What Hook You So Long?

Chris Kutalik approached me to collaborate on What Ho, Frog Demons (Note! Links to DTRPG have affiliate codes in them) as an editor and illustrator in early 2017. It is the fourth book of the Slumbering Ursine Dunes trilogy, and to me, at the time, it was a lifeline. I was coming to terms with leaving my former job after a long period of harassment. The serial harasser who’d finally driven me out? He became CEO shortly after I left. It’s always good to see bullies rewarded.

If you didn’t catch that, it was sarcasm.

I put far more work into What Ho than was needed, strictly speaking, but I put in just as much as I needed to.

I have a deep affection for the setting of the Hill Cantons and Bloody Effing Marlinko. I’ve played in it a few times, and I’ve run the adventures a few times. A large part of my affection stems from the fact that it is the first ‘slavic’ setting I’ve experienced that doesn’t treat the Central European world as the “exotic primitive part of the generic medieval fantasy.”

It’s rambunctious and wild, mixing together everything from Hyperboreans to Space Elves, but taking a very different ‘normal’ as the standard without feeling the need to explain it too much. It’s not trying to be historically accurate or representative, but the baseline perspective is clearly different.

The fairy tales that inform the Hill Cantons, the beliefs and the stories that make the bones of the setting, are different—and don’t explain their difference to the reader, whether player or game master.

They just are different.

Debelinko the pig.
This is Debelinko the Pig. It can become a major enemy in What Ho, Frog Demons if the players do a lot of things wrong.

It’s also not a purely slavic setting. Kutalik brings his own take to the bar. If the Hill Cantons are a fever dream, they are the fever dream of a single dungeon master and their take on a real-world place they love and appreciate.

To see a world that I can identify with appreciated is a rare thing.

Even today, if you look at English publications, where there is so much emphasis on representation, there remains a part of the world that is casually, and without attempt at counterbalance, presented in lazy stereotypes: Eastern and Central Europe.

From draculas to communists, mobsters to mad scientists, brutal dictators to blonde whores—it’s fine. That’s just how it is if you ask the English media. Most other groups, when they are stereotyped this way, have recourse to someone who will proclaim: “this is bullshit prejudice!”

Not the part of the world I come from.

From years of explaining to people that, no, the wars actually ended long ago, to folks blanching when I told them I was born in Yugoslavia because I suppose that made me a lemon, to the omnipresent discourse about the all-powerful Russian dictator president manipulating the world like a many-tentacled lord of lies.

Preved the Bear
Preved the Bear. Yes, some jokes are on the nose. No, I promise you, this one wasn’t mine!

So, yes, I’ll be clear: What Ho, Frog Demons was a labor of love for me. I put much more work into it than it needed, but just as much as I wanted.

However, life has a love of waylaying the best-laid plans. One thing then another intervened, and in the end it took a long time for the book to come together. Humza Kazmi, Chris Kutalik, Robert Parker, Jensen Toperzer, Trey Causey (of Mortzengersturm fame) and Karl Stjernberg (who wrote and illustrated the Rad Hack) were all wonderful to work with. But still, in the end, this book that I quite loved, I will admit—I also quite hated.

So many illustrations made and checked and scanned and tone-corrected. Each by hand. So many pages laid out, carefully adjusted and spaced and placed. So many final typos fixed and fixed again.

Finally I prepared it for the print-on-demand version for DTRPG. We got our test prints. Looked at them. And there were a couple of errors. Black blocks had appeared around some arrows on the maps and the layout was off by one page.

The curse of transparencies.
Map by Karl, error by me. It had to do with the way DTRPG handles .pdf files and the default settings for transparencies in InDesign. Designer hint: it is a small, precise, and obscure difference in settings. Time to find fix: 45 minutes. Scope of work to implement fix: 1 check box. Yay.

It was a fix of an hour. Somehow I took over a month to get around to making that fix. I suspect I was a bit tired.

To everyone who wanted to hold the book in their hands, I apologize for that wait! The fault is entirely mine. Those nearly two extra months are a result of my procrastination.

But it’s done now. Phew. You can get the print version.

However, to keep things mildly confusing, you can get the physical book in color or black-and-white. The price difference is very small, and there is only one color picture inside, but the quality of paper in the color version is better, too. So, there is that. You decide, if you want to pay an extra dollar for a better quality of paper and one color picture ;).

I’ll write another time about the words and places I added to What Ho after Chris Kutalik let me play with it. Maybe you’ll have it in your hands by then!

Wait, So What’s With You and Hydra?

Ok, this is just a simple aside. I’m still friends with everyone at Hydra Coop, but for legal reasons (cooperative is based in the USA, I’m resident outside of the USA), being a full member would have been very complicated. That’s why my solo projects are coming out under my own imprint.

Jason Sholtis draws the most amazing things.

If you’re looking for an exceptional writer and artist to add some surprise and fun to your game world, let me recommend Jason Sholtis of Dungeon Dozen. The number of times I have been jealous of one or another of his ideas is incredible. Visit his blog, buy his books, like Operation Unfathomable, love his art. It is good.

And I still haven’t had a chance to play in one of his games.


Earlier this week I released Witchburner together with Exalted Funeral. Well, we sold out of all 250 copies in 3.5 days. That’s great, I suppose?! Yay!

Meanwhile, if you like what I draw and write, consider supporting my patreon: art, gaming, stories. It’s a buck a post and you’ll be most welcome. Supporting artists and writers makes your world a better place.

4 replies on “What Hook You So Long?”

Thanks for the write-up, Luka! I was waiting for this for a while, but I’ve learned to be patient with stuff you do – it’s usually worth it!

Let me ask you, is Hydra Co-op organized as an actual co-op in the US? Do you know what structure they use?

I know a bit about co-ops myself (having founded three of them) and was curious. I am familiar with one model that is popular amongst co-ops with international members: the LLC. Lots of immigrant-run co-ops do that, for example.

Keep on rockin’ on.

Yes, Hydra Co-op is an actual co-op organized in the US. I am not 100% about the structure, but Chris (Hill Cantons) certainly is.

Thanks for your support, I really appreciate it! ^_^

Comments are closed.