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Welcome to the Red Room, Brian Shutter

NEON LORDS OF THE TOXIC WASTELAND: Less than a year after the Kickstarter campaign which financed the project it is about to be launched in digital and printed format, scheduled for the end of next month. We talked to the author about this Generation X nostalgia fuelled OSR role-playing game, built upon BX rules.

Half gonzo science-fiction, half fantasy, Neon Lords of the Toxic Wasteland is set in a post-apocalyptic Earth in which magic is mixed with “ancient” technology from the ’80s and ’90s. The genre is cassette futurism, so expect to see a lot of crazy hairstyles: it’s not only the tech that harkens back to the glorious days of VHS tapes and glam metal, the whole game oozes nostalgia from the era. Ultra-violent, deadly and rather stylish – at least if you are into mullets and sexy cyborgs – describes the way of life in the toxic wastelands.

Red Room: The introduction tells us about a game that’s half science-fiction, half fantasy, but the second half seems to be especially low-tech and post-apocalyptical, still more sci-fi than fantasy. Am I wrong?

Brian Shutter: Nope, you are right. The fantasy aspect is a low fantasy world and mostly covers the classic DnD monsters and magic.

Red Room: The Neon Lords core book is filled to the brim with references to the 1980s and 1990s, it’s fuelled by GenX nostalgia. Have you play-tested it with younger players or had any reactions from them? Can they even relate to this setting?

Brian Shutter: Yes, our playtest group has some players close to 21 years in it and, while they may have not gotten most references, they had fun playing.

Red Room: There have been several games exploring this nostalgia, but they approach the theme in a different way, putting the players into the role of what they were at the time – children and pre-teens in awe – and not the reason behind that fascination. Here it’s all about the heroes of our childhood. Have you any interest in The Goonies-style games too?

Brian Shutter: I wouldn’t mind playing one and seeing the other end of the spectrum.

Red Room: There’s plenty of green slime around that wasteland. I suppose while doing your research you found that 1980s science-fiction and horror are full of greenish goo?

Brian Shutter: Not only that, but the children’s channel Nickelodeon. That had slime coming out of their ears in the ‘80s ‘90s.

Red Room: I rather liked the art. Is it supposed to emulate ZX Spectrum games’ looks or it’s just a similar colour palette?

Brian Shutter: It’s intended. I have a fondness for the ZX Spectrum, despite being American.

“I have a fondness for the ZX Spectrum, despite being American.”

Red Room: The Neon Lords is definitely an OSR game?

Brian Shutter: Yes. It’s based off of the BX rules and built from there.

Red Room: The neon wastelands are supposed to be as deadly as the usual OSR game setting? I mean, should players expect to roll up a lot of characters while playing?

Brian Shutter: Yes! The game is deadly, that’s why we gave the classes a lot of rad abilities off the bat to have some over the top fun before being brutally slaughtered!

Red Room: What would be the stereotypical party for a game of Neon Lords?

Brian Shutter: It would be safe to assume the standard DnD party dynamic. Having someone good at fighting, with high HP, a healer, magic user, thief, and some random class would be smart. But, with that being said, I think any array of classes could do just fine.

Red Room: This is a huge book. I’m used to OSR games being smaller…

Brian Shutter: Yeah, its rules plus setting and two adventures.

Red Room: Which were your major influences when writing the setting?

Brian Shutter: Lots of heavy metal, ‘80s and ‘90s video games and movies, the 90s “in your face” marketing, Saturday morning cartoons and the prizes you get in cereal, the idea of enticing children to eat a product with a small plastic toy buried deep within.

Red Room: Would you care to name same of those metal bands and video games that influenced you?

Brian Shutter: Yeah of course! Bolt Thrower, Cannibal Corpse, Tomb Mold, Carcass, Napalm Death, Amon Amarth, Toxic Holocaust, Municipal Waste, Mastodon, Perturbator, Pig Destroyer. And the games: Battle Toads, Contra, Castlevania, Violent Storm, Altered Beast, Captain Commando, Mega Man, Streets of Rage, Doom, Duke Nuke ‘Em, Mortal Kombat, Gauntlet, Magic Sword, Rastan, Golden Axe, Quake…

Red Room: Did you feel restrained by the source material being ultra-violent, yet based in movies and animated series where the brutality itself is very cartoonish and tame?

Brian Shutter: I don’t feel restrained. We just take the stuff that influenced us and crank it to 10.

Red Room: You did the layout, but none of the art, right?

Brian Shutter: Yes, all the art is by other people. Each of them did a fantastic job bringing my words to life.

