The world of roleplaying is already a vast and complicated world of entertainment (not to mention ogres with swords). This week, though, it gets a little more interesting. The Last God writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Nerd Poker podcast “dungeonmaster” Dan Telfer have collaborated on a brand-new DnD 5E compatible guidebook set in the amazing DC Black Label world. How’s that for synergy, y’all?
The Last God: Tales from the Book of Ages #1 gives RPG fans the power to build thrilling campaigns and adventures within the world of The Last God. Hell, it even comes with new maps and illustrations from cartographer Jared Blando. Because if you’re going to go exploring in a nightmare land, it should at least look pretty.
I had the chance to ask both Johnson and Telfer about the creation of the book (with wonderful art by Riccardo Federici, I might add) as well as their opinions on other sourcebooks yet to be created for comic book fandom and much, much more.
The book is available now in comic shops and online to boot.
AIPT: Thanks for taking the time! I’ve had the chance to immerse myself in The Last God sourcebook and the preface was incredibly rich and interesting. I know The Last God took somewhere in a year to create save for the years of training life likely brought to the work, but how much time did it take to create this sourcebook?
Philip Kennedy Johnson: It’s hard to gauge how many hours go into a thing like this, because I was scripting the monthly issues and the backmatter for those issues while also working on the sourcebook. It’s such a monstrous amount of content, we chipped away at it for months before we were able to really focus on it, and even that sells it short because we were worldbuilding a ton of this stuff before the first issue was even written. The story of the creation of Cain Anuun, which we see part of in issue 5, continues in the sourcebook, and I had to have at least a rough version of that fleshed out before any of the scripts for The Last God began. There are creatures in the bestiary that we wanted to use in the series but there wasn’t room for them; there are sub-classes in the Character Creation section that we wanted to show readers, but there wasn’t really a reason that made organic sense.
But luckily, that’s where the backmatter and the sourcebook came in. With the addition of those bonus pages every month and now the sourcebook, we have an opportunity that’s almost unprecedented in comics, as far as the size and scope of the story we’re now able to tell. And a ton of the credit for that goes to my editors and publishers at DC. When they saw how much world-building was going into this story behind the scenes, they offered to print a lot of it at the back of every issue in the form of journals, poems, songs, prose stories, religious texts. From there, my editor Amedeo Turturro (who is a hardcore tabletop gamer) had the amazing idea to make the sourcebook, a supplemental issue that would make the entire world of Cain Anuun playable as a tabletop campaign. We were even able to bring in Dan, a consummate expert from the world of gaming, to construct most of the game mechanics and make that side of it super legit and player-friendly. I didn’t even ask for any that, it was offered to us. I was completely blown away.
Dan Telfer: I spent a couple of months running my numbers and lore interpretations past Amedeo. It was a crazy time- I had both an overseas trip planned, then got an exotic fungal infection in my throat that felt straight out of the comic. But I loved where we landed and was thrilled to have Phillip’s blessing on my contributions!
AIPT: The Last God is an incredible world. Is it ever difficult to get your headspace out of this world when it must be so vividly clear in your mind?
PKJ: I admit, I spend so much time thinking about that world, and am writing down ideas for The Last God at such random moments throughout my day and night, that my life has taken on a sort of dual nature, and I have to flip a mental switch when I cross over to avoid getting confused. The characters over there obviously speak different languages (which now exist to some degree), but also different slang and dialect. The people there recognize different seasons, different calendars, different money systems, different number systems. Sometimes it takes a moment to adjust, when I remind myself that the number “sixty” doesn’t mean here what it does there, that people on Earth don’t live in a post-Cyulí society, or that “a week” is still a thing here. It sometimes gets a little dissonant in my head.
DT: I’m a big fan of bleak fiction, and it was something of a catharsis to break all these monsters down into numbers and effectively give them limitations. Wish I could do the same for real-life monsters. Kind of a breath of fresh air for me!
AIPT: The sourcebook is a fantastic idea as it opens up The Last God world to gamers with huge imaginations. For gamers who may uncover new things and explore in this world what would you say to them if they asked if their games were in cannon?
PKJ: It excites me beyond belief that Cain Anuun is now growing beyond my control, and that there will now be things happening there that even I won’t know about, just like on Earth. I want the canon of The Last God to be bigger than the stories I’ve written there, and for people to put their own mark on it, and for it to become different things to different readers or gamers. If anyone reading this is ever interested in showing or telling me about their adventures in Cain Anuun, I would love to see it. I’m fascinated to know what people will do with the story we’re giving them, and to see it continue to grow after my part in it is done, if it ever is.
