Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Zzarchov Kowolski - Adventure Author, Game Designer, Publisher, Blogger

Zzarchov Kowolski...Zzarchov Kowolski...Zzarchov....a name full of mystery and intrigue.

Zzarchov Kowolski is one of my favorite adventure writers, if not THEE favorite. His stuff always has that twist, that edge, that resonance, that flavor, THAT STUFF that I want my work to be filled with. But, I guess I try too hard and wind up clumsily waving my ideas around like a lumbering giant with a tree trunk club, you see can see me coming from a mile away. While Zzarchov, sneaky, subtle, adventure twisting, crafty word smithy ninja Zzarchov, he seems to do it so effortlessly and delicately. You don't hear his work bounding towards you like mine, instead his leaves you with a creepy feeling that something is sneaking up behind you that makes the hairs on the back of your neck bristle...but, no, there's nothing there, except you do catch a whiff of something inhuman in the air, but where did it come from? Wait, was that a shadow of a goat on it's hind legs that just sped past the periphery of your vision? Ummm, OH BLOODY HELL! WHAT IS THIS THING!?!? WHAT JUST HAPPENED!?!? WHHHHhhhhyyyyy....

Yeah, that's how reading his work makes me feel. I guess you can say I kinda idolize his stuff. But, I have good reason to, I mean after all, he writes the bloody stuff I want to write. I don't mean that I want to emulate his subject matter or style, it's more like he's mining from the same idea mine that I do, except he's hit a much richer vein than I've found so far. Time and time again I come up with scenario ideas and game mechanic ideas which I feverishly begin to explore, taking notes and writing...only to eventually discover...DAMMIT! Zzarchov's already done it and what he's done blows me away more than my idea does...now. Using cards to randomly create a setting...Oh yeah, Zzarchov's already done it. Weird trans-temporal impact from the past on setting dynamics...Oh, yeah, Zzarchov's already done it. That Gnome thing...Oh yeah, Zzarchov's already done it. This guy's a genius.

The weird thing is, I know nothing about him. NOTHING. I don't even know what he looks like despite being connected with him on G+ for a few years. I begged him to let me in on his online games, a request to which he has obliged by keeping me on his invite list, but so far my stupid chaotic life has prevented me from playing a single session with him. Eventually I'll work it out and I can finally make time to sit at his virtual table and get a feel for how his creative mind spins, whirs, and ticks. 

Until then I have Scenic Dunnsmouth, Thulian Echoes, Pale Lady, A Thousand Dead Babies (my all time favorite adventure title), Gnomes of Levnec, and his own game rules system, Neoclassical Geek Revival (green hardcover 4th? edition) to pour over once again and breathe in that beautiful fragrance of pure ingenuity and unbridled creative vision.

Zzarchov submitted this picture as a representation of himself as a child.

Favorite Toys of Childhood

Remember your TOP FAVORITE TOYS of all time. What is it about any of these toys that you most identified with? What made this so special? How did you play with these toy? Shared or Solo play?.

Zzarchov Kowolski: When I was in First Grade I received a Boglin which I thought was rad as all hell, it was a rubbery monster.  I thought monsters were cool.  It didn't long supplant LEGO's (along with a handful of random MicroMachines) as my favourite toy, allowing me to play out a sort of proto-sim game.  Building a town and having the inevitable destruction and war befall it. Ideally this was solo play, if it was shared play it was because an outside force would be about to wreak havoc upon this town without my approval.

 When I was 8 I got a steel hatchet,  which while technically a tool, it allowed me to do all kinds of new fun things.  Living in the middle of nowhere in a forest is boring,  but with a hatchet I could build all sorts of stuff.  I usually defaulted to dams, fences, and unnecessary shelters.

When I was 10 (nearing 11) I got a copy of the board game HeroQuest. This was full of possibilities and I loved the whole concept of adventure games, and being able to make your own maps.  I didn't play it all that much mind you, far more time was spent thinking about playing it.

It was when I was 12 (the top end of this timescale) that I got access to a 286 and a horde of completely legitimate floppies that contained a score of games. The games were fun,  but what was more fun was learning to tinker with them and change them.  Usually they just broke because this was before easy access to manuals and guides. It was all blind modding. I accomplished little but it ate up hours dealing with the possibilities.

Favorite Films and TV

Favorite Films or TV of Your Youth:  At what age did you enjoy each favorite? What did you identify with about the shows? Do you think these shows had an influence on the adult you? 

Zzarchov: As with all people from my generation I had the usual obsession with cartoons designed to sell toys that I absorbed with frantic glee.  Those probably had a very similar impact on me as they did on everyone else so I won't rehash that old gem.  Instead I'll go over the outliers that are a more likely source of variance.

