Interview with Aquatic Gaming Guru, Emily Kubisz

If you follow my column From the Depths, or have listened to the Under the Sea episode of the Dungeon Master’s Block, then you’ve heard me talk about Alluria Publishing’s incredible Cerulean Seas line. Cerulean Seas is the definitive work on running aquatic fantasy RPGs and is one of the best 3PP settings out there. This week I had the chance to chat with Alluria’s founder, the ENnie-nominated designer, Emily Kubisz, about the future of Cerulean Seas, her history in the gaming industry, and what’s in store for Alluria.

As of this post, Alluria Publishing is having an unbelievable sale. If you’ve been curious about this incredible setting, now is the time to check it out. For less than the standard price of the core book, you can have everything Alluria has published on this definitive setting. Sale Ends April 25th, 2015. [NOTE 4/16: The first two links aren’t working appropriately so I’m getting those fixed. The PDF bundle works, though, and is an incredible deal.]


Gaming

Thanks so much for chatting with us, Emily. Before we discuss your design work, let’s talk a little about your history in gaming. Who first got you into gaming? Was there a specific game that got you hooked?

I started gaming in 4th grade, I was about 10 years old. Some of the older kids were playing D&D (this was back in the early 80s, so it was 1st edition), and me and my friends were enthralled. To score cool points with my classmates, I begged my parents for the books and was granted them as a Christmas present. It wasn’t long before I was running games for many of my friends. Honestly, I didn’t really pay close attention to the rules, and I made up most of it on the fly. Never-the-less, people really enjoyed it and I was very popular in my small, nerdy social circle.

What is your favorite genre to run? How about to play?

My games tend to be a lot of high magic and fantasy. Many have a post-apocalyptic element as well, much like my Cerulean Seas line. Other than that, my favorite themes change often. I am always bouncing from idea to idea. Unfortunately, since I’ve spent the majority of my gaming experience as Game Master, I am a terrible player. There is no particular genre I favor as a player, but I have pretty high standards for the Game Master. I like to be challenged and I like a coherent plot, but other than that, pretty much anything can be entertaining to play.

Do you have a particular class or archetype you like to play? Is it the same across genres?

I love to play magic users or the brainy types, but whatever the archetype, I like my characters to be both unusual and handicapped in some way. I’ve played blind paladins, superstitious lizard-man shamans, and pacifist bards. I like strange races and complicated archetypes. This is pretty much the same across all genres.

What is your all-time favorite RPG ? Are there any recent games (past ~5 years) that have impressed you by their game design or setting?

Dungeons and Dragons will always hold a special place in my heart, and the Pathfinder RPG is my favorite incarnation of that game. I am a bit stubborn when it comes to adapting to new editions. I grew into 2nd edition D&D and shunned 3rd edition for the longest time. When I tried it, I loved it, and followed it through 3.5, which is when I started writing. When 4th edition D&D came out, I decided to jump right in. I thought it was going to be a new fresh new direction for the game I loved. To my disappointment, I found it to be a bit alien. I struggled with it a bit, and then tried Pathfinder. It just felt right. It was my game, just a little bit better. I’ve paged through 5th edition D&D a few times, but nothing has yet sparked my interest. I will give it some time.

Game Design

You clearly have a passion for aquatic settings; the Cerulean Seas setting for Pathfinder is a gaming marine biologist’s dream. Where did that love for marine adventures come from? Are you planning on converting the Cerulean setting to other systems or editions?

My passion for all things aquatic has many roots, though I think the first spark came from when my father took me on fishing trips when I was very young. I remember staring down into the water for hours, just imagining all sorts of amazing things going on down there. I am also an avid aquarist, and have been for as long as I can remember. These things lead to me becoming a fan of Jacques Cousteau, and just about any nature documentary involving water. The sea is full of strange and wonderful life, and full of mysteries and beauty. I can think of no better pair with fantasy and magic.

Currently, I am flirting with 5th edition D&D. If an open license is released for that edition, I think it will definitely turn up the heat. If the chemistry is right, then we will definitely see Cerulean Seas for this new edition.

Are you a full-time designer, or do you have a “day job” as well? How do you balance your time between work, family, friends, conventions, etc?

I currently work at Geek Squad and am a single parent. Somehow it all gets wrapped together as a unified project. I like staying busy, and I am always moving. You won’t find me sitting idly in front of a TV or monitor for very long. It seems that I am always doing at least two things at once, and I love it that way. Many of my closest friends are also part of the project. Sam Hing, Margaret Hawkswood and Tim Adams, who have contributed greatly to many of Alluria’s projects, are also people I socialize and/or game with. So even when I am having fun, I am also working on new material with the design team.

What made you decide to crossover from casual gamer to professional designer?

After two decades of game mastering, I literally had thousands of pages of self-made material lovingly kept in dozens of black binders. My players kept pressuring me to publish them, and I submitted a few here and there to various companies and before long I had a few things published. I think that gave me the confidence to release my designs as a whole.

Cerulean Seas was a collection of rules made just for my players in my 3rd Edition D&D game. I posted it online so they could access it more easily, and suddenly people were downloading it all over the place. One guy even gave me an awesome video review [EDITOR: follow up review available here]. It was then that I decided to polish it up, hire some artists, and make it into a professional tome. By the time it came to fruition, it went from being 3rd Edition D&D to Pathfinder RPG.

