An Interview with Chris Perkins
An Interview with Chris Perkins

An Interview with Chris Perkins

Editor’s Note: Chris Perkins, Editor of TSR’s DUNGEON Adventures magazine and Associate Editor of DRAGON magazine, wished to work for TSR since he was 12 years old. After writing scores of new adventures, 22 of which have seen print, Chris obtained his dream by joining the TSR team in 1995. Chris was chosen to be the designer on the AD&D product formally titled as “Servants of Light: The Celestials.” He speaks to us about this product (now titled Warriors of Heaven) and his own experiences with Planescape and GenCon in this brief email interview.

PART I: Meet the Designer

  • How did you come to be employed at TSR?

Chris: I’ve wanted to work for TSR, and specifically for the magazines, since I was twelve years old. I was a big fan of the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS¨ game, and I liked designing my own adventures. (These early “adventures” are very humbling-it’s painfully obvious now that I had no clue what I was doing.)

When the first issue of DUNGEON Adventures was released in 1986, I was immediately hooked. I started submitting proposals and adventures for the editors’ consideration; my second proposal evolved into what became my first published work, “Wards of Witching Ways,” which appeared in Issue #11. I was still a teenager when the adventure was published.

Over the next ten years, from 1987 to 1997, I wrote scores of new adventures, twenty-two of which were accepted and published by the editors of DUNGEON Adventures. By 1995, I had established myself as a “regular” contributor who could meet deadlines and turn over relatively clean copy. The editors began to approach me with special projects.

Whenever TSR released a new campaign setting, I would rush out and buy the new game, read it, and within a few days, draft a complete adventure for the editors’ perusal. My first PLANESCAPE¨ adventure, “Umbra” (Issue #55), was created in this fashion, as was the magazine’s first BIRTHRIGHT¨ adventure, “Seeking Bloodsilver” (Issue #59).

In 1995 and 1996, I was invited to Lake Geneva to meet with the periodicals staff. Like Alice in Wonderland, I was timid and dumbfounded. I was introduced to people-designers, editors, art directors, and cartographers-whose work I admired. My second and third visits to TSR were much more relaxed, and while I was there the overworked and understaffed periodicals department put me to good use, letting me sift through piles of articles, adventures, and fiction submissions. Both the publisher, Brian Thomsen, and the Editor-in-Chief, Pierce Watters, seemed to like what I was doing.

When Wizards of the Coast, Inc. purchased TSR, Inc. in 1997, the then-editor of DUNGEON Adventures, Michelle Vuckovich, opted to remain in the Midwest. When the position was first announced, I applied.

  • What did you do before coming to work for TSR?

Chris: I taught high school English and Mathematics for five years. Although the bulk of my editing experience stems from reading high school English essays, I did spend one year working as an editor and written translator for the Canadian Government in Ottawa, during which time I also performed in three runway shows as a fashion model. (I’m not kidding.)

  • How did you get involved with the PLANESCAPE product line?

Chris: I’ve always enjoyed planar adventures, and I was eager to incorporate some planar elements into my own campaign. I was completely blown away by the PLANESCAPE Campaign Setting boxed set. At the time, there was nothing quite like it, both in terms of scope and design, and Tony DiTerlizzi’s interior art totally blew me away. The voice and design of the campaign setting was daring and striking in its originality.

My involvement with the setting began with “Umbra” (appearing in DUNGEON Adventures #55). The first draft of the adventure was far longer than the editors had anticipated, and I was asked to trim the 28,000-word adventure to a more manageable 16,000 words. I was not entirely successful; I think the final adventure came in at 21,000 words, still making it the longest module ever published in DUNGEON Adventures.

While a number of readers hated “Umbra” for being too “campaign specific,” it apparently went over much better with the TSR staff and PLANESCAPE fans. The magazine editors liked it enough to encourage me to write another PLANESCAPE adventure, based on some conceptual sketches created by artist (and TSR Art Director) Stephen Daniele. That adventure, “Nemesis,” appeared in Issue #60.

