Travis Legge is probably not a name most of you are familiar with, unless of course you’re a fan of the widely popular, independent role-playing game, Contagion. In which case he’d probably be very familiar. Like many of us, Travis was inspired at an early to become a writer because of a love for comics. Unlike those that just talk a good game, Travis took his drive and skill and turned it into a writing career and is responsible for several Contagion sourcebooks.
The other name at the top of this article is probably one most of you are very familiar with. Chris Delloiacono has been an integral part of the Nexus team for the last three years, from writing columns, reviews, and interviews to being a part of the site’s editorial staff.
If you’re asking yourself what do these two have in common? The answer is simple, Contagion: War stories a brand new short story anthology edited by Travis, and partially written by Chris. The following is a conversation the three of us had to help try and help spread the good word about this new and exciting project.
The Nexus: Before we get into all the specifics of the book, can you give us a little background on the world in which these stories take place, and a little about the inspiration behind this project?
Travis: The world of Contagion looks nearly identical to the real world at first glance. The vast majority of humanity goes about their daily lives much in the same way that you or I might. Beneath this mundane and comfortable surface there is a war going on between the armies of Heaven and Hell. Demons unleash Hellspawn, which are various monsters and unclean critters, onto the earth to try and corrupt and destroy humanity. Angels, at the behest of God, empower their own servants as well. Clergy are given gifts of healing and cleansing because of their immense faith. Slayers are chosen, seemingly at random, from the masses to stand as Heaven’s foot soldiers and confront the Hellspawn. These conflicts take place in the shadows, away from the scrutiny of most humans, but as humanity’s access to technology and communication increases, the secrecy of the War degrades. With each passing year, more humans discover the truth and are forced to choose a side, or try and survive on their own.
We have been putting out material for Contagion for about two years now. As a small independent company, we have always focused on putting together quality products. Unfortunately, each project we have done has been haunted by the demons of page count. We have a wealth of material for each book, and often times our previous releases have not had enough space to include as much setting material as I would have liked.
Darius (McCaskey, one of my business partners) and I had discussed doing a novel to accompany the setting. There are some signature characters we have created, and we have dozens of ideas for pursuing ongoing stories with each of them. We realized that with everything else we were doing, including preparing the forthcoming Contagion: Revised Edition, it might be months if not years before either one of us could dedicate the effort needed to write a novel. Then it occurred to me that if he and I had developed dozens of characters and story ideas in this world, then surely other writers would easily be able to come up with a few of their own. By its nature as a tabletop roleplaying game, Contagion is conducive to different styles of storytelling connected by the larger framework of a cohesive setting. So the idea to pursue a short fiction anthology, soliciting several different writers grew from there.
The Nexus: Well that’s an interesting way to get more material out quickly. Can you say how closely the stories in the anthology hold to the source material?
Travis: I was actually amazed at how faithful the authors were to the source material. Everyone was very interested in making sure that their story adhered to the larger setting. I provided a master setting document that included a brief history of the setting, descriptions of various races and character classes, and some of the organizations already detailed in source material. There were several authors that corresponded with me repeatedly while developing their stories to make sure that the concepts and execution fit the setting. A few authors created new and unique setting elements for their own stories, I basically let them run with their ideas, so long as nothing presented in the stories contradicted previously established setting elements.
The Nexus: And just out of curiosity, where does the name Contagion come from/fit in? When I hear that name, I picture a “zombie world” or some such thing, rather than a war between Heaven and Hell?
Travis: The name “Contagion” is a reference to a mystical law that everything in the universe is bound together by a mystical force. Every angel, demon, human, and Hellspawn is tapped into the universal energy that God drew upon to create the universe.
Supernatural entities manipulate these energies to produce magical abilities.
Because of the nature of this ever-present force, magical sympathies occur. Like attracts like on a mystical level. Similar creatures are drawn together by this unseen force. This principle also dictates that when two creatures interact, they become loosely connected by sympathetic bonds. As a result, humans who delve into the supernatural become “tainted” with this energy, inadvertently attracting more attention from supernatural entities. This becomes a slippery slope, where the further a human delves into the mysteries of the setting, the more often mysterious beings seek out that human.
Every creature has some potential to tap these forces. In the upcoming Contagion: Revised Edition, we have included a system for “Contagion points.” These Contagion points can be spent to assist the character in various ways, such as shaking off condition modifiers for a brief time, or resisting supernatural influence.
The Nexus: So with all this background information driving these stories how easy will it be for a newcomer to jump into this book? Will they need any background info or is there going to be Prologue explaining the world?