Red Room: Please, tell me a bit more about the setting. I would like you to point out what you find most interesting about it.

Brian Shutter: The most interesting thing to me is the world we know it was destroyed in the Neon Wars of 1992. Chaos ensued for millions of years that finally ended with the Gnarly Age, a time that harkens back to the 1980s and 1990s. Where they worship Gods such as Lord Randy, the savage one, and adopt styles and slang of the time.

“(…) they worship Gods such as Lord Randy, the savage one, and adopt styles and slang of the time”

Red Room: Lord Randy is Randy Savage, the wrestler?

Brian Shutter: Yes. The pantheon of gods consists of a bunch of wrestlers.

Red Room: Wrestling was bigger in the United States at the time, wasn’t it?

Brian Shutter: Yeah, I would say it was at its peak with Hulk Hogan and the Macho Man in the late 80s early 90s.

Red Room: The setting lives exclusively on American themes or did you have European influences too?

Brian Shutter: A lot of Games Workshop’s early games including Warhammer 40K, and 2000AD comics, mostly Judge Dredd, but also ABC Warriors, Nemesis the Warlock, and Strontium Dog are all in there too.

Red Room: For how long did you work on it?

Brian Shutter: Two years it took.

Red Room: You did all of the writing?

Brian Shutter: Yes, but I had some input by friends, and some editing help.

Red Room: Did the success of Mork Borg have anything to do with your decision to write the game, or the metal connection comes from other places?

Brian Shutter: I was doing all this before the Mork Borg revolution. Mork Borg is very doom metal influenced we strive to be more of a thrash 80s hair metal vibe.

Red Room: Do you think said Mork Borg revolution was good for launching your own game?

Brian Shutter: Good question. It’s hard to tell because we are such a small game, but we have some of the most rabid fans.

I was doing all this before the Mork Borg Revolution. Mork Borg is very doom metal influenced, we strive to be more of a thrash 80s hair metal vibe.

Red Room: How did the Kickstarter go? How much were you aiming for?

Brian Shutter: We aimed to get enough backers to get a book made and we funded in three days and hit 11k.

Red Room: That sounds good, but I am not a Kickstarter specialist…

Brian Shutter: Neither am I, but I feel we did very well. Especially since we have no other products out there.

Red Room: Are you planning on further sourcebooks or scenarios?

Brian Shutter: Yes, there is a list of books coming out: Hack and Thrash is a vehicle rule supplement with skateboards, BMX bikes, and Mad Max style cars and trucks, as well as some stats for your favourite vehicles from other media. Deities and Demi-Bros is a supplement stating and describing all the gods that can be worshipped in the Neon Wastelands, as well as various adventure modules. And Escape the Murder Maze, a death match miniatures game for 1-10 players, is also in development. It takes place in the Neon Lords universe.

Red Room: That’s quite a lot! I suppose most of that is still in the works?

Brian Shutter: Yes since the core rules is done I have time to crank out the other stuff. But it will be awhile before the next book is released.

Red Room: How have you been promoting the game?

Brian Shutter: I’ve been trying to promote on Facebook and Instagram, but I’m honestly not very good at it. It’s not easy; there are so many games out there. It’s hard to put yourself in front of all of the other great games.

Red Room: Do you have a website for Neon Lords?

Brian Shutter: I think eventually we will, but I don’t know much about website design.

Red Room: Will there be a print-on-demand version of the game on Drivethru?

Brian Shutter: The POD option will come eventually!

Red Room: Before we finish tell us a bit about yourself…

Brian Shutter: I’m 39 and I am from – and currently live in – upstate New York.

Red Room: When did you start role-playing and how did you discover the hobby?

Brian Shutter: I started on the board game Hero Quest and from there to an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons starter kit.

Red Room: And when was that?

Brian Shutter: 1989.

Red Room: You kept playing D&D since then or you moved along to other games?

Brian Shutter: I played up to 2nd edition and stopped for a bit, got back into 3rd for a while, then tried 4th and didn’t like it. So I stopped until 5th edition and everyone wanted to play DnD. So I played a lot of 5th edition. While playing DnD I’ve always had other games on the side and incorporated other game mechanics into my homebrews.

Red Room: Did you write any other games before Neon Lords?

Brian Shutter:  I have not. Neon Lords is my first game.

Red Room: Was there some reason why you waited that long?

Brian Shutter: I never had anything I really wanted to publish, honestly. Until we started this gonzo post-apocalyptic, neon ooze of a game.