Words by David C. Obenour
In the near future, or the distant future… it is hard to really remember concepts like time anymore. It felt like the future… but also oddly like a nostalgic past? No matter. Ever since the world was torn apart and humanity scattered like cockroaches in the light into whatever vessel or space station could sustain their life for… probably months now, maybe years. Cataclysm was only the setting of the apocalypse. Soul feasting würms afflicting more and more of us remaining survivors every… week now, maybe every day. Whatever role you play in co-creator Brian Colin’s adventure be sure that while this retro future is neon bright, it is also vast and it is grimm.
Off Shelf: What is it about the cyberpunk aesthetic that appeals to you? What are some of your favorite examples of the genre?
Brian Colin: I’m 47, with my formative years being in the late 80s – early 90s. I feel like most of the aesthetic that we work into Vast Grimm is a love letter to that period. The toys, videos, Trapper Keepers™, and clothing of the time. Mash that with the influence of modern design and it screams cyberpunk. Even though this has a cyberpunk vibe, Vast Grimm is definitely more sci-fi/sci-fantasy. I tend to pull more from that for influence… and damn there are just too many to list.
OS: When creating the setting of Vast Grimm what did you want to be sure to include and what did you want to add or explore further?
BC: We wanted to get the foundation of a great setting, with enough rules to get people playing quickly. I didn’t want to make a massive 300-page tome and overwhelm a new GM to where they felt they couldn’t stray from what’s canon. I also wanted to make sure that if the core book was the only one people bought, it would be enough to play games for years to come. Having always home-brewed content, I wanted to give a taste for the setting and let each table make Vast Grimm their own.
OS: The core book is purposefully and beautifully stylized; the art, design, printing, even the way the rules are worded and presented. How did you hope that this would prepare players for their adventures in Vast Grimm?
BC: Thank you, that is very kind. Ross and I are both graphic designers with years of experience. When I first opened up Mörk Borg something in my brain broke. It was like “holy crap, RPG books don’t just have to be columns and columns of text”.
I always visualize what I read, and get that image in my head of what is depicted in an RPG. We hoped that our layouts would be striking enough to give players and GMs a visceral reaction allowing them to capture the tone of the game.
OS: As mentioned before, the graphic design for Vast Grimm is really striking; the choices with layout and fonts. What were some of your inspirations and how did you hope to play with those to create something new?
BC: With such dark themes in the book, we wanted to contrast that with the vibrant colors. The design choices with layout and typography were a bit of a punk-rock rebellion against all of the traditional, non-RPG client work Ross and I have done for decades. Getting to break out of standard design was refreshing. As to the future, continuing to push the collage-style artwork and introduce additional colors will be key.
OS: You choose Mörk Borg as a system, which has a similar attention to design. Why did you choose them and what do you appreciate about what they offer? Do you think it also connected you to a player base that would be predisposed to what you wanted to do?
BC: I don’t really think we chose Mörk Borg, so much as it chose us. Our friend Ken backed the original Kickstarter for Mörk Borg and gave Ross a copy. He decided to run it for our Atlanta crew. After I played it one time, I was inspired. Then I got the physical book, and as I mentioned earlier, something in my brain broke. I had already created a fantasy setting based off of my sculptures. Playing Mörk Borg made me want to sculpt something weirder, darker, and far more sinister. I began sculpting the Wör Hound that is in the creatures section of Vast Grimm. Once I started on it, I knew that I wanted to put it in it’s very own setting. I picked up my phone, called Ross, and asked if he wanted to do a sci-fi hack of Mörk Borg.
Having the existing audience was a huge bonus to our efforts when moving forward with the project. Also having Infinite Black publish it was fantastic. Their fanbase was already dialed into Lovecraftian horror, and Vast Grimm can easily be seen as Cosmic horror.
OS: You worked with a number of artists for Vast Grimm’s illustrations. What direction did you give them as contributors? How did this collaboration expand the project? Did any of what they did go in a different direction than you’d envisioned?
BC: Luckily all the artists were friends and very little direction was needed. For Allen Panakal, he gave me access to a bunch of his art and I dropped it into backgrounds and adjusted to fit layouts. David LaRocca – the owner of Infinite Black – just took inspiration from what we were writing and created a bunch of illustrations. We then worked them in where appropriate. I think the only one we specifically said we needed was The Grimm. Ross did illustrations as he needed them for specific layouts. Latt [Vines] did a couple illustrations we worked into the layout of the adventure. And then I sculpted pieces. Some that were made to fit specific layouts, others I created and then creature stats/writing was done.
OS: Working with Glitter in the Dark, music is also a big part of Vast Grimm. Similar to how I asked about illustrators, what direction did you give? How did it evolve once you handed it over?
BC: For Container 1, I gave Chris – Glitter in the Dark – an outline of the map and what was going to be in each room of the adventure. He then made tracks for each room. As Container 2 evolved, he went with less of a room-by-room and more of a soundtrack approach. I really wanted him to interpret it as he saw fit, and I have been thrilled with the results.
OS: Container 1 & 2 are adventures in Vast Grimm that come as cassettes. How did this idea come together? What appeals to you about them as physical media?
BC: The idea for the cassettes came when I bought a crappy 1995 van that had a tape deck in it. I wanted a Vast Grimm tour bus and it needed its own soundtrack! Because I am a very tactile person I want the physical things, not the digital versions. Immediately I started looking at where I could have a cassette manufactured and how big the card insert could be. I wanted a full adventure to go with it. Sadly, the van lasted one convention before the transmission was irreparable, but that is another story for another day.
OS: How did you find yourself challenged in laying out the adventure as a cassette insert?
BC: Everything had to be very, very concise. Luckily Walton Wood, my go-to for editing, can trim things down and make them as direct as possible. For this project I also did the layout as I wrote, so that I could know my size restrictions.
OS: Would you ever want to explore other physical media for Vast Grimm? Be it CDs, vinyl or even video media like DVDs or Blu-ray?
BC: For a Vast Grimm TV show or movie I’d love to. One of my goals for 2023 was to write a series pitch… I still have a few months left. We’ll see if I can get that done this year, or if I move it to 2024’s goals.
OS: Your latest expansion, Into Oblivion was successfully kickstarted in under an hour and is shipping any day now. What are you most excited about delivering to your players from these new books?
BC: The Starship Cruisers book will add so much with starship generation and ship combat. I think people will look at their vessels as an extension of their Legion and want to build the craziest, weirdest salvaged starship around!