Designer Interview: Christina Stiles, Journeys to the West – Redux!

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to chat with Christina Stiles, the lead designer on the Open Design project Journeys to the West. And now that the project has been under way and covered a few nautical miles of fantasy oceans, she was kind enough to share a brief update about how things are going…

Q: After the huge success of the Journeys to the West Kickstarter project, how has the transition to getting input in a more traditional patron-involved model at Open Design/Kobold Quarterly gone?

After the Kickstarter ended–well even before, really–Wolfgang Baur added everyone to the forums based on their buy-in levels. Then it was business as usual for the patron-supported project. So, the only difference in that regard was how the money was acquired for the project. I haven’t heard if future Open Design projects will continue to use Kickstarter, or if they will go to the standard model used prior to it. I think it worked out very well, however, and hope it is used again.

Q: For those of us not privy to the behind-the-scenes look given patrons involved directly in the design process, how’s it been going?

The brainstorming has been fantastic, and we’ve got a great many enthusiastic patrons. I’m very happy with my crew! Some of them have been around Open Design projects for a good many years, but we’ve also garnered some new folks who’ve made their mark on the Journeys project to date. You’ll especially see that patron gestalt in regard to the final descriptions of the coastal city of Barsella and on the Isle of Morphoi. These areas actually began in Brandon Hodge‘s section on the Wasted West in the Midgard Campaign Setting book project (that book has gone to editing), and we’ve continued to build on that work, expanding it into new frontiers, so to speak. That’s been very fun.

Q: What’s currently going on in the Journeys project?

We’re 90% wrapped up on the islands (waiting on one straggler), and we’re currently in the second round of pitching interesting NPCs for the setting. Additionally, adventure pitching opened this week. At the moment, we have around 55,000 words on the project completed, and this has been compiled for the senior patrons to aid in their adventure pitching and writing. We’ll have closer to 65,000 by the end of February. That word count includes all the monsters, islands, spells, magic items, and NPCs. The six adventures will come in by the beginning of April (8 adventures, actually, with Wolfgang Baur’s standalone module and a special adventure to be run at PaizoCon 2012), and those six will provide an additional 45,000 words, thereby completing the book. We’ll spend April playtesting and developing the book, with turnover expected in May. So far, we are on track for that.

Meanwhile, while we are hammering out the adventures, Ben McFarland, the project’s developer, will launch some pitching opportunities for our small pirates supplement, Journeys: Pirates of the Western Ocean, our backers helped us achieve. We also have some deck plans, treasure maps, and aboleth glyphs to finish up on.

Q: There have been a few bi-weekly updates to the Kickstarter page mentioning ongoing work with monsters, magic, and new islands but no real details in blog posts at KQ since mid-December. Can we look forward to more blog posts to tantalize us with a few more details before the project is completed?

Yes, I’ve got one in the hopper for Mnemosyne, the goddess who resides on the Isle of Morphoi. She plays a key role in events that have taken place in Midgard overall. She’s on a mission to retrieve her kidnapped husband, the god Nethus, from the Kammaens who imprisoned him many years ago–but she’s also in search of something she’s lost: her memories (and her daughter).

There should also be a blog post on some magical items soon, as well. We’ll see what other snippets we can provide over the next few weeks. Also, I’ve talked the Kobold-in-Chief into some Journeys material for Kobold Quarterly #22, the large summer issue. Castles & Crusades fans will want to pay special attention to that issue.

Q: The article by Adam Roy at KQ about the Behtu – “half-ape, half-human pygmies with demon blood flowing in their veins” – evoked a bit of a King Kong vibe. Can we potentially look forward to a bit of an “Island of Monsters” somewhere in the mix?

Hmm, let’s just say we’ve got Adam Roy working to expand on his monster vibe. In terms of the other islands, it’s a real mixture of monstrous element. In regard to Morphoi and the Atolls of Aroa, where time fluxes occur, you never know what you might find there.

I think GMs will find satisfying elements for different styles of play throughout the book. Even if you don’t run a Midgard campaign, this book will be a useful resource for mining for other seafaring campaigns.

Q: What have been the most challenging parts of the development process in this phase of the project?

For me, it’s been learning how to balance the project’s moving parts. I’ve been on the patron side of a few Open Design projects, but it’s really been eye-opening leading one. I have so much more respect for those who’ve gone before me. It’s a lot of work keeping the brainstorming active, incorporating all the cool ideas coming in, responding to inquiries, accepting pitches, posting pitches for voting, rounding up the winners’ information for the developer, and trying to write while all these things are in motion. It’s been a true balancing act. Running a patron project is a lot of work! At the same time, it’s been some of the most fun I’ve ever had, and I’m sure I’ll be in contact with many of the patrons long after the project has been published. It’s very much been a bonding experience.

Q: What has been the biggest surprise to you personally as you’ve gone deeper with the project?

I’ve been really surprised and amazed by the ideas generated in the brainstorms. There is just a lot of creativity pulled together in such projects, especially when you have an active core group of patrons like we have with Journeys. While Barsella and Morphoi are very much like the places as Brandon Hodge and patrons imagined them in the Midgard Campaign Setting, they’ve grown very much beyond that via our give-and-take discussions. I smile when I think about the interesting locations, monsters, and personalities already brimming in those two settings (not to mention the other islands!), and I’m very excited about the added bits of chronomancy and geomancy we’ve got in the mix, including new spells and prestige classes.

Q: What has been the most fun to write about so far on Journeys?

The brainstorming for Barsella and Morphoi
have been the most fun for me. I’ve also liked the few Google+ hangouts we’ve done for pitching patrons. It’s the first time I’ve used the technology, and I’ve enjoyed getting to hear the voices and see some of the faces of folks on the project. We’ve got patrons on different coasts and even on the other side of the world.

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

I simply love the Open Design crew! They are a kind, creative, productive, and very accessible group. I can email, text, call, Facebook, or even hangout in G+ with them if I need to. They respond quickly and get things moving along. I hope to be working with Open Design on many future projects. Really, they may just be stuck with me. ๐Ÿ™‚


Again, a huge thank you goes out to Christina and the rest of the folks at Open Design and Kobold Quarterly. It really is one of the great hubs of creativity in the RPG world at the moment and it’s been amazing peering behind the curtain every now and then to see how these great projects progress!

I for one can’t wait to read Journeys to the West sometime later in 2012!

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