Travis: One of the common themes in the anthology is discovery. About two thirds of the stories detail a mundane human being introduced to supernatural elements. As the characters involved learn about their world, so does the reader. This was a pure coincidence, and I have to credit the authors involved. When I solicited writers for this book, I had a very broad theme in mind. The only requirement was that the stories fit into the larger setting as a whole. The anthology was to be a collection of snapshots of the world of Contagion. It was the individual authors who sort of rallied around the concept of introducing characters to this larger world. I think they pulled it of masterfully.
It is also important to mention that, while Contagion is about the War between Heaven and Hell, there are many subtler setting elements in play. An individual vampire, for example may have no involvement in this conflict. It’s entirely likely that he or she may be entirely unaware of the War. The War presents a theme of conflict between good and evil, but not every story told in the world of Contagion needs to be about grand battles. I feel that the best stories are those of personal conflict and horror. This is where the setting truly shines.
The Nexus: Well since we’re talking about the writers and we just happen to have one sitting here with us, tell us a bit about how you gathered all these writers together. And Chris, how did you begin the process of getting involved with this project?
Travis: A few of the writers involved are Aegis Studios veterans, having worked on previous game material. Cathleen Stark has done some writing for us in the past, and ssg was the art director for the entire Contagion line for about a year and a half. Bo McGuffee came highly recommended by another one of our freelancers.
The rest of the writers responded to an advertisement I ran in the talent search at Digital Webbing. I ran the ad last spring and received about sixty responses. I asked the prospective writers to send me a story pitch based on a very loose description of the setting. I selected about twenty of these pitches for first drafts, and as the process went on, I was able to narrow the book down to thirteen stories.
Chris: I usually make it a point to check Digital Webbing’s Talent Classified section every day or so. There are always interesting prospects for collaboration with writers, artists, or other likeminded creators. While I’ve been working on getting several creative projects published, the chance to work within someone else’s world seemed like a fantastic opportunity.
Once Mr. Legge sent out the source material I was sold on the world of Contagion. A war between Heaven and Hell is an excellent setting for a writer to have a chance to run wild in. An interesting world is one of the best things a writer can ask for. If the world is already there you can concentrate on characters and telling a good story within the already created world. A number of ideas came to me immediately, and I did my best to refine one into a solid one-page pitch. Thankfully, Mr. Legge liked my pitch and offered some excellent guidance along the way to ensure my story fit in the world of Contagion, and was the best piece it could be.
The Nexus: Travis, you said you narrowed the applicants down from sixty to twenty (for the first draft). I’m sure any writers reading this are curious as to how you went about choosing the ones you did for consideration. Were you looking for style, correct grammar use, or something else? Chris, considering your story was chosen amongst so many others, what do you think about your proposal, or the way you made your proposal, made it stand out?
Travis: My main criterion for selecting a story was simply the strength of the pitch. When I asked the prospective writers to send me a one-page pitch it was sort of a two-fold test. Above all, the story needed to be good and interesting. There needed to be something conceptually that reached out and grabbed me. There was no forethought as much as me sitting down and saying “I need this type of story” or, “I do not want that type of story”. I just kind of let my personal taste be my guide.
The other deciding factor was the write’s ability to sell the pitch in one-page. If you can tell me just enough about a story to make me want to go read it in less than one page, then you are a good writer. The pitch had to be concise and catchy.
Chris: Before writing the pitch I became acquainted with the source material. I figured a good way to get bounced out of consideration early was to write a pitch that didn’t integrate into the world of Contagion. Once I had an idea of Contagion’s world I thought about the story I wanted to tell. I really wanted an everyday setting with seemingly normal people involved in the war. Since I’m a teacher, setting my story in a school seemed to have interesting possibilities. I can’t think of a more horrific place for a battle between Heaven and Hell to break out than a classroom.
Once I decided on the school setting the story came together in my mind quickly. First, I wrote down several things I wanted to happen in my story. These were essentially the high points, A to B to C, and so on. Then I came up with the most interesting characters I could. With the main elements in mind, I wrote a rough draft of my one-page pitch that laid out the complete story beginning to end. I refined the draft several times and added as many elements as possible. The pitch ended up containing a very short story without any dialogue.
Once I was fairly confident in the pitch I polished it. There were four things I wanted to be certain of with the pitch. First, it was well written. Second, I told a good story. Third, the characters were interesting. Finally, I had a handle on the world of Contagion and my story was firmly involved in that world.
Then I sent my pitch out and held my breath.
The Nexus: Well, it looks as though your plan succeeded, Chris. Without giving away the farm can you tell us a bit more about your story?
