Dom: Hi, Stefan. Can you tell us a bit about yourself ?
Stefan : I'm in my late thirties. I live in Bay Area of California, about halfway between San Jose and San Francisco. I work as a QA engineer for a company that makes hardware and software for the digital video server industry.
Dom : What are your hobbies besides Rpg’s ?
Stefan : For fun, I contribute to a few wacky on-line projects, and build and fly model rockets. I read a lot (SF, history, science) and try to keep up on my writing projects.
My home page is at:www.io.com/~stefanj
Dom : How did you discover Rpg’s?
Stefan : My cousin George Hendricks, a long time wargamer, introduced me to D&D and Tunnels & Trolls in the mid 70s.
Dom : Do you still have the time to play? What are your favorites games?
Stefan : I could make time to game, but really prefer other activities. I play some parlor games with friends, occasionally play a computer game, but I'm not a fanatic anymore. I really prefer simplicity and coherence, so I can have fun and move on. (The last game I played was Steve Jackson's "Star Trader". That's about what I can handle these days. Something that takes a few hours and can be forgotten).
Once in a great while, I do some miniatures painting. I'm slowly assembling a set of miniatures for each race in the early SF miniatures game StarGuard (See: www.tin-soldier.com). StarGuard was an inspiration for Space Marines, so in a sense it's a great-uncle to Space Opera.
Dom : Can you tell us how you met Scott Bizar and how you came to work for FGU?
Stefan : I started going to game nights at the Bizar family's Waterloo game store in 1978. Scott ran the store on weekends. The regular crowd did playtesting for FGU. I pestered Scot with lots of ideas. That led into my writing for the company.
Dom : Did you met the authors of Space Opera, Ed. Simbalist, Phil Mc Gregor or Mark Ratner? Or the staff that worked on the other supplements?
Stefan : Ed Simbalist visited Scot a few times, and came by the store for game nights. This was before Space Opera, though. Back then he was the C&S guru. A very intense and charismatic "geek."
I remember when "Doc" E.E. Simbalist was starting to think about doing an SF game, though; he mentioned it while painting miniatures while we were all playing "StarGuard."
I met Mark Ratner at a few conventions. Seemed like a nice guy, and I'm sorry to hear that he's in poor health. I never met Phil McGregor, but I did "run into him" via email a year or two back.
Steve Kingsley, who wrote a couple of Space Opera adventures, was another regular at Waterloo. He was in the Navy, last I heard. I was in regular contact with his brother Dave, who still is a gamer, until a few years back.
Dom : Do you have still some contacts with other authors or people at FGU?
Stefan : Hardly any. Once in a great while I trade email
with Rusty Young, who was a C&S game master and a clerk at Waterloo. I was
in touch with Jeff Dee (Villains and Vigilantes) for a while a few years back as
Tom Dowd, one of Scott's stockroom guys, who wrote a few V & V adventures, went on to help design Shadowrun and eventually become a big wheel at FASA. I used to run into him at computer industry trade shows.
Dom : You wrote 2 very good modules "vault of the Nier Quyon" and "Operation Peregrine". How did you worked to issue these supplements? How long time did you spend in the process? Did you have your own team of play testers?
Stefan : From what I remember, they took less than a month each to write. I did very little playtesting, as I recall; I was a poor college student and needed to get things out the door fast! I just sat down and banged them out on my old electric typewriter, then drew the maps and such. What made these special wasn't extensively worked out mechanics, but the settings and "story".
I think the artists for both of these adventures deserve
special credit. Dee, Willingham, and Compton all did a great job.
Unfortunately, Space Opera adventures never sold well. Space Opera game masters usually created their own settings.
Dom : You wrote also a Star Atlas called "The Outworlds". This product was not directely in the other Star Atlas line up. Was it to create a new Space Opera campaign like Phil McGregor's australian campaign, was it a lack of coordination among writers or what else?
