in no other art form is connecting with the creators this easy.
This is your first Savage Worlds setting, right? What’s it like working with the Pinnacle folks?
This is indeed my first SAVAGE WORLDS setting. Awhile back, Shane Hensley asked if I had anything I wanted to write for the system. I didn’t have anything then, but when I found myself writing this four-fisted extravaganza, I immediately knew it was a Savage Setting. I can’t speak for other licensees, but the Pinnacle guys have been very laid back with us — Shane and Hal go way back, and Shane and I are simpatico, so it’s always been pretty easy talking to them. Clint Black was nice enough to spot-check something for us when he thought we were taking a left turn, but otherwise we’ve been allowed to run around on our own and scratch up the nice furniture.
The image of you at the back of the book shows you enjoying a cigar. What’s your favorite stogie?
That particular cigar came on night four of GenCon, after I’d had a cumulative ten hours of sleep. So that cigar might have saved my life. I did have an honest-to-Fidel Cuban Cohiba in Estonia, which I smoked on the bow of a hydrofoil while drinking a Stoli-and-tonic. If you have such an opportunity, I highly recommend it.
Thank you, sir!
Right back at you!
And now… the CONTEST!
We here at Ideology of Madness are thrilled to assist Atomic Overmind Press in giving away both a PDF and print edition of Ken Hite’s amazing The Day After Ragnarok to one lucky winner! To win your own copy of this incredible Savage Worlds setting, all you have to do is Tell Us About Your Character! Describe your character (no stats required) for the post-apocalyptic world of The Day After Ragnarok, based on the previews at the Atomic Overmind site. Ken Hite will review all entries and pick his favorite to award the prize.
Post your Day After Ragnarok character concept in the comments section! One entry per person, please.
Contest ends June 20, 2009 at 5:00 pm Central time.
* Fox Comics’ Thor, from Weird Comics in 1940 — I just looked that up in Jess Nevins’ Golden Age Heroes Encyclopedia online. See what I mean?