Allen Varney, writer and game designer

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About me

I'm an American freelance writer and game designer, currently living in my longtime home of Austin, Texas. My published work includes the current edition of the classic 1980s roleplaying game PARANOIA, six books, three boardgames, nearly two dozen roleplaying game supplements, contributions to several computer games, the fantasy novel Cast of Fate (TSR, 1996), and over 300 articles, reviews, columns, and stories.

Currently I'm packaging a new line of official PARANOIA novels under the imprint Ultraviolet Books. My novel Stay Alert is now on sale at Amazon.

allenvarney [at] gmail [dot] com; Twitter: @AllenVarney; Wikipedia; Google+: Amazon author profile; Facebook.

The Escapist

For a couple of years I was the most prolific non-staff contributor to The Escapist. After this weekly online gaming magazine launched in July 2005, I appeared in about half the first hundred issues. See below for a list of my Escapist articles.

Becoming a game designer

In response to numerous inquiries from students working on class projects, I have posted a list of answers to common questions about becoming a game designer.


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Articles

I've written regular columns for four national magazines (Collect!, Dragon, The Duelist, InQuest) and over 200 articles and reviews in two dozen more magazines.

  • "The New Improved Beast": Werewolves in history, literature, and the movies.
  • "Turkey's Underground Cities": Based on my visit to Turkey in 1992, this 1994 article outlines the history of the vast subterranean cities carved by fugitive Christians beneath the Cappadocian plains starting in the 3rd Century CE. Real-world dungeons! (Published in Dragon magazine #201.)
  • "Cthulhu Lives!": A 1995 InQuest article on horror writer H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937), creator of the Cthulhu Mythos.
  • "Space Opera": This unpublished 1997 article chronicles the history of the slam-bang planet-smashing subgenre that culminated in Star Wars.
  • "Movie Munchies": A short humor piece from Video magazine about "food films" (Babette's Feast, Like Water For Chocolate, Tampopo) -- the ones that make you hungry.
  • The Acme Novelty Library: A 1995 assessment of the work of brilliant cartoonist Chris Ware.
  • "Silicon Hollywood": A rundown of the rather rundown computer gaming industry as of Spring 1998, written for non-gamers. From the first issue (Summer 1998) of the umpteenth doomed relaunch of Amazing Science Fiction, then published by Wizards of the Coast.

Gaming

I've published almost two million words as a freelance adventure-gaming designer (1986-present). I'm not precisely proud of that, but here's a sampling anyway.

Roleplaying

  • Noteworthy: A roleplaying game played through Weblog (blog) entries.
  • "Anopheles" (aka "Horror World"): A 1990 adventure for the Champions superhero roleplaying game, published in the alternate-worlds supplement Champions in 3-D under the lame title "Horror World." The superheroes visit a modern-day parallel world where Lovecraftian Cthulhoid monsters took over decades ago. Graphic horror in a superheroic mode.
  • Earthdawn Legends by Allen Varney and Don Webb: A large 1994 adventure collection for FASA's Earthdawn roleplaying game, offering many legends of the name-giver races of Barsaive with accompanying adventure ideas. Here is a menu of Legends chapters, or you can get the entire 146K Legends document. The Earthdawn line editor commissioned this supplement from me and my good friend Don Webb, another Austin writer. After reading the first draft, he changed his mind about what he wanted and ordered a stem-to-stern revision, quite the most extensive I've ever endured. From our second draft he took a few small sections, threw them into another product (Legends of Earthdawn Vol. 1), and tossed the rest, incidentally refusing payment for the work he didn't use. Life in the gaming business.
  • "Desire Box": A comedic one-session Earthdawn adventure set in Haven, outside the ruins of Parlainth. Published in the 1995 Earthdawn scenario collection Parlainth Adventures; posted here by kind permission of the now-defunct FASA Corporation. I like this piece more than most of my gaming work, because it incorporates the Buddhist ideas I was exploring at the time. (47K)
  • "Shaolin Heartbreak": A rapid-fire Hong Kong action adventure for the Feng Shui roleplaying game. This modern-day scenario, published in the 1996 supplement Marked for Death, concerns a Cambodian sorcerer, an 18th-Century Chinese warrior woman (or is she a Hong Kong movie star?), and the lovestruck monk who crosses time to save her. It ends in a typhoon!
  • "Adventure of the Knight Sinister": A 1995 Pyramid mini-adventure for Chaosium's superb Pendragon Arthurian RPG
  • "Cook's Tour": A brief unpublished adventure (actually a sort of campaign running gag) for the AD&D AL-QADIM Arabian Adventures setting
  • Two Nephandi and a Marauder created for White Wolf's Mage: The Ascension second edition, but left on the cutting-room floor
  • Varuna Ltd.: An organization for Champions and other superhero RPGs. This agency investigates super-villains, but carries a super-villainous secret.

Gaming magazine articles

[Alphabetized by title/subject:]

Essays and humor

"Roleplaying Reviews" columns from Dragon magazine

"Blast From the Past" columns from Collect!

