An Interview You Can't Refuse
Tempest Feud's Owen K.C. Stephens Targets the Galaxy's Top Hit- er, Hutt-men
By Sue Weinlein Cook
Owen K.C. Stephens is a relative newcomer to the RPG industry. Although his first full-length game designs hit shelves only last year (Alien Anthology, Rebellion Era Sourcebook , and his solo effort Starships of the Galaxy), Owen is a rising star whose work is beginning to get the attention it deserves.
The Oklahoma designer's latest Star Wars title, the super adventure Tempest Feud, showcases the Hutts in an epic scenario that spans the eras as well as the galaxy. In this interview, find out more about one of the slimiest space empires in the Star Wars galaxy - and discover what the Mafia had to teach Owen about it.
Wizards of the Coast: Published Star Wars adventures up to this point have been on the shorter side. It sounds like Tempest Feud, at 128 pages, is quite a change of pace.
Owen K.C. Stephens:Tempest Feud is much larger than the kind of adventures that appear on the Wizards website or in Star Wars Gamer. It's nearly a mini-campaign setting and certainly has enough information for months of gaming. In many ways, when writing this, [coauthor] Jeff Grubb and I saw it as the players' chance to do something as big and important as the events in the Star Wars movies, but totally unrelated. That size and epic scope make it a "super adventure."
Wizards: How did you become a Hutt authority?
Owen: There's a lot of material about Hutts out there, especially Tales from Jabba's Palace and some of the comics, as well as material found throughout the Essential Guide series of books. Jeff and I also discussed our own takes on Hutts, and what a world of crimelords and gangsters might really be like. I did some research into real-world organized crime to help give me an idea what kind of people might be found hanging around Hutts, and what different Hutts might be like.
Wizards: Really? What did the Mafia teach you about the Hutts?
Owen: When you look at how the Mafia is set up, you realize that, even in something as inherently lawless as a crime family, there's an order to things. There's one person in charge (the Don), one person who's his chief advisor (the consiglieri), and a bunch of people who run individual operations (capos). Each capo runs his own organization along similar lines, with his own sub-commanders. Even if you don't use those exact titles for a group of Hutts, the positions really ought to exist.
Also, not everyone is created equal in a crime family. In the Mafia, you have "Made" men, who are at the top of the food chain. Anyone who's not Made can't kill a Made man, even in self defense, without bringing down the whole family's wrath. Since Hutts tend to organize along family lines, you get lines drawn between Hutts who are just members of a crime family, and those who are considered "Made." In a Hutt crime family, there are members of a lot of different species involved, but anyone who's not a Hutt is thought of more like hired help than a real member.
Finally, when you're looking at who wants to move up in a crime family and how they're likely to do it, the Mafia provides some great examples. Al Capone, for example, supposedly took over a crime family after Johnny Torrio retired, a rare example of a peaceful transfer of power. But Capone seemed to have managed to consolidate his power by killing off most of his competition. That sort of struggle makes for a great backdrop for any story involving Hutts.
All this gave us a starting point for fleshing out the adventure and the characters found in it.
Wizards: Tell us something interesting about the Hutts that we might not have known. . . .
Owen: Hutts aren't just criminals; they're a powerful syndicate with their own realm of space. Hutt Space survives independent of the Old Republic, remains free during the time of the Empire, and even makes its own deals during the invasion of the Yuuzhan Vong. There are entire species essentially enslaved by the Hutts who form the rank and file of their military strength. I never thought of the Hutts as owning their own space empire, but really they do.
Wizards: Can you hint at any of the surprises waiting for us in Tempest Feud?
Owen: Hutts don't live on their world of origin. There's a good reason for that.
Wizards: Okay, I won't try to pry any more secrets out of you . . . but tell us, which parts of the book did you work on?
Owen: Jeff laid the groundwork for the story with my input, and he wrote the first two acts that set everything up. I wrote the climactic third act and did almost all the game stats for vehicles, starships, characters, species, and equipment.
Wizards: What was it like working with a veteran designer like Jeff Grubb?
Owen: It was a little daunting at first. When I first got involved in roleplaying games, a lot of them were written by Jeff, and now I'm supposed to write with him? But Jeff is a really fun guy and very professional, and he took all my suggestions and concerns seriously.
