If you’re already familiar with my work then you probably already know what’s up with Mists of Akuma, but if not oh-my-god you are in for a treat.
First of all you can go download a bunch of free PDFs for my third campaign setting, little supplements that will take your D&D 5E game into a wonderfully cruel world of eastern fantasy, noir, and steampunk. Mists of Akuma was a Kickstarter that we funded in May 2016 and a book that I have been fretfully tending to like a drug-addled bonsai gardener left with too much of his vice. Before I allow myself some space to decompress over it, check out the rundown of what’s inside:
- An overview of the recent history of Soburin and basic information about the world including the dangerous Mists of Akuma, rules for traveling the prefectures, and what rigors maddened explorers must overcome to visit the apocalypse that has become of the other continents.
- Over 100 NPCs and monsters ranging from foreign generals to eastern dragons, powerful bengoshi and underlings from each of the 24 unique clans, and more than two dozen kami, oni, and tsukumogami!
- Cultural practices and traditions for Soburin inspired by and drawn from eastern lore.
- Gorgeous cover artwork by Claudio Pozas, interior scene illustrations by Indi Martin and Sara Shijo, and character illustrations by Jacob Blackmon and Nathanael Batchelor!
- A chapter each for three different cities: the capital of the Imperial Prefecture, Sanbaoshi, the advanced mechanical metropolis of Kyōfū, and the traditionalist magic-steeped settlement of Nagabuki.
- Short stories with gorgeous half page illustrations at the start of each chapter to firmly posit the desperation and diversity inherent to adventuring in Soburin!
- Details on each of the two dozen clans of the prefectures, including the bengoshi that negotiate on the behalf of each ruling family’s lady or lord and how the Kengen Occupation affected each region of Soburin.
- 7 new character backgrounds and guidelines for adapting existing character backgrounds when playing in Soburin as well as new conditions, the Culture skill, and 6 maps for the continent and its settlements by cartographers Michael McCarthy, Mike Myler, and Tommi Salama!
- 19 different archetypes that provide exciting theme-appropriate character options for every class!
- 14 new races to breathe life into Soburin, making it an exotic and unique world that is eager to shrug off the shackles of western imperialism.
- 32 new character feats, over ten pages of equipment that ranges from new armor and weapons to steampunk prostheses and vehicles, and 22 new eastern-themed spells!
- Revenge of the Pale Master, an epic 25 page mystery adventure set in the industrialized city of Kizaki beneath the shadow of an ancient, evil necromancer that has the settlement firmly within his ethereal grasp.
As you can see Mists of Akuma is just like my other campaign setting books insofar that I crammed a ridiculously large amount of material and artwork into it. In many other ways it’s different, but we’ll get to that in due time.
The Realization of a Dream
I have long been obsessed with eastern culture, philosophy, and food. Now I mention food not because I like egg rolls (I do, I love egg rolls and I will legit drive 8 hours for good dumplings or shinjeejoa, a dish I cannot spell and only rarely find but is SO good [it’s like a savory shrimp croissant IT IS AMAZING]) but because I’m extremely allergic to milk. Toss a cheese cube at my exposed skin and it will puff up with hives. If I eat or drink it, my throat swells closed pretty quick. It’s a problem — but much less of a problem if I’m getting thai, or chinese, or japanese food. It’s one of the primary reasons I spent three years of my life working in chinese restaurants (I also happen to really like the work ethic that those places maintain but that’s neither here nor there).
That’s just the start though. I’ve practiced several different martial arts (kung fu was my favorite, although I’d like to try some southern as opposed to northern styles), I started reading eastern philosophy books when I was a tween and I’ve been a daoist for about two decades now, and I am consistently amazed at the complexity and intrigue in asian history (something that american public schools barely BARELY touch upon). I’m not wearing rose-colored glasses or anything mind you–the East is just as messed up as the West and generally has been for as far as my concerns go and samurai were *not* paladins, just as prone to criminal behavior as knights–but it is as close to another world as we’re likely to get in my lifetime and has been a constant source of interest for me. I’d even go so far to say that it had an impact on my life as pronounced or more pronounced than going to college, but that’s definitely getting too personal.
