Insider 6-2-2017

This past year, I had the opportunity to lead a bunch of super-talented writers in creating a book we called Wicked Ways. The book itself took a few months to write and edit, but the story from start to finish is over fifteen years in the making.

Sometime early in 2000, Privateer produced its first product, a D20 RPG adventure campaign book called The Witchfire Trilogy: Volume 1, in which we set down the first foundational stones of the Iron Kingdoms. A couple years later—coincidentally, at the very same time that we publicly sold our first WARMACHINE miniatures—we released the D20 version of the Monsternomicon. The Monsternomicon was an incredibly ambitious project at the time, describing in lavish detail scores of monsters that inhabited the Iron Kingdoms, written from the point of view of monster-hunter and scholar Professor Victor Pendrake, with multiple illustrations in every entry. It established the tone for the setting as a fantastical and dangerous place but one that was populated with creatures both monstrous as well as amusing. Among the many creepy critters described in the Monsternomicon were a few classified as “Grymkin”—the Iron Kingdoms’ version of fairy tale fiends—like Gremlins, the Glimmer Imp, Cask Imps, and the terrifying Trapperkin. What Grymkin all had in common was that they were the subjects of folklore and legend, entities that were feared and little understood. They weren’t the monsters you’d encounter in a dungeon delve but rather the stuff of nightmares told in stories to children who refused to eat their vegetables or go to sleep on time. They’re the boogeymen of the Iron Kingdoms…and let me tell you, they know how to boogey.

Years later, Privateer would become immersed in the ongoing development of WARMACHINE and HORDES, continually expanding the saga of warfare that defines the Iron Kingdoms. But the Grymkin were not forgotten. Even from the earliest days of developing WARMACHINE, Lead Game Designer Jason Soles and I knew that someday, we would bring the Grymkin into the tabletop miniatures game experience. It was just a matter of biding our time.

A couple years ago, we introduced the Gremlin Swarm. This was the first hint that the Grymkin were going to be a part of the game. By this time, we were into development of the new editions and had plotted out what was to come—and we knew that soon, Grymkin would become an actual Faction.

But Grymkin were just one of the seeds we planted in the development of the Iron Kingdoms. Another mention from our D20 days was the Strangelight Workshop. This organization, dedicated to paranormal research (and sometimes eradication), received no more than a paragraph of description in our first Iron Kingdoms World Guide, but the idea of “Iron Kingdoms Ghost Hunters” eventually became an ever-present concept we knew we wanted to develop someday.

Eventually, the ideas behind the Grymkin and the Strangelight Workshop collided. We realized the Iron Kingdoms was a place populated by a variety of supernatural beings that an organization like the Strangelight Workshop might be interested in. We also realized there was something special about the Grymkin, something that set them apart in the Iron Kingdoms, and perhaps they might have actually been the catalyst for the inception of the Strangelight Workshop.

The gears of creativity were turning, and over the course of many months, Jason Soles and I delved into the origins of the Grymkin and the Strangelight Workshop, and we discovered the common ground between these two ideas as well as the incredible cosmic implications it all had for the Iron Kingdoms.

The Grymkin are no throwaway monsters. They never were; we always knew they were special in the setting. At the same time, the Strangelight Workshop is no random organization bent on extinguishing hauntings in the Iron Kingdoms; it had to have its origins in something significant.

And so we realized the link between the two.

Like specters, ghosts, and wraiths, Grymkin are supernatural beings. They hail from a region of Urcaen (the afterlife in the Iron Kingdoms) that is accurately described as “Hell.” Grymkin have the rare, if not unique, ability to cross between Urcaen and the physical world of Caen. In their quest to understand the afterlife, the Strangelight Workshop is keenly interested in Grymkin and their ability to traverse the worlds of the living and the dead.

The reason for the Strangelight Workshop’s interest in Grymkin is due to one Jacob Strathmoore, the very reason the Workshop exists at all. His own personal tragedy and the events that followed it were the inspiration for the workshop, and his misbegotten fortune is the reason the Strangelight Workshop exists.

Wicked Ways reveals the connection between the Strangelight Workshop and the upcoming HORDES Faction release of Grymkin: The Wicked Harvest. They are inexorably connected; indeed, they are almost paradoxically the cause and effect of each other…that is, until you consider the influence of Zevanna.

But I have said too much. I teeter on the edge of unforgivable spoilers. What I can tell you is that you do not need to be interested in playing the Grymkin Faction in order to be interested in Wicked Ways—you only need to be interested in the future of the Iron Kingdoms. And if the idea of an Iron Kingdoms organization of paranormal investigators and exterminators interests you, then Wicked Ways is a book that can’t be missed.

Wicked Ways is an anthology in the best expression of the form. My own contribution is the prologue and the epilogue that bookend the piece and frame the origins of the Grymkin themselves. But I also had the opportunity to construct the overarching plot and worked with each of our amazingly talented staff authors to create a story that not only solidified the theme of the anthology but worked chronologically within a greater story arc that introduces the origins of the Grymkin. If you’ve never read a book in the Iron Kingdoms setting, Wicked Ways is a great starting point that immerses you in the world while spooling out a plot that embodies the epic nature of the setting. And if you are a scholar of the Iron Kingdoms already, then Wicked Ways will expand your knowledge and open your mind to the cosmic possibilities that confront this world, and you will be forever changed.

Wicked Ways is the Skull Island eXpeditions project I am personally most proud of. It’s not a collection of random stories but rather a cohesive vision realized by our staff authors (and Aeryn Rudel, who was a staff author and is now technically independent but keeps hanging out with us, so we just think he’s still a staff author, which is great because we love collaborating with him) through an intense collaboration that defines an indelible cast of characters who will inhabit the mythos of the Iron Kingdoms in years ahead.

Fifteen years after the introduction of Grymkin, they’re finally becoming their own Faction and occupy a place in the cosmology of the setting that is as important as any deity. In that time, the Strangelight Workshop has come into its own as a defining component of the Iron Kingdoms, and a theme I have no doubt we will want to see more of. In fact, we’re doing a whole Strangelight Workshop RPG experience in the September issue of No Quarter, so make sure you don’t miss that!

You’ll be able to order Wicked Ways on 6/28/2017 if you aren’t able to get it in your local game store. If you prefer to read digitally, you'll be able to do that too. Either way, if you get the book and read it, I will think you are one of the coolest people in the world. And if you happen to bring the actual book to Lock & Load, I’ll be happy to scribble or draw something wicked in it to commemorate this great book and this equally great moment in Iron Kingdoms fiction.