Interview with Greg Vaughan, Paizo Publishing Fan Favorite

Lou: We’re on the phone with Greg Vaughan. Now Greg, you are a fan favorite and perhaps one of Paizo’s most – if not the most – prolific author they’ve got. You’ve been writing for quite a while and writing some really great stuff. And before we get started, I want to let you know something you probably don’t know.
Greg: What’s that?
Lou: Your work, your writing, is single-handedly responsible [pause] for killing more of my characters than any other author in Paizo history.
Greg: [laughter] And all I can say is it’s all been worthwhile.
Lou: [laughter] Yeah. Yeah. So my question for you is, “Why do you hate players?”
Greg: Well it all goes back to that traumatic childhood [laughter], and mainly because of my older brother. He always played, and I always DM’d and that was my way to get back.
Lou: Ahh, interesting. So you have how many brothers and sisters?
Greg: I have one older brother and one younger sister.
Lou: Interesting. So does your sister play or just your brother?
Greg: Just my brother. My sister I tried to get her involved, but she found it too scary. She’s mad because I never let her play after that. She feels left out now. [laughter].
Lou: So you’ve been writing and publishing how long now? When I look at your biography I see some stuff going back to 2004, but I’m feeling like you were publishing before that.
Greg: Well, my first published adventure was in Dungeon #106. Which I want to say was 02 or 03, I can’t remember exactly. But my writing. Well the second thing I got published. Actually, it was ’04. January of ’04. I’m looking at it right here. But the second thing I got published was something I wrote the basics for when I was 9. So I guess I’ve kind of been writing adventures my whole life. Not necessarily publishing worthy, but I’ve been trying.
Lou: And do you have a running count in your head. Do you have an idea of how many adventures you’ve written?
Greg: Uhm. I think it’s probably, maybe, two dozen.
Lou: And it’s not just adventures, right, and its dragon magazine articles? Or?
Greg: It’s mainly adventures. I’ve done a few kind of splat book supplemental like stuff, but maybe ¾ or more is adventures. That’s my favorite. Writing adventures.
Lou: Ok. I see you’ve written for Paizo and Wizards and Necromancer. So are you working on something for Paizo right now?
Greg: Yes. I am currently hard at work on my adventure for Legacy of Fire, the adventure path to follow Second Darkness.
Lou: And can you tell us…anything about that, or is it all hush-hush, wrap wrap?
Greg: I can give you some general hints. I think some of it has been released already, as far as what’s been going on with it. The adventure is called “The Impossible Eye” which actually, Eric Mona came up with it. It’s got a very pulpy feel to it. I really like it. Me and James [Jacobs] were kind of stuck to come up with a title. And it is set entirely within the City of Brass. Efreeti City.
Lou: So this is the Impossible I? Impossible that I shall survive this? [laughter]
Greg: [laughter] Now that you mention it, yes. That’s even better!
Lou: Did you wind up doing a lot of historical research on this? Or was this a pure fantastical creation?
Greg: Well, the main thing I did was look at a bunch of old 1st edition. I love looking back at the first edition DM guide, which had that painting of the city of brass in there.
Lou: Yes!
Greg: I drew inspiration from that. I opened the adventure with – and who knows if it’ll make it past the editing or not – but with a quote from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The City of Brass”. So you know, I kind of tinkered around with it. I looked at all my old Al-Kadim stuff to get that Arabian flavor. A lot of Wikipedia research, Googling, that sort of thing. But nothing too extensive I guess. I guess I’m too lazy of that I suppose.
Lou: [laughter] Has it been more research for this one or less research than you usually do?
Greg: I think I did the most research probably for the first adventure path for pathfinder, the Spires of Xin-Shalast. And I think maybe because it just intimidated me so much, and it was so much on my plate. And I wasn’t sure what to do with it. And I wound up doing more research on that, even into mining operations and such, because it has this one little side encounter that takes place in this old miner’s cabin. Doing all kinds of research on that, but probably this is the second most.
Lou: What’s your published piece of which you’re most proud?
Greg: Of which I’m most proud? I’d have to divide that between adventures and non-adventures. Non-adventures, the brand new “Into the Darklands” by Paizo. For the Pathfinder chronicles. Their Underdark-type campaign setting, and I loved writing that with James Jacobs. It’s by far my favorite non-adventure. For adventures, it’d probably be a toss-up between the Istvin Arc that I did for Dungeon magazine—
