Interview: David Caffee of Chaos Trip Studios and the Slayers of the Great Serpent Kickstarter Campaign

David Caffee, creator of the Altered Earth 4e science-fiction game from Chaos Trip Studios and several other titles, has been making games and adventures for years. But now he’s doing things a little differently with the Kickstarter for a new series of books built around his Slayers of the Great Serpent epic fantasy campaign. This epic fantasy campaign will take characters from level 1 to level 20 to fight a battle to save a world. How cool is that? And if that wasn’t enough, what if I told you it was being written for both Pathfinder AND 4e? 

I have to say, it sounds like quite an impressive campaign and one I’d be interested in playing myself!

Recently I had a chance to chat with David about the Kickstarter and he was kind enough to answer…

Q: Can you introduce yourself and Chaos Trip Studios?

I have been working as a freelance writer in the small press RPG business since about 2005. I’ve done stuff for a lot of publishers. Most of my writing has been through Comstar Games which later merged with Avalon Games. I’ve also worked with Glutton Creeper Games, Louis Porter Jr. Designs, Skorched Urf’ Studios, and Adamant Entertainment, among others. I had always wanted to run my own studio, so a few years ago I set up Chaos Trip Studios as an imprint of Avalon. It was through Chaos Trip that I published some science fiction supplements for the 4E rules: Altered Earth and Altered Earth: Heroic Tier Threats. It was a lot of work flying solo, but it was a great experience.

Daniel Wood - Slayers of the Great Serpent, 2Q: If you had one thing to tell a gamer looking to support your Kickstarter project, what would it be?

Give me money! That is a joke, of course. I would tell that person that this campaign is going to be a lot of fun to play, that it is something a gaming group will remember playing for a long time.

Q: What is your favorite part of the Slayers of the Great Serpent campaign and why?

It is hard to say. My favorite part is writing it. I like crafting the descriptions of places and creating the settings. I guess that is really my favorite part, the world that the adventurers will be roaming through.

Q: What combination of characters would make the ideal party for this campaign?

That depends on which version the group is using. For Pathfinder, I’d probably suggest the classic mix of fighter, cleric, wizard, et cetera. The campaign involves a lot of travelling and exploration, so a character with nature skills would be pretty invaluable. For Dungeons and Dragons Fourth Edition, there are so many core classes that many combinations would work. The party would definitely need a healer of some sort, and the martial classes have so much variety that you could make a whole party of fighters, rangers, warlords, and the like. I really like the psionic classes in 4E, so that would be fun too.

Q: I love the fact that you’re supporting both PFRPG and 4e right out of the gate. What are the biggest challenges when balancing encounters for both systems?

That is a big challenge. What I’ve done is to create the structure for the adventures, then create the encounters for both systems from scratch. You can’t really convert an encounter from one to the other, I just keep in mind what I want that encounter to accomplish and then work from there. There are places where the two versions will be significantly different. Game balance is easier in 4th edition, but I’ve been working with d20 for so long that I think I have it down.

Q: I hate to brink up a TPK, but sometimes in epic campaigns it happens. Are you building in contingencies for ways GMs can recover if something catastrophic happens to the entire party?

A total party kill is easier to prevent than to fix. You have to resort to a deus ex machina, sometimes literally. That is a situation where someone has to come to save the party, and players hate that. The trick is to make sure that you aren’t putting the party up against something they can’t handle. At the end of the day, the dice can be cruel. I was recently playing in a game where the rogue snuck into a castle and performed a nearly –perfect assassination, and then he rolled five naturally ones in a row trying to escape. Needless to say he didn’t make it. One thing that I am doing with this campaign is that it is not combat intensive; I’m trying to put in a lot of other types of challenges. The final encounter with the Great Serpent will be rough, it is designed to be very challenging for the party, possibly lethal.

Q: You mention some of the inspirations for the Great Serpent campaign on your Kickstarter – folktales, Romantic poets, and H.P. Lovecraft. Can you describe how you have incorporated some of these influences? I’m especially curious how you worked in bits of Coleridge and Byron’s poetry into the mix.

Little secret, I’m an English teacher by training. I love the way these people use language, especially Lovecraft. All of them have a special way of approaching the fantastic and unreal. When I read “Kubla Khan” or “Prometheus” I feel like I am actually there with the poet. That’s what I want to create. I am trying to gain inspiration from these sources without actually borrowing from their work.

Q: Where did you come up with some of the fun names in the campaign world? Xi? Ob Uk Re?

Honestly, they just came to me. I started writing and out popped “the fabulous and mystical land of Xi.” I have no idea where that came from.

Daniel Wood - Slayers of the Great Serpent, 1

Q: Once the Kickstarter is completed, you’ve allotted three months to complete each 100+ page module book (five of them). This is an aggressive schedule even if you have help with writing, editing, layout, and art. How will you budget your time and resources to try and avoid schedule slips?

Another secret, a lot of the writing is already done. So I don’t have to do each module from scratch in three months. That would be nearly impossible. I’ve been working on this for more than a year
already.

Q: Who did the stark white on black image on the Kickstarter page? It’s fantastic! Will that artist be doing more art for the project once you get funding or are you looking at other artists as well?

Both the color image and the black and white are done by an amazing artist named Daniel Wood. He will be getting assignments for the modules for sure. I also have a number of other artists signed up.

Q: If there’s a question nobody has asked yet that you’d like to answer, what would the question and answer be?

The question is, “What makes this campaign different?” Truthfully, I don’t know if it is different. I hope it is. I started this campaign to run with my own gaming group. I started working on this because I wanted to create something that can truly be called a legendary quest.

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I want to thank David for answering my questions about his Kickstarter project. The epic quality of the story definitely appeals to me as a gamer and I’d love to see it fully funded to see where it leads…

If you are looking for more information about David, Chaos Trip Studios, or the Kickstarter…

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