SANCTIONS: The first sourcebook for this body horror role-playing set in a dystopic future, where people live in a world troubled by climate change, toxic pollution and horrifying mutated creatures, will be out soon. We had a chat with the author about the genesis and future of the game.
Sanctions takes place in 2086, biotechnology has grown at a rapid pace, war erupted and chemical, biological and use of nuclear weapons polluted most of Europe and Russia. Climate change occurred and mutated beings, both natural and lab grown, roam the countryside. To protect the cities, vast walls were erected and the urban centres merge into Plexes. Behind the facade of society, horrific crimes take place, murders, illegal experiments and worse. Laws allow for staffing agencies to become “sanctioned”, and armed operatives do the work no one else wants to. Sanction agents perform everything from policing, search and rescue, to espionage work.
Red Room: I know about some of your sources of inspiration for Sanctions – such as David Cronenberg -, but do tell us some more about what fuelled your creativity while developing the game.
Liam Thompson: As you know Sanctions has been, in one version or another, for a huge amount of time and has, in part, grown and mutated into its current setting, much like the monsters and world itself. Initially the inspiration was an idea for a setting that was near future secret agents for hire, James Bond meets Ronin.
“Sanctions has been, in one version or another, for a huge amount of time and has, in part, grown and mutated into its current setting, much like the monsters and world itself.”
Literary and media influences include: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo, George Romero, John Wyndham, William Burroughs, William Gibson, Serpieri’s Druuna, John Carpenter, Judge Dredd, SLA Industries, Blade Runner, Phillip K. Dick and Hunter S. Thompson. The list goes on…
One of the major inspirations was my first forays into work, when I went to work at a temporary agency who insisted that I buy my own boots and high vis jacket. I had this idea where private security investigators worked for a company, but had to buy their own equipment. It was the 80’s, the Cold War and nuclear fear was everywhere, strikes, poll tax, riots, good music, sex, drugs and rock and roll.
Red Room: It is labelled as a body horror role-playing game. How do you describe the genre and for whom is this kind of game intended?
Liam Thompson: Body horror simply is horror involving the body, genetic mutation, invasion, mutilation, evolution, parasitic infestation and worse. Great examples are The Thing, The Fly, the Alien movies and all the other greats. Ultimately, though, the enemy in all these settings are the people. As I say in Sanctions: “Ultimately the worst things I’ve seen are done by us. Humans are by far the biggest monsters in the world.”
These kinds of games and settings are not for the squeamish, easily offended and certainly not those who want to feel “safe”. What’s that all about anyway? Hell’s tits, if you watch Moomins the Hatty Fattners were terrifying!
Red Room: Sanctions trades the usual cyberpunk enhancements for biotech augments. It does make sense for a body horror game, but was that the only reason you opted for it? Do you think cyberpunk as a genre is out-dated by now?
No, actually my late father, credited in the book, helped with Sanctions going towards the body horror bio-technology route. The setting originally used cybertech and I was chatting to my father – Peter Thompson, who by the way, hated most sci-fi – sat there and said from behind his paper: “Never work son, people won’t want that stuff in them unless they had to.” It was also the days of the infancy of biotech commercially, glowing mice, mice with ears on the back, DNA fingerprinting. Also Sea Monkeys (genetically modified pets).
Do I think cyberpunk has had its day? No, I love it. My main issue has, and always been, the glitzy neon of it all. To me the essence of cyberpunk has been Max Headroom’s gloomy dirty edgy environment and the human element. Sanctions is still at its heart very punk with its references to older electronic music and movies, a kind of retro, alternative future.
Red Room: I know there’s at least one sourcebook coming for Sanctions. What is it about and when should we expect it to be released?
Liam Thompson: Yes indeed. The first of a series, possibly called Ops & Admin. It’s a player’s guide and world expansion, as ideas keep coming, and also a GM expansion giving extra notes. It will be in the style of a cross between an industry magazine and company handbook. It will be out soon, I promise. I’m just waiting on a couple of pieces of art and final layout.
Red Room: Are you planning or working on further supplements for the line?
Liam Thompson: There will be further Ops books, at least, as well as a published adventure co-written with my great friend Simon Jackson, a fellow games writer in Northampton who is developing a future sports board game as we speak.
Red Room: Tell us a bit about the game rules-wise. Do you favour rules-light games or you prefer more detailed mechanics?
Liam Thompson: Oh, simple is better, to me the idea is about the story and fast paced resolution over tables, maths and mechanics. Core=6 is a simple dice pool system using D6: 5 and 6 are successes, versus a task level table dictating how many successes are required. Essentially: Stat + Skill + (or minus) modifiers equal the dice rolled.
I had tried to create several systems over the years but discovered that I had recreated existing rules, one iteration was AFF, a couple of others were versions of T&T, there was a percentile one (I hated). It was funny when I play tested these and players would say “oh! I get it, it’s like Fighting Fantasy or Troika or whatever”… I would sit there and scream!