Greg: [cackle]
Lou: That one killed FIVE of my characters.
Greg: You’re making my day. [laughter]
Lou: It’s true, man. It’s really true! [laughter]
Greg: The other, would probably be Torrents of Dread, which was the adventure where Dungeon first revisited the Isle of Dread, for the first time in…
Lou: Right. It’s classic.
Greg: Those were both a lot of fun to write I think.
Lou: Now, you get a chance to work with a lot of big names. You’ve worked with Nick Logue. I know you’ve even done stuff for his Sinister Adventures project. You’ve co-authored with Rich Pett. There’s Tim Hitchcock, Mike Kortes, Tito Leati…yeah, your peers are among the biggest and the best in our RPG industry. And you’ve collaborated with a lot of them. What do you think differentiates your work from theirs? I mean, what’s the Greg Vaughan signature move?
Greg: Probably [laughter] probably being not as good? [laughter] You call them my peers. I don’t know if they’re my peers. Those of some good names that have been great to work with, and I’m kind of in awe of most of them. Except for that Logue guy [laughter].
Lou: Oh that Logue character [laughter], I know. I know.
Greg: He’s kind of scary.
Lou: Sinister Adventures. Pffft. [laughter]
Greg: You know, my work I think is a little more on the old school side. Nick Logue, for instance, he’ll write these wonderful running encounters with just all these crazy plot twists. And I’m spending all my sweat trying to make a dungeon complex that’s really interesting to look at and has neat rooms. So it’s really kind of a different focus. I’m more the old time dungeon crawl type thing as opposed to the acrobatic theatrical kind of thing.
Lou: So you’re Greg “Classics Revisited” Vaughan?
Greg: Yeah, I guess. There you go! [laughter]
Lou: So now, Greg, you live in Oklahoma, right?
Greg: I do.
Lou: And you were born there? Or?
Greg: I was.
Lou: And if I recall properly from our GenCon conversation, you work in insurance, right?
Greg: I do. [chuckle]
Lou: And that’s commercial farm insurance or you run a group for insurance?
Greg: I work in a claims office for a personalized carrier, Farmer’s Insurance…
Lou: Ok, so that’s your day job.
Greg: Yes.
Lou: So my question is, how has being an insurance manager influenced you work? [long pause]
Lou: [hums theme from Jeopardy]
Greg: It gives me a strong desire—
Lou: [laughter] – to escape! Are you sure it just isn’t Oklahoma. You know all big and flat and you’re like oh my god, I’ve got to fill this with something?
Greg: [laughter]. Yeah. No. You know, like insurance isn’t a real intellectually stimulating job. It’s got its moments, and it can be interesting. A lot of legal stuff. But yeah. Sometimes, you just got to cut loose with the imagination. And gaming and writing, in particular, have been a good avenue for me.
Lou: So if I could be as bored as you are, then I could be the Greg Vaughan. Is that what you’re saying? [laughter]
Greg: [laughter] Yeah, I guess. Something like that.
Lou: Actually, a little more seriously. Talking to you at last Gencon, something very interesting I thought came out of one of our conversations. Somehow I was on the topic of the civil war, and I asked you, “Hey, I don’t recall. Which side of the war was Oklahoma on?” And…you looked at me and you said, “Which tribe?”
Greg: Exactly.
Lou: And that’s how I found – Oklahoma was still a territory at the time, I think? Right?
Greg: Yes it was. It was Indian territory in fact.
Lou: And that’s how I found out that you’ve got Cherokee in your background right?
Greg: Yep.
Lou: Has that influenced your work at all? Is there any resonance with modern or past issues? Being Cherokee or part Cherokee, is that anywhere in your work?
Greg: Yeah, it probably is. Just to the extent that in college I majored in Archeology with an emphasis in Native American studies, just because I have a lot of interest there. And I think that my archaeology background has probably come through in my work a lot. So I don’t know that I tackled Native American Issues or anything like that. But just the whole idea of archeology and these older societies. Uncovering clues as to their natures and stuff like. That has definitely found its way throughout my work.
Lou: So it got you going, in other words? Your personal connection to history got you going in that way?
Greg: Yeah. That’s a good way to say it.
Lou: Ok, switching tacts a little… [pause] Does Paizo owe you any money?
[awkward pause]
Greg: Er…they owe me a couple of bucks.
Lou: Yeah! Ok. Now we’re getting to it! [laughter] Seriously. Working with Paizo: that’s really what I want to ask you about. They’ve got an amazing editorial staff. They’ve got almost a legendary editorial staff at this time, if you look at the number of Ennies they’ve won. So what’s it like working with them? You like it, obviously, you keep doing it… [laughter]
