Distress Call, a Starfinder adventure on Kickstarter, an interview with the author.

A couple of weeks ago I found about a new product in Kickstarter. With the success of Starfinder there are a slew of new third-party products available. Many push the system in new and interesting directions.  However, I learned about this project vial the Google+ Stargazer’s World Community. The author shared the campaign, and I was really intrigued by the fact the project was being created in Mexico. I contacted the author, Davide Tramma, to learn more about From Beyond: Distress Call, a sci-fi adventure. He was kind enough to answer my questions, here is the interview.

Sunglar: Davide, before we talk specifically about your Kickstarter project, let’s get to know you. Who is Davide Tramma? Where are you from?

Davide: Well, I’m many things and that depends of the point of view. I’m a husband, I’m a teacher, I’m a cook, I’m a player. Essentially, I’m all the things that I’ve been through during the 40 years I have been here. In few words, I’m what I like to do and at the same time what I don’t.

Sunglar: How did you start playing role-playing games?

Davide: This is an interesting question! “What can change the nature of man?” Ravel Puzzlewell could ask…and no, Planescape: Torment was not my first contact with role-playing games. My interest in fantasy literature started the summer of my second year of secondary school, when our Italian teacher gave the whole classroom a summer reading assignment, to read a book from a list she had put together. I don’t know why I chose The Hobbit. I had no idea what fantasy literature was (I was 12 years old) and I must admit I was not looking forward to reading that book, indeed I had planned on putting it off until the last days of holidays. I came back home with the book that day and just peeked inside out of curiosity. I started to read, and read, and read… I couldn’t stop. When I tried to put it down and take a rest, I simply couldn’t. I finished the book in two days and was hungry for more. A week later we left for a summer holiday at the beach in the south of Italy. It was during this holiday that I discovered something. A shop put a very special box for sale in its display window. It was the HeroQuest game box, a new release from Games Workshop, and with my imagination still filled with the images of the dwarves from The Hobbit I saw them. There was a pictured dwarf on the cover, an elf, orcs too! I said to myself “WHAT IS THIS? I WANT IT!” Every day, I passed by the front of this shop just to look at the box for a few minutes, and then to the beach. I bought the HeroQuest box the very day I came back home. I played HeroQuest for one year, and then in high school, a schoolmate (his name was Alberto Masi) invited me to play a game, a table top game. It was Dungeons & Dragons by Gary Gygax. Try to guess what race I played?

Sunglar: A dwarf by any chance? What games have you played? Any favorites?

Davide: I’ve played Heroquest, Advanced HeroQuest, Dungeons & Dragons, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Starquest, Space Hulk, D&D 3.0, D&D 3.5, Pathfinder, Vampire the Masquerade (few sessions honestly), Cthulhu (a few sessions as well), and other games with different mechanics. I prefer the D20 system due to its ruleset and structure. If we talk about settings I loved Mystara and the Hollow World. I have the Rule Cyclopedia (however it is in Italy now, not here with me).

Sunglar: A man who loves Mystara (my favorite D&D Setting) is alright in my book! How did you discover Starfinder?

Davide: I follow what Paizo publishes and when I heard that a sci-fi setting was about to be available I made my move.

Sunglar: How did the From Beyond Adventure Path come about?

Davide: A sequence of circumstances. The first one is that here where I live, in Leon (Mexico), the community of “active” players is small, very small and this makes it almost impossible to build an active group. So, I said to myself “If you can’t play, then you can write some adventures, just for fun”. Then my wife, seeing me doing all this (to her) weird things, asked me one day, what the hell was I doing on the computer, and what I was writing? I explained to her why I was spending so much time at the computer writing stuff instead of playing (LOL). At the that point she told me (quite rudely BTW) why don’t you publish them? I must confess that I was writing in Italian, not in English. But I listened her encouragement and began writing the adventures in English and looked for some platform where I could publish some of this content. I explored DriveThruRPG, and then began looking at Kickstarter.

Where does From Beyond come from? Well, I’ve always been interested in astronomy, news about space technology, the work of Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov. I wanted to write an Adventure Path that reflected the spirit of science fiction and at the same time the danger of space exploration. Exploration is dangerous, it has always been, and in space even more so. Space is nightmarish place and amazing at the same time. It is vast, and I asked myself, what could happen if I were there, light years away?

Sunglar: Is this your first professional gaming publication?

Davide: Yes, it is. This is the first time I decide to write a campaign and release it to the public.

Sunglar: From your Kickstarter campaign we know that the first episode, Distress Call, is an adventure for characters levels 1 to 3. What else can you tell me us the first episode?