Encouraged by my earlier work, the RPGA¨ Network asked me to design a three-round AD&D Open tournament based on the PLANESCAPE¨ Campaign Setting. The result was a titanic trilogy of adventures collectively titled “Cutters.” At close to 75,000 words, it’s the longest thing I’ve ever written, and probably the best thing I’ve written as a freelancer. TSR was in financial turmoil at the time, so I wrote the adventure for free. The “Cutters” trilogy is mostly set in Sigil and takes place prior to the events chronicled in Faction War. The plot involves heroes from various factions working together to achieve a common goal-preventing the return of a not-quite-dead faction called the Incanterium. It’s a matter of personal pride that I was able to incorporate over one-third of the NPCs from the Uncaged: Faces of Sigil accessory into the “Cutters” trilogy. I also found room to include the Lady of Pain in one climactic scene.

“Cutters” was my last project before being hired by Wizards of the Coast as the editor of DUNGEON Adventures. My first freelance project after joining the TSR family was “The Manxome Foe,” an RPGA ADVENTURER’S GUILDú module based on the PLANESCAPE campaign; the adventure was later included in the TSR JAM 1999 product.

That adventure was written in two days, but I hope that doesn’t show. I rather liked the idea of using the jabberwock—it’s such a whimsical and unearthly creature.I was also intrigued by the challenge of setting an adventure in the Upper Planes, just to prove that interesting stuff can and does happen there!

My next planar project, tentatively titled “Needle in the Eye,” is another ADVENTURER’S GUILD module for the RPGA. The adventure will support the upcoming Guide to Hell accessory (written by staff designer Chris Pramas), due out later this year.

  • Do you think we may see “Cutters” in print someday, as an actual Planescape product? Has this been considered by TSR or the RPGA?

Chris: “Cutters” will not appear as a future PLANESCAPE¨ product. At the end of Faction War, the factions (at least, the surviving ones) are banished from Sigil. Since “Cutters” is based in Sigil and features numerous factions, it no longer “fits” the current PLANESCAPE timeline. It’s conceivable that it might appear in an electronic format someday, but there are no immediate plans to make this happen.

  • What in particular attracts you so strongly to the PLANESCAPE setting?

Chris: Bill Slavicsek (Director of Roleplaying Games R&D) said it best: The PLANESCAPE setting really brings out the best in its designers.

There isn’t an idea that’s too wacky or “out of place” for the setting, and there is nothing banal or dull about the Outer Planes. Capturing the essence and “edge” of the PLANESCAPE multiverse is fairly easy once one gets over the immensity of the campaign setting. It’s wonderfully liberating and deceptively easy.

As a designer, I enjoy the chance to describe places that could exist nowhere else and create encounters that raise the bar on players’ expectations. I also admire the diversity of locations within the PLANESCAPE campaign; an adventure set in Sigil has an entirely different “feel” from an adventure that takes place in the Abyss.

  • What sources of inspiration do you think influence your work (music, art, myth, etc.)?

Chris: Architecture and music are strong influences on my work. I love architecture, and I enjoy drawing maps. Most of my structural maps are based on sound architectural principles, but I like blending architectural styles and bending the rules when it suits the personality of the building or location.

I always listen to music when I write, soundtracks in particular. When writing PLANESCAPE material, I listen to soundtracks from Edward Scissorhands, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Dark City, and the Alien films.

On the more vocal side, I derive inspiration from Nine Inch Nails, The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, Garbage, New Order, The Cranberries, Julee Cruise, Radiohead, and The Offspring, among others. All of these artists have influenced my work in one way or the other.

  • Have you visited many PLANESCAPE-related fan sites such as What is your impression of them?

Chris: I don’t frequent many fan sites, but I have visited on two occasions. Although I have little to compare it to, I found the site easy to navigate, visitor friendly, and up to date.

Some of my own opinions of past PLANESCAPE products differ from the product reviews presented on the site, although we do share a heartfelt adoration for the Uncaged: Faces of Sigil accessory (in my opinion, the best PLANESCAPE product, followed closely by The Factol’s Manifesto!)