We threw ideas back and forth a lot, and I think we developed a good working relationship. Sometimes I actually felt like the voice of sanity, because Jeff often wanted to add things that seemed over the top even for Star Wars, and I'd find myself saying, "Ummm . . . maybe that's a bit much . . ." Some things he agreed with me on, but others ended up working better his way, and I'm glad we kept them.
Wizards: How does the creative process for you differ when you're working on a space fantasy like Star Wars as opposed to medieval fantasy work?
Owen: Star Wars in particular has a unique flavor that I think is all its own. Whenever I'm trying to come up with something for Star Wars, I try to picture it in one of the movies. If it seems to fit, I usually go with it. If not, I file it away for use somewhere else. The main difference between Star Wars and more traditional fantasy is that technology in all its space opera splendor is available, but magic (mostly in the form of the Force) is very limited. Jedi aren't wizards. They're people with advanced training and access to some unusual allies, but there's a real limit to what they can do. If the notion of Jedi struggling against evil is ever ruined by Jedi solving problems with a wave of their hand, I think Star Wars will lose a lot of its appeal.
Wizards: In your time with Wizards, it seems as though you had a hand in nearly every Star Wars product that went out the door. Coauthor of Rebellion Era Sourcebook and the Alien Anthology, author of Starships of the Galaxy . . .
Owen: The entire Star Wars team was at least somewhat involved in almost every release, since we would have concept meetings and bounce ideas off each other. For instance, I wrote the Starships of the Galaxy book without a cowriter, but everyone on the team had something useful to add or suggest, and JD Wiker in particular was really good about giving me feedback. That same philosophy seems to cover most Wizards releases -- although officially I only wrote a small section of the Wheel of Time Roleplaying Game, for example, I made numerous suggestions for changes throughout. Some were made and others weren't, but the product was better for the effort of a whole group working together.
Wizards: Are you working on any future Wizards releases now?
Owen: Since leaving Wizards, I've worked on a few more Star Wars products as a freelancer and continue to be happy with the direction the Star Wars RPG seems to be going. I've gotten to work with Jeff Grubb again on an equipment guide and the Power of the Jedi sourcebook, plus I have some more Star Wars projects scheduled for later this year.
Wizards: What other game projects do you have going these days?
Owen: I've been doing some work for other game companies I think people will be excited about, too, though those things haven't been announced yet.
Wizards: Are you running any campaigns right now?
Owen: I'm running a cyberpunk/fantasy game that borrows classes and rules from about a dozen d20 products from different companies, and a D&D game inspired by the new Manual of the Planes, with the children of a lost race traveling across the planes trying to find out what wiped out their home reality.
Wizards: Do you just act as Gamemaster, or do you play, too?
Owen: I try to be involved both as a GM and a player. I'm only playing in one game right now (unless you count time spent on Everquest), where I'm playing an Arabic-themed bard/wizard armed with a whip. Although unable to do damage in combat, the character can trip up or delay opponents while inspiring or enhancing teammates, making it a really fun character who needs a team to support. I tend to prefer that kind of character to loners who don't need anybody, though I'm perfectly happy to play characters who are combat machines, too. Those characters tend to need help from more diplomatic teammates, and they often need someone to be the medic/cleric/doctor as well.
Wizards: What pastimes do you enjoy when you're not writing or gaming?
Owen: I love to read and listen to music, though my tastes in music are eclectic enough that I can't really describe them. Suffice it to say that I don't know of any group in any genre that hasn't done at least one song I like. I read novels as well as historical books and reference works. I inherited an 1865 encyclopedia from my grandmother who recently passed away, and it can be fascinating to open it and see what was considered important for people to know in America 136 years ago. I paint miniatures, though I'm bad at it, and build scenery for use in my games (though that's gaming-related). My wife and I share a love of bad movies and sometimes have "bad movie night" at our house, where everyone invited is supposed to provide one truly awful film for us to make fun of.
Wizards: In wrapping up, let's shift from talking about bad movies to some good ones. Can you share with us a memory from your own Star Wars movie-going experience?
Owen: When The Phantom Menace was coming out, they released a music video for it with the music from the Duel of the Fates. My friends and I gathered in my living room to see the world premiere of that, and I had the sense that we were taking part in some weird ritual. We'd all waited for this film for years, and now our first long glimpse of it was going to come from -- MTV! The video was great, though. In fact, in some ways I think I enjoyed it more than the movie itself: The video didn't have to explain anything to make sense. It was just cool music with cool visuals, and on that level it worked really well.
Read more about Tempest Feud in our interview with Jeff Grubb!