Suffice to say that it really was a dream come true to get to make this book.
As a bonus, one of the most valuable things Storm Bunny Studios brought to the project was academic oversight — we got a legitimate English-speaking Japan-emigrated professor to read through the book and make sure we weren’t off-base. When he gave us the thumbs up I knew we really made something amazing!
An Auteur Project
It is ridiculous to make an entire hardcover RPG book by yourself. I’m not saying you can’t do it (I’ve done it and it’s pretty freaking dope) and I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it, I’m just saying that it is a ridiculous endeavor in terms of the scope of skills and work required.
That said I did not make this book entirely by myself. I had very talented help with writing and design (from Savannah Broadway, Luis Loza, Michael McCarthy, Jaye Sonia, Bryant Turnage, and Chris Rippee), I had an editor (other-MM again), I had help with the maps (other-MM did the continent and Tommi Salama did the three major cities), and of course I had people that do the one thing I really can’t do: illustrate the world (and Claudio Pozas, Indi Martin, Sara Shijo, Jacob Blackmon, Naiche Washburne, and Nathanael Batchelor all did a smashing job of it).
This is definitely still the book that I feel is most mine however and I am phenomenally proud of that. If I were Terry Gilliam then Veranthea Codex was my Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Hypercorps 2099 was my Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and Mists of Akuma is either Jabberwocky or Brazil. I feel as though this book is truly a part of my psyche.
I did all the graphics, made the page backgrounds, created one of the maps, wrote the vast majority of the copy, fastidiously oversaw development of other folks’ material, and most importantly did all of the layout work. And I felt confident doing it–I think you can see why. 😀
A Chance to Geek Out
I’ve been utilizing the public domain for RPG artwork for a long time and one thing I quickly noticed was that there’s way better and way more Japanese artwork in the public domain than from any other nation. This has a lot to do with the isolationism of the Tokugawa Era (the genesis of this campaign setting) and the lithograph (a type of plate printing press as opposed to the better known Guttenberg typable printing press) but that’s a post in itself. The thing to know is that there’s no shortage of amazing pieces that were made over a century ago (or longer) and kept in good enough condition that they scan digitally without losing too much of their quality. For example:
No worries — there’s still a LOT of original artwork in the book (it’s why we went black and white) but it’s one of the reasons the page count is as high as it is. I didn’t have to sacrifice my (normally intense) art schedule or the feel of the book. This feels really professional as you go through it as well (*so proud*) because I managed to wrangle the various chapters into visual themes that carry through and each opens with a beautiful half-page piece done in a specific style by Indi or Sara, something that helps tremendously to solidify things visually and an aspect of art direction I put less emphasis on in Veranthea Codex and Hypercorps 2099. The geeking out bit? I got to TRAWL all of digital existence for this artwork and while I’m a few years from visiting museums in Japan, I’m going to recognize a hell of a lot of what I see and I am stoked for it.
Also: EASTER EGGS! Some of the ukiyo-e (the predominant style of public domain art in Mists of Akuma) is literally worked into some of the custom illustrations for the book! Keep your eye out when you look at the chapter openings and you’ll see what I mean (and the effect is wonderful!)
It would also be remiss for me not to bring up (the poorly named) Oriental Adventures book from D&D 3.0. I had never before been so enthralled with an RPG book and I adored everything in it, even if the name is insensitive. The clans were like a splash of cool water on a hot day and I made countless samurai, ninja, wu-jen, shugenja, and all the rest as “backup characters” when I should have been paying attention to the table. With Mists of Akuma I wanted people to feel that same sense of intriguing wonder and fascination, and we may have gone a bit too far–in Oriental Adventures there’s 8 major clans and 11 minor clans, but true to my character we did a handful more and have 24 different clans (all of which have at least one illustrated NPC) all tied to different animals important to the setting’s aesthetic (ape, bat, bear, boar, bull, chameleon, crane, dog, dragonfly, fox, frog, hawk, monkey, praying mantis, rat, scorpion, snake, spider, stag, swordfish, tiger, turtle, phoenix, and of course, dragon).