DT: I’ve always found the idea of canon tricky- especially in RPGs. It’s easy to wrap your head around (we all get it, there’s a story and there’s sometimes gaps in it) but once you give fans license it feels like they own it too. I say focus on your games and have fun- what matters is you created your own adventures. It’s an honor to just have contributed to the springboard that got you going!
AIPT: It’s a different kind of game, but have either of you dabbled with Magic: The Gathering? If so, could we ever see The Last God dabble in other games like that one?
DT: I could never get into Magic! It’s so competitive and competitive games activate my dark side and get me flustered! But I’m sure that this world has all the depth it needs for more gaming. Now that people can see come math behind it I’d like to think they could see how many hit points a video game boss would have, or how a card game could be stacked.
AIPT: When it comes to strength, dexterity, etc, and building out these details how does one go about keeping track of everything and making sure it’s balanced? That seems like a huge feat!
DT: I’ve been staring at monster stats for a long time, and what I was most eager to set aside was challenge ratings. I feel like I know a huge variety of creatures and their stats, but that aspect is really oversimplifying how scary or simple a monster can be. I’ll take your question as a big compliment (thanks!) but also point out that these rules were meant to be bent. I am a big fan of sticking hard and fast to rules like distance and hit points, but decisions a monster makes? Those are all up to you, the player. This is just like the DNA of their meat and muscle. I’m proud to have engineered it, but really the lore of Phillip’s world was so rich that it was more like I ran a series of tests on rich, dense fantasy. Who wouldn’t like that as a job? And yes, Amedeo was a big help with this. I often wanted to bend rules, and he was good at knowing when to say “Dan, the rules experts at the table will think that’s impossible!”
AIPT: I imagine DnD fans will be snatching this up at comic shops this week, and it’s so well done it has got me thinking: Do you think a sourcebook for superheroes is a good idea? If so, which character would you want to write a sourcebook on?
PKJ: Oh, man. I’m such a nut for world-building, I think I’d go in that direction for just about any character I write, given the time. I think something like a sourcebook is best when it’s about a location or setting…I’d happily read or write something like that about the history of the big iconic locales from DC continuity like Krypton, Themyscira, Gotham, Atlantis. Conan’s Hyborian Age or the world of John Carter: Warlord of Mars would be incredible, or the world of Thra from The Dark Crystal, even though it’s not really a superhero story. But if we’re talking strictly about a character, I think it should be about someone who’s had a long, long history and/or mythology, maybe with many iterations, even if few or none of the previous iterations have been seen in the books…Swamp Thing, the line of Constantine, the House of El, the New Gods, and their predecessors, Moon Knight, Ghost Rider, the lives of Ra’s Al Ghul. Seeing those characters in a new historical context would be fun as hell, at least for a nerd like me.
DT: I actually get to do that as my primary gig for Cortex RPG! So I won’t say anything other than keep your ear to the ground if you’d like to see more from me!
AIPT: Many folks are struggling to keep their creative juices flowing right now. Do you have any tricks or means of getting your creativity flowing?
PKJ: I always take inspiration by reading/watching/playing great stories by great storytellers. My schedule’s somehow gotten even more hectic during the quarantine, but I still try to take time to read and watch something awesome every day, and there’s no shortage of incredible stories being told right now in all kinds of media. That always inspires me to up my game. Since the quarantine started, I’ve been re-consuming a lot of stuff I love…the prose of Vonnegut, Hemingway, and Cormac McCarthy, some of my favorite comic runs by Scott Snyder and Tom King, Beowulf by Garcia/Rubin, the show The Americans. Also inching my way back through videogames Dark Souls and The Last Of Us, another storytelling masterpiece. Things I’m reading for the first time are Tom King/Andy Kubert’s Superman: Up In The Sky, Alan Moore/Garry Leach’s Miracleman, graphic novels The Boxer by Reinhard Kleist and The Coldest Winter by Antony Johnston and Steven Perkins.
DT: Do something kind for someone else without need of thanks or reciprocation. It will hopefully lift you out of your funk and remind you of why we are all put on this earth, to experience it with joy. It won’t immediately spark creativity per se, but it will take you out of the fire for just a moment, which is where creativity blossoms.
AIPT: What did you want to be when you were little?
PKJ: I went through a lot of phases. But scientist, detective, and comic artist are the ones that I think stuck the longest. I settled on music when I was still pretty young, but came back ‘round to comics in my own time, and I am extremely glad I did.