Interview: Christina Stiles, Lead Designer on Open Design’s Journeys to the West for Midgard

Ahhhh. I love that new project smell, don’t you?

When I saw that Open Design was doing a Kickstarter project for their new Midgard project – Journeys to the West: Fantastic Voyages in the Western Ocean – I got a little giddy. I’ve been a fan of all the Midgard-themed books so far and have been curious to see how Wolfgang’s vision has expanded as additional designers and writers have been added to various projects. And then I watched the video and got even giddier, as Wolfgang Baur described the project as being inspired by the adventures of Sinbad, the Argonauts, and the pirates of the Barbary Coast. Yahoo!

So last week, when an opportunity arose to ask lead designer Christina Stiles (Unhallowed Halls, The Village of Briarton, and Faery’s Tale among many others) a few questions, I jumped at the chance.

First of all, congratulations on becoming the lead designer for Journeys to the West, the latest Midgard project for Open Design! In the video for the Kickstarter project page for Journeys, Wolfgang mentions a few key influences to describe this supplement and adventure series – Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts, and Pirates of the Barbary Coast. Have you discovered any other influences during your explorations of the Western Ocean?

We haven’t yet embarked on Journeys, but, in addition to those influences Wolfgang Baur mentioned in the kickstarter video and you list above, I’d have to add in my early AD&D characters, who were my Greek and Norse lady explorers of the open seas. Additionally, I fell in love with Dragon #116 because of Margaret Foy’s “The High Seas” article, and I truly loved the D&D Gazetteer #4, the Kingdom of Irendi, so those are influences. I’ll be reading them again very soon. For additional inspiration, I intend to rewatch the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and reread Misty Massey’s Mad Kestrel and likely Mel Odom’s Threat from the Sea Trilogy—not that there will be sahuagin in the West or anything. We are really going to focus on creating some new monsters to terrorize characters with.

Though obviously the writing and playtesting of this book will take some time, what do you think are going to be the most challenging parts of the development process?

This is my first time leading an Open Design project, so for me, it will be wrangling in all the cool ideas the patrons come up with. It’s the best part of the process, really, and it’s one of the reasons I’m so enamored with Open Design overall. I love the collaborative process, and the Open Design patrons bring a variety of perspectives to the projects, inspiring and offering up many unusual ideas, so the experience is unlike anything else I’ve encountered in my decade plus writing career. Then there will be making the whole cohesive for the reader, which I’m looking forward to.

How have your previous projects (Unhallowed Halls, The Village of Briarton, Faery’s Tale and many more) prepared you for working on Journeys?

Well, the latter two were collaborations we worked on over emails, as some of the individuals involved were on the West Coast, while I live on the East Coast (USA). We bandied about ideas, and only included the best of those in what we sent to printing. That was at a much slower pace, however, and there were only a few individuals involved. As to Unhallowed Halls, it is an adventure I wrote for Atlas Games early in the D20 heyday. I tend to favor writing adventures, and most of my solo credits are modules. Since we’ll have several adventures in Journeys, and I intend to write at least one (hopefully a biggie if the funding exceeds our expectations!), the experience of having written that one and several others will fuel my work on this project.

What do you see as the keys to making this (and any other project you’ve worked on) successful?

On this project, getting the word out to possible backers is very key, and I’ve not had to do that before. It’s exciting, though. In terms of its writing, however, attracting people who have the time and energy to be active on the forums, plus garnering pitch-level buyers with good ideas and the follow through to become credited (and usually contracted, depending on the pitch opportunity) writers in the book, will also be an important key. If we don’t get that level of involvement, then the burden will fall on me to complete more of the supplement’s text than I currently envision. I know we’ve got some strong writers already signed up on this project, though: Jim Groves (Paizo contributor/Open Design) and Ben McFarland (Open Design/Rite Publishing), for instance. So I’m not worried. Plus, I think this project will be so cool that Wolfgang Baur himself won’t be able to resist pitching. So, how awesome would it be for the Kobold Overlord to write an adventure for the book?

Any advice to gamers looking to break into the RPG writing biz?

Glad you asked! I cannot say this enough: Open Design projects and Kobold Quarterly magazine are some of THE BEST opportunities for gamers seeking to break into print. In addition, the Open Design projects provide pitching experience (which is very important in the state of the gaming industry today) and feedback. How often do writers get feedback when sending out writing to publishers? Plus, this feedback comes from experienced writers like Wolfgang Baur, Colin McComb, Brandon Hodge, Adam Daigle, Jim Groves, Ben McFarland, and myself. Then you also get feedback from the patrons, who are product users and buyers, and that feedback is just as valuable. It is very much a win-win growth opportunity. Heck, I’m still learning stuff from the writers on board, and I’ve been doing this for a bit now.

What’s it been like working with Wolfgang Baur and the rest of the gang at Open Design?

Not sure. That Wolfgang Baur guy never answers my emails! Lol!

Just kidding. I’m in almost constant contact with Wolfgang, and he’s one of the best publishers about getting back to you very quickly. I really like that about working with him. Shelly Baur is just super awesome, and all the other minions I’ve worked with have been great. It’s such a great group that I’ve declared myself Kobold Minion #7.

Have you been playing any RPGs lately? Any stories you can share from your own favorite gaming experiences?

Oh, yeah. I’m a gamer. Always will be. I tell people that I’m going to the old folks’ home WITH my dice and game books. I recently returned from the MACE gaming convention in High Point, NC, on Veteran’s Day weekend. I ran my soon-to-be-released Rogue Mage game (based on the Rogue Mage fiction of NYT Bestselling author, Faith Hunter) twice and a game of Castles & Crusades set in Zobeck. Taking a note from a Baur adventure in Tales of Zobeck, I make everyone play kobolds—-because
nothing’s more fun! At the con, I played my first game of Dragon Age (loved it!) and several Savage Worlds games.


A hearty thanks goes out to Christina for taking the time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions (and to Shelly Baur, Kobold Minion #1)! Hopefully we can convince Christina to answer a few more questions in a couple of months as the project gets truly unde

Best of luck to everyone working on Journeys to the West. As a backer of the project, I look forward to seeing where it leads into uncharted waters!

If you want a taste of what’s in store, check out this article and this one at Kobold Quarterly about the Isle of Morphoi… Something tells me these blue-skinned Morphoi might give the blue Avatar aliens a run for their money. 🙂

And of course if ye feel like joining the crew and have a few extra coins in your treasure chest, I’d recommend you toss a few in the Kickstarter hoard!

Some additional details about the project:

  • System: Pathfinder Roleplaying Game
  • Adventure Levels: 1 to 12
  • Length: approximately 96 pages, more if the project reaches the higher funding tier!
  • A new six-adventure anthology is underway from Open Design! Set sail from Barsella, the City at the Edge of the world, home of adventurers and pirates, and explore the vast, uncharted waters of the Midgard campaign setting’s Western Ocean.

    Discover the lush paradise known as the Isle of Morphoi, where the goddess of Memory seeks lost secrets through her network of cunning lamias and the shapeshifting morphoi. Encounter lost civilizations and their hidden colonies; explore mysterious fog-shrouded islands populated by sharp-toothed, scarred natives; battle epic leviathans of the deep that are rumored to crush villages or swallow whole ships; and gain priceless and unusual treasures!

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