Bringing my first GM into the fold of RPG Design
Chris Rippee has been the GM for years and years of D&D (and Pathfinder, and Star Wars d20, and [heavily modified] Aberrant, and Shadowrun) games for me and I’ve always felt indebted to him for it — I sure as hell would not be an RPG designer if his brother Stevie and I hadn’t convinced him to start running games for us back when we were in high school. These sessions were not a thing to be taken lightly either. We started in the heyday of D&D 3.0/3.5 and Sunday afternoon games ROUTINELY became Monday-dawn games as he wove us through an epic two-game four-year story in the Forgotten Realms (spawning one of the most memorable characters ever, someone that became a god in Veranthea, although others appear as well: Elaith, Rankir, Thorindin Stonefist, the drow werewolves).
So I’ve been trying to include Chris in my work for years. We almost got him into the Veranthea Codex but didn’t make the stretch goal, and the same happened with Hypercorps 2099 so when we launched Mists of Akuma I wanted to make god damn sure he didn’t miss the bus again. As I expected Chris was fidgety about his writing process — the story he originally pitched pivoted and twisted maybe 75 degrees before he finally let it grow roots enough to dig into something concrete — and I had to really dance around to make everything work because what he ended up with was pretty complex, but wow.
I have no doubt that people are going to lose their collective shit when they read Revenge of the Pale Master.
Chris met and exceeded the expectations I had for the quality of his work and the mystery module that closes this book is one of the most devious, intriguing, and well-written adventures I’ve ever had the pleasure to be involved with–he hit it right the f#%^ out of the park. I don’t want to give TOO much away, but if you know your Pathfinder, this adventure is a primary reason why translating the book to that edition of rules will require a considerable amount of doing. What really clinches it for me is that in those dope 25 pages, Chris captured everything that Mists of Akuma is about. We have a shorthand definition of the campaign setting (eastern fantasy noir steampunk) but if you want the longform explanation, read the adventure.
And for ancestors’ sake, tell me how your group fares when you run it for them.
More Mists of Akuma on the way
Rob Schwalb hooked me up with a great group of demonic minions that are helping shape the Shadow of the Demon Lord conversion of this book into something magnificent but there’s more coming along. That cover up there? That’s the (*inward shivering*) “player companion” book for the setting. I call it a handbook because it’s a 136 page hardcover — that’s how much of this book is not monsters or GM-only information. BUT THERE’S MORE!
One of my (extremely few) regrets with Mists of Akuma was the lack of snake people and after Chris turned over Revenge of the Pale Master I had mind to make a murderous mystery of my own. Thus Fangs of Revenge was spawned! I really had a good time making this and it’s one of the most complete things I’ve ever published — various maps, a litany of character illustrations as mnemonic devices for players and GMs, and a really excellent premise that was fun to fill out. Best part? ALL COLOR! Ordering a print proof this week.
While anxiously awaiting copy to come in I decided to explore the more monstrous side of Mists of Akuma and before long that spun out into this really cool module where the PCs are brought to a hidden oni city. So much of Mists of Akuma is harsh on nonhuman races (there’s even a condition for it called “Hated”) and I didn’t want to totally leave them out in the cold, so for GMs that have a beleaguered mutant or oni-touched among them, this baby is for YOU! It’s also in full color and is getting a print proof ordered this week.
My Sincere Gratitude
BRYANT TURNAGE came out of NOWHERE and made a huge impact on the Kickstarter and I cannot possibly thank him enough for that.
You are awesome, Bryant. Matt is awesome too (you know who you are ya fool).
There are lots of awesome people to thank here though. The design team was exemplary, the artists all did a killer job bringing this world to (bleak) life, and all of the Kickstarter backers were patient and generous with their interest and pledges.
And Stephanie (who you’ll see as the terrifying Yai Sovereign oni) of course. There were many, many, many 12 and 14 hour days where Mists of Akuma took over my life–in addition to providing me with the zeal to take those on, she was my second set of eyes on every art piece that came in. I love you babe! ❤
I’ve been working on other stuff too (2099 Wasteland is coming along wonderfully) but that’s for another post–we’ve gone on long enough here. If you’ve gotten this far, go check out the book preview. If you already have a copy, please leave a review or let me know how you like it via some other means! I love me some feedback.