Greg: Paizo is…freelancing for them is like a dream job for writing. They’re the coolest bunch of guys. They’re all really down to earth, easy to deal with. Getting to meet them at GenCon, I sparked up some decent friendships with them. I mean they’re not just faces and names, they’re actually good dudes. And they’re of course, like you said, they’re legendary editors and writers in their own right. They’re just amazing. They always take my work and make it better. They’re great.
Lou: Have you got any good editorial stories? Like where James Jacobs really came down on you, or where you told him “No! We’re going to do it my way!” or any juicy conflicts?
Greg: Well, James and I have this ongoing, low-grade cold war about me putting steam power into Golarion. [laughter]Now he’s found it and rooted it out every time, but I think I slipped a little into the Darklands. I don’t know if he noticed it or not.
Lou: Ah ha!
Greg: Bwah ha! Soon Paizo will be steam punk. [laughter] No, not steam punk. I don’t want to go steam punk. But you know, it’s that archeological side of me. The Greeks were experimenting with steam power 2,000 years ago; so, I’ve always wondered what would have happened if some dwarves and some wizards had gotten a hold of that? They would have made a go of it. You know just little things. Not the mechanized armor or stuff like that, that you see in…
Lou: Right, right. Be aware Jacobs! He’s slipping it past you.
Greg: He’s caught on now, so… [indecipherable]…taunting me about that. It’s on. That’s all I have to say.
Lou: Well what about collaborating? Do you enjoy collaborating? Are you a strictly I like to write alone kind of guy? Who have you collaborated with and what was that like?
Greg: As far as collaborating? I’ve collaborated with James. I’ve collaborated with Erik Mona on the Istvin arc a long time ago. On Paizo stuff, most of the collaboration was after the fact, after my part was done I guess. Richard Pett I’ve done some collaboration with. Some with Wizards of the Coast. The final 3rd edition adventure that they published. The first Forgotten Realms 4th edition adventure that they published I worked with Dave Noonan. And it’s ok. My problem I find is I think my creativity is much slower than most of the people that I work with. Like working with a Richard [Pett], he’ll bounce a hundred ideas off of me by the time I come up with two solid ones. So I kind of am afraid that I hinder the creative process a little bit with them. I’m the slow and steady guy, I guess.
Lou: Or maybe you’re actually short-cutting it. It takes them 30 to get their 2, and you just go “Hmm. Hmm. Two!”
Greg: Well [laughter] maybe so, but those ideas seem really good when they’re throwing them out there! You know, it’s got its advantages and it’s got its disadvantages. Depends on the project, I guess. If it’s something near and dear to my heart, and I want it to be just a certain way, then I’d probably want to do it alone. But if it’s something where I really need creative help, well, that’s what these guys are great for, and then it’s awesome. Because, like I said, I think most of them – maybe all of them – are better writers than I am. When the final truth comes out. So I really kind of get to ride their coat tails.
Lou: Did they train you to be this humble in Oklahoma? Or, is that just you?
Greg: [laughter] It’s that traumatic childhood again. [laughter] It’s all very Freudian. [more laughter]
Lou: Well, I hear something actually. I heard a rumor that shows, I think a different side of Greg Vaughan. Where you not so humble. I heard there was, last Gencon,
Greg: Uh oh.
Lou: Or maybe it was 2 Gencons ago. You wanted to like absolutely trash one of your fellow writers. You just wanted to pound him in the head. I heard that you scared the crud out of him.
Greg: What?
Lou: Yeah, yeah. I heard that this had to do with the Mwangi? Stuff.
Greg: Mwangi stuff? [pause] Oh! You’re talking about
[together] Clinton Boomer! [laughter]
Lou: Clinton Boomer! That’s who I’m talking about! [laughter] He told me that you scared the crap out of him.
Greg: Oh, I did?
Lou: Clinton Boomer of course is an RPG Superstar, what was he 4th place or something? What was he? Second? I don’t recall.
Greg: Yeah, he’s another one of those wildly creative guys. Oh crap. I didn’t even know that got back to him. [laughter]
Lou: Yeah. Well he apparently knew the whole thing when you walked up to him at a dinner, I think it was, and said, “Hey, did you say that you were taking credit for this Mwangi piece?” He already knew the whole story, so.
Greg: Oh.
Lou: Yeah, why don’t you tell that? Tell us about that a little bit. What was going on?
