Discover more from The Adventure Gaming Periodical
The AGP Issue #2
An Interview With Steve Cochron About Morticians RPG
This week features an interview with a personal friend of mine, Steve Cochron, about his upcoming Kickstarter campaign for Morticians RPG Crossroads: The Introductory Undertaking. Steve is another designer from here in Fresno, California, and it’s really important to me that I support my community. In addition to featuring Queer voices, I will always set aside a spot for folks from the Central Valley of California.
Tell me about Morticians. What is your elevator pitch?
Morticians is a new tabletop role-playing game where you adventure through the zombie apocalypse. Using the new Morticians percentile system, you and your friends explore the ruins of the modern world while encountering other survivors, Bikers, and lots of Zombies! Morticians don’t just survive, they thrive through cooperation and exploring the world around them looking for new resources, helping other survivors, and protecting the innocent from the undead.
Our first crowdfunding campaign is to manufacture Crossroads: The Introductory Undertaking, a starter set that includes everything to begin playing Morticians right out of the box.
Describe the system used in Morticians. What was your design philosophy?
Morticians, from inception, has been designed to support combat and cooperative role-playing in the zombie apocalypse. We wanted a system that engages all players at the table and encourages cooperation. Using point buy mechanics, players develop the attributes they wish their character to possess. Character attributes influence their stats and skill base values. Skill checks use percentile dice and are structured in a way that everyone at the table knows what the threshold for success is. There’s nothing better than watching the dice settle and everyone knowing immediately if the effort was successful or not! Taking inspiration from systems like SPECIAL and GURPs, development has been focused on creating a system that is quick and easy to learn but supports complex, story-driven gameplay.
How did you develop the idea that turned into Morticians?
Back in 2012, I wanted to introduce TTRPGs to my three nephews, but they were not interested in high fantasy. I’ve always been a fan of zombie movies and created a homebrew campaign that was based around a bus load of teenagers on their way to a sleep away camp when the zombie apocalypse hits. It was at that point that I thought a percentile system would be accessible for my nephews to easily conceptualize odds of success when rolling the dice.
At the time, there was a show called Life After Humans that used CGI to illustrate how the world would crumble if humanity disappeared. After initial game play with my nephews, I started to wonder what the world would be like seven years after a zombie outbreak. The world of Morticians sprang from that wondering. I have since drafted a novel manuscript that extends the Morticians’ world. The novel is planned to be released within the next year, in addition to the game.
As a writer, much of my writing is based in and around my hometown. Although the valley Morticians inhabit and protect was inspired by the Central Valley of California, Sanctuary Valley could be dropped into any location. In fact, we want to encourage players to use familiar surroundings as a backdrop to their gameplay as much as they can to personalize their experience.
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What is the product that you are about to launch on Kickstarter? Tell me about what will be included.
Crossroads: The Introductory Undertaking is an encounter box designed to introduce gamers, new and experienced, to the Morticians world and system. We created it to provide an immediate playable one-shot or short campaign to grow the Morticians community before the full core rulebook planned for 2024.
Crossroads will include everything needed to get started playing. Six pre-generated character folios provide backstory, stats, and equipment lists and introduces half of the Morticians player character archetypes from the full core rule book. These pre-gens can be played in any combination, allowing the game to be played with one Funeral Director and anywhere from 1 to 6 players, although 4 is recommended.
The Starter Players Rule Book includes game play information for all of the players and the Funeral Director. This is a shortened version of the full core rule book, focused on introducing game play and includes information needed for the Crossroads story and possibilities.
The Funeral Director’s guide includes an original, engaging story, presented in two parts. The first half of the story is highly structured and designed to introduce game mechanics, providing opportunity for a variety of skill checks and combat against an array of different baddies. The first part runs approximately 2-4 hours, depending on play style. The second half of the game opens the world up, expanding game mechanics and providing the Funeral Director information for multiple locations, more baddies, new obstacles, and many choices for the players. The second part can be completed in an additional 4-6 hours, depending on play style. This guide also includes scaling information to adapt challenges to party size.
In the spirit of supporting gameplay out of the box, Crossroads will also include a full-sized, color hexagonal play map to be used during the first part of the Crossroads encounter. Also included will be black and white chipboard tokens representing each of the 6 pre-gens and non-player characters (NPCs). Finally, a polyhedral dice set will be provided because there’s no such thing as too many dice!