“The first of a series, possibly called Ops & Admins. It’s a players guide and world expansion (…). It will be out soon”
Red Room: When did Purple Crayon Games start and was Sanctions your first release?
Liam Thompson: Purple Crayon Games (PCG) started as an entity approximately five or six years ago, when I was encouraged by friends who had seen and played some of my unpublished works who all cajoled me into releasing them.
There were quite a few games written by myself and friends as teenagers, lost in the mists of time, either hand written, or using manual typewriters and photocopied at school. My first PCG games released into the wild were small minimal games in a pocketmod format. Pocketmods are a way of printing 8 pages on one sheet of A4, folding it a certain way and it’s like a mini book. Of these there were several, Aspects, a general minimalist genre-less game, which later became the Core6 system I finalised for PCG, Blood and Steel, and several others.
After a friend advised I should try to publish, and I was feverishly collating reference materials and researching, my 11 year old granddaughter, who had played a homebrew RPG with me before, said she had an idea, it was a fantasy game. But I wanted to help her become a bit more creative. It was called Tribes of Krass and was heavily Conan and Ralph Bakshi’s Fire & Ice inspired primeval fantasy. We released it via Itch.io and sold a few copies. Ken St. Andre bought a copy and sent glowing reports back to my granddaughter; made me cry.
Sanctions has been a lifelong project in many forms for the best part of 30 plus years and has only come together in its present released format in the last year.
Red Room: As far as I know Purple Crayon Games doesn’t have a website, but correct me if I am wrong. If so, are you planning on setting up a website eventually?
Liam Thompson: Oh, please, please, please find me someone who can make me a page, I am useless at this sort of thing. I dearly want a page and, for all my love of computers, tech and science I cannot get my head round making a web page. If anyone wants to volunteer then please help!
Red Room: Was there a Kickstarter campaign for Sanctions?
Liam Thompson: No, no, there wasn’t for a couple of reasons: I have seen and backed a few Kickstarters that failed, and my mind-set hates knock backs, so if I failed in my KS campaign I’d probably have given up. I actually dislike the concept of the entire goals and stretch goals, promising further things if backers throw in more cash; it doesn’t seem right somehow… Before Kickstarters people just took a gamble and tried, I’m kind of stuck in the past that way. With Lulu and Drivethru it has become so accessible to be able to publish, then why not do it that way? I know that some folk have got great promotion and initial sales that way, but it’s not what I’m into.
Red Room: How have you been promoting your game?
Liam Thompson: Terribly, I am awful at self-promotion. I can come across as outspoken and brash, but I’m actually very timid when it comes to saying: “Hey buy my games, they’re awesome”. I like to promote others’ indie work and hope that they will reciprocate.
Red Room: I think you did most of the work for the core book, except for the art. Is this correct?
Liam Thompson: Mostly, the writing, layout and main setting is all me, but I did have a lot of help from some great friends and collaborators like Peter Wallis, who gave input with the adventure creation tool, Charlie Warren and Joe Coombs. A great local artist called Martyn Lorbieki did some character art for free, which really was awesome.
Red Room: Now, tell us a bit about yourself.
Liam Thompson: I’m a human being from the UK, I’ve spent a couple of years living overseas, but I currently live and work in Northampton.
Red Room: How did you find out about tabletop role-playing games and when did you start actively playing and game mastering?
Liam Thompson: I discovered TTRPG’s way back in the early 80’s, I had already read The Hobbit, and since I was tiny loved sci-fi and fantasy. The Fighting Fantasy books had been released and I was getting into them. When on holiday my father took me to a book shop and we found the Corgi edition of Tunnels & Trolls, and he bought me around four or five of the books, both the core book and the solo adventures. I loved them, but the core book baffled me.
When I got home, and back to school, my friends and I managed to work it out during lunch times. We had a great English teacher, Mrs. Harris, who had a chess club at lunchtimes, but encouraged us creative types to explore things. We got the hang of it and started to play. We then discovered other games like Fighting Fantasy, and Dragon Warriors, before we found out about the dreaded big books and boxes. We started quite quickly to homebrew our own systems, that would allow us to create and play quickly during our limited times at school. But we always went back to our small novel sized games.
Red Room: Which are your favourite genres, either in role-playing games and fiction in general?
Liam Thompson : Hmm. Tricky I am very eclectic in fiction I can cover all bases, with an addiction for ‘80s action and modern B movies (unashamedly), but I do have a passion for the edgier, thought provoking, storylines. With RPGs I am in a similar persuasion but I try to avoid any games that are tiresome. Fantasy for instance, how many times can you try to make an Elf different?
Red Room: Which RPGs have influenced you the most?
Liam Thompson: Easily the three above, Tunnels & Trolls by the “Trollgod” Ken St Andre, Dragon Warriors and the Fighting Fantasy RPG, their simplicity is exquisite.
YOU CAN PURCHASE SANCTIONS AT LULU.COM