Greg: Oh, it wasn’t really me wanting to ‘trash’ him. I thought he was messing with me, and I was like hey – I contributed this one little itty bitty piece of the Pathfinder Campaign Setting. I got to do the ethnic write-up on the Mwangi people. And that’s my claim – you know this book has 20 big name authors on it. And then there’s me with my 2 pages. And I…but Clinton had written in it as well, and I wasn’t aware of it. And…someone had told me the he was telling people that he had written the Mwangi, and I’m like “Wait! No! That’s all I’ve got! You can’t take that away from me! Hey – he didn’t write the Mwangi, I wrote the Mwangi!” Well, it turns out, there’s the region that the Mwangi live in, which is called the Mwangi Expanse, which is what he wrote. [laughter]
Lou: Ah, so you wrote the people…
Greg: Yeah. And when they said he said he wrote the “Mwangi” they didn’t use the word “expanse.” And I’m like, “He’s stealing that from me!”[laughter] But no, I didn’t want to trash him. I just wanted…it just boggled my mind a little.
Lou: Right, right.
Greg: But I didn’t know he knew, and now I’m going to feel terrible…wow. I feel really bad. I didn’t know I had given him a hard time about that. [laughter] Sorry Clinton Boomer!
Lou: [laughter] Oh, I’m sure you can make it up to him. Ok, so here’s a question for you: is there anything you’ve written, that you’ve labored on, thrown your love into, and it isn’t published yet? Have you got something on the shelf that you’re looking around for someone to put out there?
Greg: Oh I’ve got all this steam power stuff for Golarion, and it just breaks my heart [laughter]. No, I wrote a 3 part epic adventure series for Necromancer games. It came out to literally, just shy of a ½ million words in length. And it was completed just before all the rumors about 4E started going down. And necromancer had basically put all their products on hold. So it has languished for a couple of years, unpublished, completed…I’d love to see it get into print. It’s just such a big beast, that’s what it is [laughter].
Lou: Now is that something you own the rights to it? Does Necromancer own the rights to it?
Greg: Well, they haven’t published it. I’ve never been paid; so, technically I own the rights to it. It does involve a lot of their intellectual property; so I’m really hesitant to try to farm it out because I don’t want to have to strip out all the great stuff…I kind of used it as glue for a lot of their different products. I pulled a lot of little bits and pieces from everywhere to make it a cohesive whole.
Lou: Who is the main baddy, if that’s not a secret?
Greg: Orcus.
Lou: Aw…ok wait a minute. You’re telling me there is a five hundred thousand word, epic adventure, unpublished, by Greg Vaughan that focuses on Orcus?
Greg: Uh, yeah. Pretty much that’s it. You can meet him in it too.
Lou: So only Necromancer or someone with an alliance or relationship with Necromancer. Someone like *cough*Paizo*cough* could publish it.
Greg: [laughter] I’ve mentioned it. I have. I’ve asked Paizo about that very thing, because they are partners with Necromancer. And I assumed they can deal with each others’ intellectual property. And basically, we’re all just kind of sitting to see how the revised GSL is going to come out. Because Necromancer is committed to going 4e. At this point I would like to try to keep from updating it to 4e, because it just wouldn’t be a super smooth translation. It’s doable but I just think it loses something in the translation…and so they gotta find out…can they do something in 4e and still be a part of something that’s 3.5, Pathfinder, whatever. So it’s all just kind of hung up on the GSL right now.
Lou: Ok folks, you heard it. Who wants a 3 part, 500k word, epic mega-adventure about Orcus by Greg Vaughan? If you do, the person you need to send emails to is [stage whispers] Erik Mona!
Greg: [laughter] It’s called Slumbering Tsar. Remember that. Slumbering Tsar.
Lou: [laughter]. That’s great. Alright, Greg, I think we’re going to wrap it up here. One of the things I did when I knew I was going to be interviewing you was I sent out some emails, and asked some of your fans if they had any questions for you—
Greg: Oh wow! You mean I’ve got fans? That’s cool?
Lou: Oh no, you totally have fans. But I went through the stack, and I’m just going to pick one. And this is from a fan of yours named Carlos Brown. And Carlos writes:
[reads aloud] “I played the Istvin trilogy…and if I ever see you I’m going to cock punch you. You killed most of my characters, you fuck.”
Greg: [laughter] This guy sounds really familiar.
Lou: [laughter] They use that word, cock, right? Out in Oklahoma? It doesn’t just mean rooster for you?
Greg: No--[laughter]
Lou: You know what that is, right? [laughter]
Greg: I’m familiar with the term. Well we do, or we did have cock fighting out here until recently? So that could take on a whole different connotation.
Lou: Sure. Well it’s a good thing that they shut that down.
Greg: Yes, yes it is.
Lou: Greg, thank you very much. Thank you for being interviewed. Thank you for sharing with your fans and myself, and I really appreciate it. And I’ll talk to you soon, man.
Greg: Ok, thank you. I look forward to next time we meet.
Lou: Yeah, that’ll be great. Bye!
Greg: Bye!