All of the artwork are original works created for Crossroads and 100% human created. The rule books and tokens are black and white and intentionally evoke the style of classic RPG line drawings to both pay homage to the great art that was created during the 1980’s for ttrpgs as well as leaving room for the players’ imagination to fill in the gore. Allowing players to be as gory or as goofy as they want while playing Morticians. We’ve also secured a manufacturer. Crossroads will be 100% human created content made in the U.S.A.
You work on this game and publishing with your partner. How do you balance your personal and professional relationship?
We don’t. There is no conflict between our personal and professional relationship. I get to work with my best friend, who also happens to be my wife. Our friendship was formed as teenagers doing theater productions and engaging in work-as-play. We each bring different skill sets into this work. I write and work through mechanics and play experience, while she creates art and is a hell of a continuity editor and project manager. It all relies upon communication. We never stop talking to each other and development sessions often feel more like hanging out than work. Even though we’re putting in 10 to 12-hour days, that doesn’t stop us from having a nice dinner together or carving out time for family and friends. Life still flows even when you have a job. The important thing is to be present and enjoy the process.
You also have a family and a busy life, how do you manage personal responsibilities and your creative work?
My responsibility is to bring my creative works into reality. That takes work and dedication, and I am fully dedicated to my writing. Once I decided this is what I wanted to do for a living I structured writing like a job. Because I treat it like a job, I am my own boss, and my boss is a real hard-ass. Start time is 5am before anyone else is awake. That nets me two hours of uninterrupted time. I make sure everyone is up and ready for school. Once the kids are at school, I work nonstop until it’s time to pick them up. During which time, I may be writing, brainstorming, and collaborating with my partner, or any other of those un-ending tasks that come with running a business. After school and into the evening, a few more hours are worked in, as needed, because I really never stop thinking about Morticians.
Being dedicated to my schedule during the week allows me to continually make progress on my creative work and still have time to regularly play at my local game shop, support my kids in their endeavors, and spend quality time with my family. But most importantly I’ve created a schedule that allows me to be accessible to my family’s needs. My wife has her own schedule for focused work that is off set from but compliments my schedule. Life is going to happen, whether you want it to or not. We’ve structured things so when something inevitably does come up, there is the flexibility to handle it.
The Crossroads Kickstarter campaign will be launching September 26 at 9am EST. To learn more about the game and sign up to stay up to date on the latest Morticians news, visit to http://play.morticiansrpg.com/1.
I’m excited for Morticians to release. It might not be a popular opinion, but I really like GURPS, and I am in love with its predecessor The Fantasy Trip, so when I see someone developing an OSR style game based on that lineage instead of D&D, it makes me very excited. I think that it’s a shame that we don’t see more work inspired by other older ttrpgs and Microgames outside of the D&D hegemony.
Steve continues the theme of folks regimenting their time to make sure that their family life doesn’t suffer. I admire his ability to make games with his partner in a highly collaborative fashion. I tried this with one of my partner’s at the launch of RV Games, and we had to work out a different workflow for ourselves. We can bullshit and brainstorm game design deep into the night, but then we need to each work on our own stuff. River now only brings me stuff that she has developed and prototyped, where she then needs an editor and a publisher. Collaborating together caused a lot of undue pressure for us because of differing working styles. She takes awhile to think things through and assemble them while I smash through drafts quickly and start to make production plans. My style is too high pressure for River, so our brainstorm, prototype, edit and publish workflow works to keep us creative together without resenting each other.
RV Games Crowd Sale for our second Microgame, The Progeny is live until October 10. We need eight more backers to unlock the next level of discounts for this solo or Wardenless Mothership Microgame inspired by David Cronenberg’s The Brood.
Upcoming for The AGP
Unlike the launch last week, I have a more solid schedule for some of our upcoming issues alongside some things to expect at a less definitive date.
September 26 - An Interview With Noora Rose of Monkey’s Paw Games About Their Current Campaign for her Slave Abolitionist, Panic Engine game, Beecher’s Bibles.
October 3 - Grid and Zone Maps in The Progeny and Mothership
October 10 - An Interview With watt, creator of Cloud Empress
An interview with the team behind An Infinity of Ships. I’m very excited to talk about lesbian space ships!