For three years (1996-99) I wrote a trading-card column for Tuff Stuff Collect! magazine. These 600-word pieces used some 1960s or '70s trading card set as a jump-point into pop-culture history. (Copyright ©1997,1998,1999 Tuff Stuff Publications. Posted here by permission.)

My Escapist articles

Some of my 75 Escapist magazine articles, by issue number:

"Days of High Adventure" Escapist columns

This short-lived column (2009-10) covered Old School tabletop roleplaying. I wrote several profiles of the landmark designers of the early RPG field.

Austin Chronicle

Published in 1997 in the weekly culture/arts newspaper The Austin Chronicle:


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Fiction

In addition to my new PARANOIA novel T1 Stay Alert (Book 1 of The Troubleshooter Rules trilogy) and the sharecropped gaming novel Cast of Fate (TSR, 1996), I've published a few stories in Dragon magazine and various gaming products. Here is some older work:

  • "In the Swift Workshop": Science hero Todd Speed reopens his long-abandoned laboratory. At the May 2001 Turkey City writers' workshop in Austin, SF writer and host Bruce Sterling said this story is "trembling on the edge of a major breakthrough in the field."
  • "Following the Elephant": This comedic fantasy novelette, set in 14th-Century Thailand, derives from a historical incident. To find a suitable site for a Buddhist temple, the king of Lan Na Thai sets a sacred white elephant loose, hoping it will give him a sign from the gods. But an ambitious young monk has other ideas.
  • Piercing A Veil: A complete sharecropped fantasy novel set in the Earthdawn universe. Purchased by (now defunct) FASA Corporation in 1994 for a line of novels based on its (now deceased) Earthdawn roleplaying game, but never published in English, Piercing a Veil tells of a magical plague on the city of Merron, the contentious magical guilds behind it, and the enigmatic creature they obey. The retired warrior Alban Peyl, who lost his arm ten years ago, is drawn into the conflict when his lost arm suddenly returns.
  • Ultra-Violet (Chapters 1-7): An unfinished novel, a scramjet-paced fantasy about a boy who journeys up the colors of the rainbow, and each color is a different techno-magical land. Think Wizard of Oz for the 21st Century, times seven. I still like this idea and hope to return to it -- in retirement, if not before.
  • "Craverlane Bend": Not only an otherworldly fantasy of the trans-dimensional city of Agon, but also an allegory of my many years in the adventure gaming hobby.
  • "Bollix at the Hamster Race": First in what was to be an extended series of Wodehousean SF comedies about socially inept freelance uber-hacker Jeremy Kidwell and his virtual actor, Bollix. Find out how a major software company decides to test a new Internet protocol by racing hamsters.
  • "Chance Music": A comic historical fantasy of the chance-derived aleatoric music experiments undertaken in the 1950s and '60s by modern music composers like John Cage. Written for the November 2003 Turkey City writers' workshop in Austin, Texas.
  • "Rational": A short parody of the work of a well-known Australian writer of hard science fiction. This story appeared in the fanzine Nova Express, Vol. 5/2 (#18), Fall/Winter 1999.
  • "Goblin Tax": A 1980 half-hour radio comedy script about four fantasy roleplaying gamers who discover a parallel world that is more, and much less, than they imagined. In 1987 the long-running Minneapolis science-fiction radio show Shockwave did an excellent production of "Goblin Tax." The same producer, Jerry Stearns, staged a live performance of the play at MarsCon in Bloomington, MN, May 11-13, 2001.
  • "A Christmas Phone Call": A short-short modern fantasy that I sent out to friends as my 1991 Christmas card.

Contact info

allenvarney [at] gmail [dot] com; Twitter: @AllenVarney

Fannish

I've written for science fiction fanzines, convention programs, and occasionally to satisfy my own inner drives.

Letters

I traveled around the world on a seven-month solo backpacking trip in 1992-93, writing several letters back home that I hope to post here someday. I have posted the five letters I sent back from my lengthy trip to Africa with Beth Fischi, as well as two dozen shorter notes from Seattle. But first, an amazing episode that happened right here in my home town of Austin, Texas....

Lord British's 1988 Spook House

One of the most fabulous experiences I've ever had.

African Dispatches

I visited Africa so you wouldn't have to. Letters from my seven-month 1998-99 trip:

Greetings From Seattle

Written to Austin friends during a ten-month business pilgrimage to Wizards of the Coast in Seattle (1995).

  • January-February: Moving in; absolutely not infatuated with editor; anti-tax crank; ugly Sound of Music incident; uglier wetlands; John McPhee reading
  • March-May: Afterlife vision in a cherry tree; Robie House; high-efficiency kite flying; bonsai growers with bad teeth; screwed by a glad-handing weasel; Barbershop Quartet Hell
  • June-July: Yen to travel again; going psycho in India; twins; Dorothy Gale is a Las Vegas ho
  • August-September: Highland Games; Magic World Championships; woolly worms forecast winter; Woodstock for flies; life lessons; aftermath