  • When was your first Gen Con experience? What was it like?

Chris: I don’t remember much from my first experience at GEN CON. I had never attended a gaming convention before, and I was completely overwhelmed and overstimulated. I remember leaving with a car trunk full of game product. I also remember the VISA bill-absolutely terrifying.

  • What are you looking forward to at this year’s Gen Con?

Chris: Wizards of the Coast has a big announcement planned for Friday at noon-our chance to reveal cool stuff planned for 2000 and solicit feedback from the fans.

I’m also looking forward to seeing the new TSR/Wizards of the Coast castle. I’m also hoping to participate in more games this year. Our schedules are lighter than last year, so we’ll have more time for fun stuff like gaming and roleplaying.

  • With your many tasks working for TSR Periodicals, and, now, preparing for Gen Con, do you ever get a chance to role-play

Chris: To me, roleplaying is like sleeping or eating – it’s essential. If I go more than a few days without roleplaying, I start to feel miserable. Therefore, I roleplay at least once a week, usually in the evenings. I like participating in long-running campaigns, but I appreciate short one- or two-session games as well.

Working at TSR is not like working in a factory or a fast food restaurant; you never get bored or tired of the product. Roleplaying is both our lives and our livelihood, and there is a lot of playtesting going on during the day and in the evenings. I can’t think of anyone at TSR who isn’t involved in a campaign of one sort of another.

For two years, I participated in a campaign run by PLANESCAPE maestro Monte Cook; not many people can say that. I’ve also roleplayed with Michele Carter and Bruce Cordell; not many people can say that, either.

I am currently DMing an ongoing campaign for a group that includes Sean Reynolds, Jeff Quick, Duane Maxwell, Dave Gross, and Stan! Whenever I sit down to plan the next game session, I know I have to deliver the goods. These guys are all designers and editors, after all! When I first began the campaign, I was a bit intimidated. I wasn’t sure whether I could keep them entertained.

What I didn’t realize was that these people could amuse themselves for days in the Elemental Plane of Vacuum-that’s just the way they are.

  • Is it true the TSR Castle at the Gen Con Exhibit Hall is constructed by Krynn tinker gnomes?

Chris: Yes. I understand the gnomes have rigged the new castle with pit traps and deadfalls. The next time a gamer talks to me about his 97th-level half-drow paladin/assassin, I’ll I have to do is pull a lever.

PART II: Warriors of Heaven

Once slated for producing as a much anticipated 64-page Planescape product, TSR will release a 96-page Core supplement in September. Designed to give the chant about celestials to both planars and primes, readers will find a whole lot more! Designer Chris Perkins lanns us the dark:

  • What can you tell us about the fabled Warriors of Heaven?My most recent PLANESCAPE experience is Warriors of Heaven, which began as a 64-page product titled Servants of Light: The Celestials.

Chris: Early in its conception, the product was intended as a companion to the Faces of Evil: The Fiends accessory. At some point, it was decided by the TSR Brand Team to market the accessory as a core AD&D product instead of a PLANESCAPE product, knowing that the material would appeal to more than just PLANESCAPE aficionados.

The Brand Team also wanted a “sexier” title for the product, and several names were batted around.

  • Was there a reason why the title “Warriors of Heaven” seemed to fit the bill? Does the product focus on the militant aspects of Celestial life?

Chris: The product allows players to create celestial characters, presumably so they can take the fiends to task. The original title, Servants of Light: The Celestials, sounded too gentle. The name of the product changed three or four times before the Brand Team settled on the more aggressive Warriors of Heaven title (which, not coincidentally, mirrors the title of the follow-up product A Guide to Hell).

  • Tell us more.

Chris: I was given two months to design a product that not only expanded on existing material regarding the inhabitants of the Upper Planes but also enabled players to create celestial characters and DMs to run celestial campaigns. I remember two months of absolute hell when I was editing two magazines during the day, designing an ALTERNITY¨ adventure (Planet of Darkness) in the evenings, and writing Warriors of Heaven on weekends! Nevertheless, I’m pleased with the way Warriors of Heaven turned out.