Stefan : I wrote "The Outworlds" before the first Star Atlas was even submitted. I had no guidance or clue as to how the official universe was going to look. Knowing this, I chose what I know was a far-away star, Deneb, for the setting. It turns out that McGregor had already claimed even that territory!
There was almost no coordination between writers. The designers were spread far and wide, and we had no handy email network back then. As a result, I was pretty much on my own, despite living very close to FGU's headquarters. Scott seemed mostly interested in getting material out the door.
I'm kind of embarassed by "The Outworlds." If I had seen Star Atlas I, I would have done a lot more work on it. (I did start work on a second edition, see below.)
Dom : Did you have some material for Space Opera that was never published? If so, could SO fans hope to see them one day?
Stefan : I had started work on a few projects before it was obvious that FGU was moribund. One was an update of "The Outworlds." It would have more worlds, and much more detail on each world. Alas, the floppy disks (original and backup) with the files was damaged by mildew. I may try cleaning them some day, but don't keep your hopes up.
I was about 90% finished with another project, "InRim / Thunderband." This is a combination adventure and sector atlas, similar to "Operation Peregrine." It was set in a sector near the core of the galaxy (InRim), in an area formerly inhabited by long-dead empires, some of them very bizarre and alien. I had lots of fun creating strange worlds and races and histories for this one. I managed to retrieve the files and will probably make it available, somehow, someday, if I can find the folder of maps and such that went along with it.
I also had an adventure which I just can't find the files for. It was about a wacked-out super criminal trying to rip off a casino / resort asteroid.
One thing I can provide fairly soon is an errata and supplement to "Vault of the Ni'er Queyon."
Dom : As a designer, where does your inspiration come from?
Stefan : A combination of things I've read or seen, my own twisted imagination, and . . . well, it's hard to describe. Stuff just occurs to me.
Here's an example. A long time back I'd read a Robert Silverberg story about a robot guarding a treasure . . . the obvious inspiration for the situation in "Vault of the Ni'er Queyon." (My manuscript mentioned the story, but Scott removed the reference and I've since forgotten the title myself). Years later, a bus I was riding stopped in front of a building made of reflective glass. The reflected dawn sunlight was a very strange and pretty oange color. I was very impressed. Later, in a history class, I doodled an artifact that glowed that color, and began thinking of a way to work it into an adventure.
Dom : What are your professional projects at the moment and for the years to come?
Stefan : I have only one game project on the table: A
rewrite of "GURPS Uplift," the game sourcebook for David Brin's SF
universe. I might be released when the final novel in the series comes out.
I have a novel of my own about one-half written, but I have trouble committing to big writing projects and may never get around to finishing it.
I do produce a slow but steady stream of reviews and articles. WIRED published a review of a CD a few years back, for example, and the eHobbies web site published an article of mine last summer (www.ehobbies.com; look under "Rocketry" and "Articles and Tips"). I write lots of pieces for two on-line projects run by Bruce Sterling (www.viridiandesign.org).
Dom : Do you get a lot of messages from fans around the world, particularly concerning Space Opera?
Stefan: Not a lot. Perhaps one or two a year. I'm surprised and pleased that there are that many.
Dom : Have you seen the web site? What would you like to find there?
Stefan: Just briefly. I did read the interview with Scott Bizar, whom I haven't heard from in years. I guess the troubles FGU has had explains why I haven't gotten any royalty checks since 1988! (Seriously, they wouldn't amount to much. My first Silicon Valley sized salary bonus was more than I'd ever earned for all of my game writing projects put together. And all the writing I've done in the last five years wouldn't pay for one month's rent out here!)
Dom : After all these years, are you surprised by the continuing popularity of Space Opera?
Stefan : No. Any good game will have a loyal following, and the Web makes it easy to keep them touch.
Dom : Finally, what message would you like to give to all the Space Opera fans?
Stefan : Read science fiction! Use that as your inspiration to create new worlds and adventures.
Dom : Thanks again Stefan for having taken the time to answer our questions.
Bay Area of California, USA, 09/01/01