Last July, a guy I know and I were talking on the telephone. We hadn't really caught up with one another for a few years and were catching up on our life-decisions as we turned fifty, him just having done so, me about to. I'd quit my job as a prof and wanted to improve the promotion and physical design of my own work, and to expand Adept Press into consulting and a contributive form of freelance work. He'd attended film school, produced and directed a short film, and was developing what I think is a really good idea: a high-end webcomic with periodic live-action episodes. He's aiming at the serious scale of production value for both, as well as a sprawling fantasy epic.
That's when we both paused and said, simultaneously, "Hey ...."
He suggested we talk business turkey at GenCon, but I wasn't planning on attending. He owns GenCon, so he suggested I come anyway, and I thought about that for (estimated) three nanoseconds and said yes.
So Peter's been running this D&D game since 1981 called Chaldea, which as all such things have done, is now pretty much their home-grown system and setting (with a strong twist toward Burning Wheel these days, as I understand it). They have this monstrous map and a ton of different cool-setting stuff going on in dozens of places. The new project is set in Chaldea.
One of the features that really attracted me about the series is that it's not the point to transcribe the game events into the new medium but rather to springboard into doing something else entirely. So he has a team whose job is to work on interesting protagonists stuck in genuinely interesting and important stuff, separated across in many locations, not connected overtly to one another, and setting up original stories. This also means the whole setting gets altered into something more meaty and less obviously throw-it-in fantasy gaming fun. It also gets away from "our heroes travel to every damn spot on the map" and into a more reasonable "this is what's going on in each spot."
Here's what he wanted and what I offered, more-or-less the same things, hammered into shape during our conversation.
- Extensive notes on real-world historical cultures - what history classes used to call "ASPIRE" for artistic + social + political + intellectual + religious + economic. But distilled into usable, engaging form for creative people to use as a common reference, and with an effort toward showing what real scholars think it was like instead of relying on "olden days" Hollywood tropes.
- Highlighted details which strike chords with an audience and, as I put it, inspire writers to do better than merely clocking in standard plots or spinning out non-resolutions. The example I provided was the interesting detail about Roman slavery, that slaves not only could own property, but in some cases were wealthier than their masters.
A number of the spots on the map have designated regional identity: "Romania," "France," "Egypt," that kind of thing. I pick one of them, I pick an era that seems strong to me, I rough up a few points about it, show it to Peter, he says yes or no, and I develop it into a usable set of documents that gets posted in the Chaldea work-space.
Bluntly, I am not transcribing the Encyclopedia Brittanica. My early training in history has evolved into something scary and strong, such that I can put things together and make comparisons, that plenty of PhD profs cannot. I'm constructing unique and usable packages for a region which are intended to make creative people say "Wait, what?" and "They didn't?" and "Oh, so that would mean ... [scribble scribble]." As well as compiling visual material that makes people want to put on those clothes and grab those weapons. And still stand up to a real historian's observation, such that he or she would say, geez, those guys really did the research. Since it's a fantasy "informed by" concept rather than a straight-up historical or an alternate-world concept, the point is not to be complete and picky-perfect, but also not to be wrong.
My ideal moment would come when an audience member thinks it was really cool for the comic or show to make up Y for culture X to do, and then they learn that they really did do Y, from commentary or something similar, and then they adopt that knowledge as insider-geek knowledge. Ken Hite once cited this scene as the perfect distillation of geek culture and status, and he's right: do Stiff Little Fingers
(0:26 to 1:15) for a geek and he or she is yours for life.
What I like about the deal is that I'm not one of the team and I have no role at all in the development of the story or the medium itself. I'm being paid as I go along to compile and present good, strong material. They can use what I post, or change it all around, or not use it at all, and that's out of my hands. My task is to provide, not to produce. That way I can enjoy doing a really good job exactly at that scale of involvement, which in the end, I think, will mean more of my work will probably end up being used or at least being inspirational, rather than less, and no creative turf or ownership issues need trouble any of us.
For some publicly available stuff about Chaldea, here's Peter's Facebook page about it
Ask any questions! I don’t' think I can tell you exactly what I've provided per location so far, but I think it's OK to say I've done Russia, Japan, Rumania, and France, all in very non
-Hollywood historical periods. I've learned a hell of a lot and it's been fun to see stuff I knew already snap into place.