  • How did it turn out? From what perspective is the product written?

Chris: Warriors of Heaven is a core AD&D¨ product and does not embrace the narrative style of most PLANESCAPE products.

The cant is mostly absent, although I think I managed to slip the occasional “basher” and “leatherhead” past the editors! (tee hee)

What I miss are the pull-quotes; they made PLANESCAPE products even more fun to read! The next planar product, A Guide to Hell uses a narrative style similar to Warriors of Heaven. It, too, is designed as a core AD&D product.

  • How did the supplement get increased from 64 to 96 pages?

Chris: Anyone who has edited my work knows that I almost always overwrite. By the time I had finished detailing the various celestial PC races (aasimon, aasimar, archons, asuras, eladrins, guardinals) and the politics of the Upper Planes, I had all but exhausted my word count for Warriors of Heaven. Nevertheless, I designed additional chapters detailing celestial spells and magical items. I also designed six ready-to-use celestial NPCs.

The original plan was to post this “bonus” material on the official TSR website, but the Brand Team thought the material important enough to incorporate into the product, thereby increasing its size to 96 pages.

The notion of a “web-enhanced product” stuck in everyone’s mind, though. AD&D Category Manager Keith Strohm asked me to provide some extra “goodies” for the TSR website in support of the product.

When the product releases in September, it will be the first Web-Enhanced roleplaying game accessory produced by TSR. Fans of the product can download a chapter detailing the quesar as a player character race. (The quesar first appeared as monsters in the PLANES OF CONFLICT Boxed Set.) Fans can also download a full-blown adventure designed for celestial PCs titled “Devil’s Deal.” The adventure features two of the NPCs detailed in Warriors of Heaven and takes place on Phlegethos, the fourth layer of Baator.

  • Wow! This is exciting news! Can you tell us more about how this will work?

Chris: Not really. In the case of Warriors of Heaven, I am responsible for providing the web-enhanced material, but I have no insight or input into how this information will be presented or how this process might impact other products.

  • Lately talk on the Planescape Mailing List revolved around the astonishingly powerful stats of such creatures as the Aasimon. Rather than seek to change these stats, many compelling stories for why these stats and powers exist were generated by the List members. This struck me as just the sort of problem that designers must face: confronting cannon and past designer’s work. How much was this a difficulty in designing Warriors of Heaven?

Chris: Warriors of Heaven remains very true to the existing PLANESCAPE line. So much had been written about celestials in past products that I found it difficult to put my own “spin” on it. I’ve added a lot of material to the existing stuff, hopefully without compromising what’s been written before.

  • How much intellectual freedom were you allowed to alter cannon based on your interpretation of past products?

Chris: There were times when I felt more like a conductor than a composer.

The music and the orchestra had already been created; my job was to bring the various instrumental pieces together and create harmony.

My hope is that readers will see the celestials presented in a fresh and exciting way. What I liked most about working on the product was the chance to give celestials the same attention given to fiends in earlier products.

When Keith Strohm approached me with the project, he had only one directive: Make the celestials fun, for both players and DMs. Most of my effort went into trying to fulfill this directive.

  • Many of the Celestial races have mythological and/or religious counterparts. To what extent did traditional sources of real-world myth and religion influence your writing?

Chris: None whatsoever.

  • Do we get the chant on the rumored ‘holy wars’ between good-aligned pantheons, as hinted at in passages of the Planescape Monstrous Compendiums?

Chris: Yes.

  • Does Sigil, and its small populace of fallen and unique celestials, get any detail in relation to the Celestials of the Upper Planes? One also thinks of the popular fallen celestials of the Lower Planes…

Chris: The product does not discuss Sigil in any depth. Fallen celestials are discussed in the Warriors of Heaven product, and at least one fallen celestial is featured prominently in A Guide to Hell.

Source: Nathan Letsinger

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