Davide: Distress Call tells the tale of a newly discovered star system, and as stated in the Starfinder campaign setting, space exploration has just begun. This star system, which is formed by a brown dwarf star and four orbiting planets, is distant but rich. The players will start the game onboard an outpost, the Cerberus, and their duty is to provide support to the ships that will reach the system to exploit its resources and explore the uncharted planets. When the adventure starts one ship is already at work, the Sawshark. The Sawshark is a hi-tech medium sized ship with ice-mining and ice-refining equipment, capable of converting hydrogen into Deuterium and Metallic Hydrogen, both molecules are essential to produce energy. Everything was going fine, has gone fine for weeks, until one day the Cerberus outpost receives an automatic distress call which lasts for few seconds. Then everything goes silent and any attempt to hail the Sawshark fails. The long-range scanner still detects the ship, but is seems that something has gone wrong. Here the PCs go into action. They must go to the Sawshark, rescue the ship, and bring back the space vessel to the Cerberus. When they reach the ship, they find no signs of humanoid life onboard, no air inside, the airlocks are opened, the artificial gravity is not working, and the power core is offline.

Sunglar: Would you say that your adventure path is easily integrated into the default setting of Starfinder, or are you creating your own setting?

Davide: As a rule, Paizo does not allow to use the Starfinder Campaign Setting for third party adventures, but they are very open minded when it comes to use the Starfinder ruleset. Integration with the Official Starfinder Campaign Setting is something that is left in the hands of the Game Masters (or Star Master as someone has suggested). However, this is not an obstacle, the opposite, it is an advantage. Imagine that you can create with your contribution your own setting which represent a star system. I mean, in my star system there are four planets! This is the advantage of science fiction. The universe is immense! Virtually every Game Master can put his or her hands at work and add his or her piece to the puzzle.

Sunglar: Is the adventure geared towards a science-fantasy style of playing, as presented in the Starfinder rulebook, or more of a traditional sci-fi game?

Davide: This is another interesting question, a very interesting one. Because when we talk about science-fiction and we consider the topic at length, there are many interpretations what it ca be. It is true, the Starfinder setting is a science-fantasy campaign, which coherently reflect the background story of the setting. However, if you consider science-fiction, from movies, TV series and literature, there are many sub-genres. We have full-of-alien-races settings (see Star Trek, Star Wars, Farscape); the the alien-less science-fiction stories (see Firefly, Outland, Gattaca); then comes the first contact science-fiction where oblivious humans have their first meeting with an alien species, and not always a friendly one (see Alien, Predator, Europa Report). Distress Call stand in a mid-point between science-fantasy/space opera and a traditional sci-fi story. It’s up to the Game Master and the players to incorporate the fantasy elements from Starfinder and up to me to tell them that high technology is not just a matter of pushing a button and problem solved, or pulling the trigger and “die big bad alien”. Nope! If my first episode will be able to transmit this, with the aid of the Game Masters of course, then I will have done a good job with Distress Call. If not… well, just space me!

Sunglar: You state that the From Beyond Adventure Path is a six-part story. How far along are you the development?

Davide: The basics of each episode are there, in their place. The second episode is under construction. My personal technique, and I think it’s not just me, is writing down stuff anytime inspirations hit me. I simply write it down and then assign the idea to its proper episode. I use a sort of diagram to do this so that if I observe something that is incoherent I modify it, or I simply delete it.

Sunglar: You are doing the layout and maps for the initial adventure, what has the experience of creating all this taught you about adventure creation?

Davide: Yes, I spent more than two months learning the basics of Illustrator and Photoshop to produce some artwork and layout. The first thing, and the most important thing I had to understand was that if something is clear to me, it is not automatically clear reader. If I write an adventure for me to run, as the author it’s easy to know how to handle the specifics of the adventure. When writing an adventure, we must always consider that it is not always so intuitive for someone who is reading an adventure made by someone else.

Sunglar: In your Kickstarter page you mention that English is not your first language, like myself. Why did you decide to write the adventure in English?

Davide: I have always bought books in English. English has the advantage of it being more accessible to a wider audience. We can’t say the same of Latin languages like Italian, Spanish or French. If I want a Chinese gamer to play my adventure, I better write it in English. The same for a Russian gamer, for example. Yes, I could write it in Spanish why not, and there is still time for that, but today, if you want your RPG to reach a wider audience, English is the best option.

Sunglar: I like the name of your company, Angry Golem Games! I understand this is your first product. What other projects do you have in mind?

Davide: Well, the Adventure Path is the first step. The second step will be developing the setting which will describe the star system and the four planets. The third step, a collection of creature like the Starfinder Alien Archive., for this project I will call on my knowledge of Carl Sagan and all my research about xenobiology. The fourth step is a handbook about space corporations.

Sunglar: Anything else you want to add about Distress Call or From Beyond?

Davide: I think for now it’s all. Thanks Roberto.

Thanks again Davide Tramma for his accessibility. He also provided a work in progress, preview copy, of the adventure being Kickstarted. Color me intrigued! I am a backer at the digital level, about $4, for a PDF copy. Besides the Kickstarted campaign, he also has a Facebook page dedicated to the project. Here is wishing Davide much success in this and future endeavors!