Questions for Greg? Or just want to punch him for killing your characters? Post your comment here!


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Anonymous said...

Awesome interview! The fan mail near the end had me rolling. And Jeez, I think I WILL email Erik Mona about Slumbering Tsar.

Lou said...


LazarusReturns said...

Very nice! A 500k adventure about Orcus! I would line up infants as soccer balls to see that happen!

Necessary Evil

Anonymous said...

Thanks -- email Mona about Slumbering Tsar!

LazarusReturns said...

On it.

Necessary Evil

Anonymous said...

Great interview, Lou! The "fan-question" was cool! I was laughing really hard! Well, I guess everyone gets the fans he deserves... ;-) Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing more of these great interviews! They seem well prepared and are a lot of fun to read. Any chance of interviewing Rich Pett? That would be great! He's one of my favorite designers and I know next to nothing about him...


Anonymous said...

Thanks! I’ll look into it Absinth! Pett is one of those characters hiding out in a wattle and daub peat hut, alone on a moor, whom it is dangerous to disturb. But I’ll see if I can roust him out one of these days! Glad you enjoyed!

Anonymous said...

Never mess with Lou. No sooner does heprint this interview than new threads appear on the messageboards at Paizo.com and Necromancergames.com clamoring for the Slumbering Tsar series to see print. Next thing I know CLark is talking to Erik and wanting me to e-mail him about possibilities of making it happen.

RPGAggression rocks and may actually cattapult these adventures into print. Thanks, Lou! And a special thanks to Aberzanzorax for stating the threads. And thanks to everyone who sent an e-mail to Clark Peterson or Erik Mona. Keep 'em coming!

As for Pett, he's a scary dude. Best to leave him be and relegate him to tales around the hearth in a secure home rather than rouse the creature from its lair. Ye have been warned!