Are there any life experiences that have helped you the most working in the gaming industry?

My parents were wildlife rehabilitators, and I grew up taking care of all manner of creatures. I think this experience has definitely primed me for the stuff I design today. I have degrees in both philosophy and psychology, and this certainly helps me craft concepts that make you think about the world or see things from a new perspective. Currently, I work in computer repair. This keeps me on the cutting edge of technology, and certainly helps me with the nuts and bolts of the industry.

Who is/are your hero(es) in the industry? Why?

I know its cliché, but Gary Gygax is definitely one of my gaming heroes. I had the pleasure of meeting him at GenCon a few decades ago, and was very impressed by his personality and ingenuity. He was a giant in the industry for sure, and an overall awesome guy.

Margaret Weis (of the Dragonlance novels) also is a hero of mine. In a male dominated genre (especially in the 80s, but not as much now) she showed me that women can not only be writers of fantasy, but really excel at it.

Lastly, I am a big fan of Lou Zocchi, the famous designer of polyhedral dice. He is like a mad scientist but with dice, and every time I talk to him (usually at GenCon), I am in awe at his energy and vision. I find him to be inspirational.

Have you gotten to meet them, or work with them?

Thanks to GenCon, I got to meet and talk at length with all of them. I sat in on a game Gygax was running, once. It was full, so I was just an observer, but it was still very entertaining. About a decade ago I presented new designs to Lou Zocchi for different shapes of RPG dice, but he shot it down. I got over it. Other than that, I never got to work with any of them as much as I wanted to.

Both technology and the gaming industry change every year. Is the jump from gamer to professional different today than it was for you? If so, how?

With new technology, everything gets both easier and harder. I am always on the cutting edge of technology, but the problem is everyone is at different levels. A good example is the dichotomy between my current POD arrangement and the bigger companies such as Amazon. My current POD requires things to be in a very specific, antiquated format. Amazon wants things that can be easily converted to be read on their tablets. Each company has their own format. Honestly, this has become the hardest thing about game design now. Ten years ago, this wasn’t a big issue. Regardless, technology has it made it easier to design games, and this gets easier every year.

Life and the Future

What can you tell us about what you’re working on now? Cerulean Seas already has 5 impressive supplements. What’s else can we look forward to?

Well, there are so many projects here that it is hard to keep track. There is one more world supplement for Cerulean Seas. It’s been a big secret for a while, and I’ve leaked a few things here and there. What I can say, there will be both prehistoric sea creatures and rules for playing standard Pathfinder races in Cerulean Seas. It will be called “The Viridian Veil”

Cerulean Seas will also see a continuation of the Remarkable Races Submerged line, as well as a couple of race-oriented books. “Fins & Flippers” will have rules for playing sentient animals known in the game as trueforms. This book will also be part of a charity drive. We are planning to donate all profits from that tome to the Ocean Conservancy. The inspiration for Cerulean Seas, the oceans of our world, are in rough shape, and we want to give a little back.

Aside from Cerulean Seas, we are continuing to work on the Clever Classes line for the mainstream Pathfinder RPG. The marauder was a big success, and we hope to get out many more awesome classes.

What are your plans for 2015 and beyond?

Aside from releasing new material, I want to Alluria Publishing to get all of their books into mainstream print (outside of print on demand). I’d love to see them on Amazon, and in your local gaming stores. I know Amazon has a platform for that, but they need the text and art formatted to very specific measures. Honestly, that is a ton of work. We have already started, but it is a tedious process. As for getting the books on bookshelves, it just takes a lot of money. We are not quite there yet. Right now, we get enough money to cover the cost of production and develop the next product.

Outside of game design, what other hobbies and interests do you have?

Aside from camping, fishing, and aquarium keeping, I am also fond of psychology, philosophy, and technology. I am a single-parent of my 7-year-old daughter, and that takes a lot of my time as well. She too, has a big interest in games. Last year, at GenCon she played Pathfinder for the first time and loved it.

I love it; I can’t wait for my own kids to be old enough to game with. On that note, some people say they can understand a person by the books on their shelves. I feel the same way about games. What are your Go-To games, or what are you playing now?

Currently I run a regular Pathfinder RPG, and in-between that I play Settlers of Catan, Talisman, Fluxx, and Munchkin. I love trying new games too, and have a whole wall of board and card games. I don’t have the time, however, to branch out to RPGs beyond D&D and Pathfinder.

Lastly, are there any other marine-related RPGs, board, video, or other games you’d love people to experience?

Honestly, there aren’t many out there. In regards to video games, I am a staunch retro-gamer. I played a lot of Jaws and Ecco the dolphin as a kid, and I still like them today. There is a great kids-oriented undersea tabletop RPG called “Mermaid Adventures” (Third Eye Games) that I highly recommend for parents who want to get their children interested in gaming. Other than that, I cannot really think of any.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us, Emily. We wish you much success and are looking forward to seeing your future projects.


To see more of the incredible work going on over at Alluria Publishing, link over to their FB page and follow their releases over at RPGnow.com.

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richhoward

Rich Howard's obsession with gaming started 35 years ago when his older brother finally let him invade his AD&D game. Since his first sleep spell, Rich has wandered the world of roleplaying, board and computer games as fascinated with their potential to teach and inspire as to entertain.