Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Dorkland Interview -- The Supervillain Handbook

A little while back I had a short article on Fainting Goat Games' The Super Villain Handbook -- a book for the Icons RPG -- and its Facebook page where you can see loads of material and give feedback directly to the developers. Today I bring you an interview I had with Jason Tondro of Fainting Goat Games about The Super Villain Handbook and its future.


Dorkland!: What kind of feedback are you looking for and why?

Jason Tondro: People can contribute to the book in many ways. Sometimes this is simple: I can always use more examples of a particular archetype. For example, as I write this, I just posted the "Power Corrupted" archetype. Now, obvious examples include Phoenix and Parallax. But maybe there are other great examples I've not thought of, but which you have.

Also, I like to start each entry with a good quote from the comics. So in this case, I had a lot of great Dark Phoenix quotes to pick from. But sometimes these quotes are harder to find, and fans have their own favorites. That's a great help to me.

Many contributors have helped by reminding me of stories common to a given archetype. At the heart of this book, we are asking "What stories do we tell with these villains?" So when a reader chimes in with a great story which we have seen in the comics, or a new one which a GM would find helpful, that's gold.

DL: Why a Facebook group?

JT: Because I'm an academic as well as a comic nerd, I have a lot of academics and comic nerds on my friends list. I knew that, if I posted these archetypes on FB, some very smart people would respond. And they have! I have a built-in audience of People Smarter Than Me.  It's worked perfectly.

DL: Why place your villains in the public domain?

JT: So, this was an idea which grew out of another decision. The SVH is not a "setting book", but when you're making villains, it often helps to place those characters together in a setting. In addition, there are several villain archetypes which totally depend on a hero. For example, an Evil Twin villain makes no sense if the reader doesn't know the hero whom the villain is the Evil Twin of.

So I knew I'd have to make some setting decisions. And while I was thinking about it, I considered using public domain heroes for the setting. Like, what if our Evil Twin was based off of Amazing Man or Airman or someone like that.

That led to the idea that, hey, if the heroes are all public domain, why don't we make the whole setting public domain too? And Mike Lafferty, our publisher, totally stepped up to that challenge and said, sure, yes. Not only will our characters be public domain, the art depicting them will be too. And this became the unifying theme of the setting, which we are calling the Youniverse, because everything in it belongs to you.

This has the additional benefit of introducing public domain characters like Dracula and Sherlock Holmes into the setting, and it's hard to go wrong with those two guys.

DL: What are some of the sources of inspiration behind your villains? Anything that stands out in particular?

JT: I'm really making a conscious effort on this project to make our artists partners in the creative process. One of the things I've learned about myself is that, while I'm very confident in my ability to write an engaging, compelling villain, I'm not always as good at the visual design of that villain. Sometimes I get a good idea, but often I end up falling back on "he's a guy in a trench coat" or something. And there's a place for the Trenchcoat Brigade, but a little goes a long way, and let's face it, those characters are boring to draw. Artists cry at the missed opportunity.

So this time, as we approach the villains, I'm giving the artist first crack. Not all the time. Sometimes I have a specific character in mind and I'm sure he or she is perfect. But if I don't have anything in mind, I let the artist do what he or she does best: visual design. And so Jacob Blackmon, who has done a lot of our art so far, comes to me with an image and maybe a name, and I take that and create the backstory and specifics. My job is to make that visual concept dramatically compelling. And because these artists are really good at what they do, that part of my job is very easy!

DL: Why 40 villain archtypes? Will we see more in the future? From reader feedback?

JT: It's possible. I had to stop somewhere. Archetypes are by their nature kind of fluid. Other writers would have organized this book very differently. But I felt I had something to say about each of the archetypes in this book, and that was the most important factor. There are other archetypes I am not including, but I wasn't always sure I had that much to say about them. Some archetypes are included inside others. For example, if I'm talking about Psycho villains like the Joker, who in modern stories are murderous and lethal, there's a related archetype which is still crazy, but in a more harmless way. He's goofy and comical, rather than psychotic. I call these guys Lunatics. And I didn't give them a separate entry, because I wasn't sure I had much to say about them which I couldn't say in the Psycho entry, which is where they now appear.

With 40 archetypes, the Deluxe Edition of this book is already going to be at least 160 pages. That's a big undertaking. I'm very satisfied with it's scale.

DL: Lastly, will the Super Villain Handbook make its way to a crowd-funding platform in the near future? What are the plans for its release?

JT: Mike can answer this more definitively than I, but yes, we are Kickstarter-bound. Anyone who contributes to the KS will get the Starter Edition immediately. That will detail all 40 archetypes -- how they work in comics, what their common traits and stories are -- and will have 40 stat blocks for Icons. When the KS concludes, we will move on the Deluxe Edition, which will add 40 fully developed NPC villains who are part of the Youniverse, each with art. And that will double the size of the book, at least.

I hope that helps, and thank you so much for your interest in the SVH! Join us on our FB page or at Fainting Goat.


We here at Dorkland! would like to thank Jason for taking the time to answer our questions and wish him and Fainting Goat Games the best of luck with their future crowd-funding (which, as of this post, may not be far away).