Friday, February 28, 2014

In Memoriam: Aaron Allston (1960-2014)

UPDATE 2/4/2016: The Kickstarter honoring Aaron by bringing Strike Force to the 21st century has funded in just 4 days. Please go check out the project and help support this amazing memorial.

Aaron Allston's Strike Force Kickstarter


It's been an benchmark year for me. Aside from getting a promotion at my day job and having the best little family on the planet, I'm getting a steady stream of freelance projects for my dream job as a game designer. This morning I finished my writer's bio for the first of a series of pieces hitting the shelves this year, but my excitement was dulled by the news that one of my industry heroes collapsed at a conference yesterday and didn't wake up.

Aaron Allston is a name most of my friends and family won't know. He's best known for his Star Wars novels, including the Wraith Squadron series, Enemy Lines, and Mercy Kill. For me, though, Aaron will always be the man who redefined what a roleplaying campaign, and roleplaying in general, means.

August 3rd, 1983, I made my way across town to the only game store in Owensboro, Calinbus Comics & Hobbies. I used my carefully saved allowance to buy a superhero roleplaying game called Champions. I know the exact date because I still have the receipt.

$15 in 1983 was a lot of allowance!
Champions ruled my after-school life for years and became so popular that the rules expanded to the Hero Game System, of which Champions was only a part. Hero included games like Danger International, Justice IncorporatedFantasy Hero, and Star Hero, and though each game was based on Champions, they added new rules for skills, talents, and martial arts that Champions didn't have. Fledgling game designers that all players are, we quickly included these new rules into our superhero games. The first supplement I remember that incorporated our own house rules was the seminal module "Coriolis Effect". Not long after, Aaron Allston wrote one of the best supplements in RPG history--a quiet little campaign book called "Strike Force".

Strike Force did more than list game ideas and a few sample characters; Aaron told us about how his campaign worked. We got to see behind the scenes of a successful campaign, showing characters as they developed over the years, story arcs that worked and even things that didn't. I read that book cover-to-cover like a novel. As Jeff Rients says in his review, Strike Force made Aaron the first "campaign blogger". And we loved it.

"Strike Force", along with Aaron's other key works, "The Blood" and "Super Agents", turned our gaming table on its edge. Stories stopped being about heroes and villains slugging it out in a lightly salted broth of roleplaying. These books helped us build epic stories that ran for years and inspired tales that I and my friends talk about decades later. In short, Aaron changed how my brain viewed storytelling and his influence inspired the excitement I have in my life to this day.

I always wanted to meet Aaron, especially now that I can technically call myself a game writer. I always wanted to tell him what his writing did for me and, in turn, for my friends. I wonder if he really understood how many laughs, how many poignant moments, or how many bonds of friendship he helped to create? I hope so, but if not, now you do.

Thank you, Aaron.


Other recommended reading:

Aaron Allston List of Novels

Matt Forbeck: Good-bye Aaron Allston

The Aaron Allston has died

Locus Online: Aaron Allston (1960-2014)

Big Shiny Robot: In Memorium: Aaron Allston


  1. Replies
    1. In the spirit of the post, thank you for all you've done for the gaming community over the years, and for me specifically. It's been a pleasure working with you.

  2. That pretty much sums up my experience as well, Rich. I am a poorer man for never having met Aaron, but still wealthy because what he left me through his work.

    1. I think it may be the same for many of us in the gaming industry. On that note, it's been a pleasure working with you as well. Hopefully we'll get to corroborate on some more projects soon.

  3. If you want to tell a person how much they mean to you, do it now. Drop everything and do it now.

    1. Agreed. There is nothing so satisfying as letting someone know how much they mean to you, especially if you have the skill to also tell them exactly why. It's a wonderful gift.

    2. I've started a series of blogs to do just this. The first one posted today.

  4. Loved Champions. Mostly do to my love of math. Thank you Richard for sharing!