Pink Panther   (age 4-5)
 When I was a little kid I used to be enthralled with the Pink Panther and watched it religiously.  Why?  Couldn't really say, I was young and it was a cartoon with a cat.  But I would say it did have an impact.  The Pink Panther only ever spoke once in any episode that I saw and I can still hear the voice.  If you want people to remember when you say things,  keep your mouth shut most of the time. 

Godzilla   (age 8)      
You what is cool to an 8 year old and has ridiculously large backlog of movies? A radiation spewing dragon that is there to kick ass and then kick more ass. Any chance I to scour a video store I would look to see what Godzilla movies they have and beg and plead to rent one.  Oddly enough I still haven't seen the original Godzilla movie. But I saw a lot of random Godzilla movies where he fights other monsters. I guess the largest impact it had on me was that it lead me to appreciate movies with special effects that don't hold up,  even ones with terrible dialog and weird plots.  That fed a lot into my love of MST3K.

Harryhausen  Movies (Age 10)
When I was about 10 my obsession with Godzilla switched to Harryhausen movies.  The visuals and adventure arcs meshed well with the literature I was into. Even today when I visualize monsters, I often think of how they would look in Dynamation. Fantastic movies.

Road Warrior (Age 12)
Road warrior has medieval combat atop hot-rods in a post-apocalyptic hellscape. That is pretty obvious in its appeal to a kid on the cusp of being a teenager.  I think Conan may have edged this out as my favourite movie over the years,  but if so only by a hair.

Creating Games

Think About Playtime:  Did you create games or imaginary worlds as a child? Please give a description of an important original game or play world that you enjoyed. 

Zzarchov: I was big into reading as a kid, so its hard to know at which point a world was mine, versus a mash of other fantasy worlds, versus an alternate reality or alternate history  ("What if the Vikings never left Canada!").  Questions about if the One Ring tapped into the Dark Side were ever present in my brain.

Play Community

As a child how did you feel about how you fit in with the rest of the world or community or friends? Like, were you very social or did you prefer spending time alone? Your environment, was it rural or urban? Were siblings a big part of your playtime? Did adults interact with you in game play, and if so was it structured play (sports, scouting, clubs, etc.) or free form?

Zzarchov: I was a scrawny dirt poor kid from the backwoods with obvious speech differences from my peers and an aptitude for books. I did not fit in well. Both preferences and the necessities of being smack dab in the middle of nowhere lead me to spend quite a bit of time alone as a young child.  I did have siblings,  but we all tried to stay as far away from each other as possible with a sort of paranoid disdain that only squabbling siblings and extreme libertarians can muster. As children were not supposed to be underfoot unless they were working, this meant almost all play was self-directed and alone (unless you count the dogs).

Despite how much this is beginning to make me sound like either the unibomber or Wilbur Whatley, I assure you I barely remember anything from Chemistry class and own a dog.

Childhood Playtime's Impact On Adult Gaming

Do you have any thoughts about aspects of your childhood play time that influenced your passion for RPGs? Have you ever intentionally incorporated memories of childhood playtime into game work you have created/written as an adult?

Zzarchov: The most common feature is that my "default wilderness" is the forest and hills I grew up in.  The default forests are cedar strewn with massive boulders and exposed bedrock is not uncommon. The hills are covered in juniper bushes and burrs.  But the isolation and the risks of simply being when alone in the middle of nowhere also factor in. Rather than hand waive away the irritants of wilderness travel to focus on the "real" adventure I focus on them.   How one jury-rigs solutions to those irritants and troubles often helps set the stage for the main adventure. 

Lost in Space Media Cache

You are adrift aboard an intergalactic cruiser. You are the last surviving member of your crew. You no longer remember you're mission or destination. Your ship sent out a distress signal, but you lost contact with your home planet months ago. Your chances of being rescued are nil. The ship is well stocked with everything necessary for your physical survival. You have no fear of starvation and there are no security threats. On board with you are two AI bots programmed for average human intelligence. You were allowed 10 items of any type of entertainment of your choosing (movies, recordings, books, videos, games, comics). The ship is capable of playing everything you brought, regardless of format. What choices do you hope you packed away so that you avoid dying of boredom?

Zzarchov: A deck of cards.  Give me that and I can build endless games.

I was curious about what Zzarchov might look like today, so I used age progression filters on the
picture he sent (see above) and came up with the above representation of him as an adult.

Links to Mr. Kowolski's work and blog:
Kowolski's NGR Publishing available on RPGNow: 
Zzarchov's Blog - Unofficial Games: http://zzarchov.blogspot.com/
Zzarchov's work published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess available here: 
And you can find other interviews and tons of reviews of his work online!

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