Chris: As I mentioned above, my story takes place in an elementary school. The story focuses on a boy, Sylvan, whose father is deeply involved with the war between Heaven and Hell. Sylvan is moved to a new school in New York City following a massacre at his old school. Sylvan finds no relief. He is soon plunged back into the War when he’s confronted with a classmate named Cale who is batting for the other team. While the elements of the War play a big part in the storyline, I did my best to make Sylvan as real as possible. I wanted the readers to see Sylvan as a relatively normal pre-teen with similar likes, dislikes, and hobbies. Sylvan carries out the more mundane aspects of his life while at the same time fighting for his very existence. Hopefully, I’ve succeeded in placing the reader squarely in Sylvan’s shoes as he rides the highs and lows of a life impacted by the War.
The Nexus: Same question to you, Travis. Can you give us a taste of the various stories in the collection so we can get a feel of what to expect?
Travis: There are thirteen stories in the anthology, each granting a unique perspective on Contagion. Meditations of a Would-be Monster Hunter is writer ssg’s look inside the mind of a normal person confronted with monsters. He explores how someone might react after discovering that there are horrible, inhuman creatures that stalk the night.
Karma is actually an extension of fiction that originally appeared in the Contagion sourcebook Adoration of the Magi. It’s a cautionary tale about the dangers of curiosity and the magical principle that whatever you send out, you get back times three.
Somewhere South of Heaven is Chris Pisano and Brian Koscienski’s Lovecraftian tale of a man victimized by forces beyond his comprehension. The story captures the sheer horror of a rational, educated man dealing with beings that defy all reason.
Dargoni is Royal McGraw’s tale of a prizefighter on his way to the bottom, who gets dragged into the War for simply trying to look out for a friend. In Contagion friendship can sometimes be costly, as McGraw illustrates with this story.
The Inauguration is Cathleen Stark’s tale of political intrigue and betrayal among factions of power hungry vampires. Themes of romance and loyalty are explored through the eyes of immortal predators.
This House for Sale by MaGnUs brings the War into a realm I had honestly never considered while designing the game: real estate. Land itself can become a commodity and a weapon in this creative tale.
Little Rabbit by Kenneth Mack shows that the Horrors of Contagion can reach anyone, anywhere. Even the wealthy and successful are not immune to the depredations of Hellspawn.
Touched by Luke Pierce introduces a new conspiracy at work in the shadows of Contagion. The Order of St. Michael fights to cleanse the world of demonic influence. In this story, one of their prominent agents is forced to question her perceptions and her faith after a dying demon plants seeds of doubt in her mind.
Puzzle Pieces by Anthony Andora is a portrait of the birth of a Slayer. This story shows that even those chosen as soldiers in God’s army are not insulated from very personal horror. Many Slayers confront new and strange monsters frequently, but what if the monster is someone you love?
All Things Are Relative by Vernon “Bo” McGuffee II is an exploration of different points of view. A history professor who teaches her class about moral objectivity becomes a victim of her own lesson.
School Maze, Chris Delloiacono’s story of children dragged into the War, shows the high cost of allegiances, and how the sins of the father are truly visited upon the son.
The Bastard by C.T. Gerow delves into the dark underground of London. A group of Vagrants assemble a small army to root out evil influences, and a shadowy killer learns some horrific truths about himself.
Mother, the final tale in the book, is about family loyalty. Brianna, the first elf, learns that her son, Caleb, has fallen into the grasp of a demon. With the help of Caleb’s father, she follows a trail of clues that leads her to a terrible cult in Romania in search of her son.
So as you can see, it’s a pretty diverse set of stories we’ve put together here. I’m very pleased with the final product, and I believe the reader will be pleased as well.
The Nexus: Well, before we give away the entire book, do either of you have anything you want to add before we go?
Travis: I would just like to take this opportunity to thank the authors involved for their excellent work. I am extremely proud of these stories, and I believe that the audience will love this book. I look forward to hearing from the fans, and I encourage everybody to stop by our website, sign up for free, and leave your opinions on our forums. I look forward to hearing what promises to be a very positive reaction from our readers.
Also, for any aspiring writers or artists out there, we’re always looking for new talent around the Studios, so feel free to drop us a line.
Chris: I am truly excited to see my first published work being released this week. Hopefully readers will enjoy the story. I am anxious to hear feedback whether positive or negative (feel free to send any comments to me at: email@example.com.) It’s a bit nerve wracking waiting for reaction to the book, but I’m confident people will like all of the stories in Contagion: War Stories.
Before I give up the floor, I want to say thank you to Mr. Legge for seeing promise in my pitch and helping usher my story along every step of the way. The story itself didn’t change much from my initial pitch to the final story, but the writing was enhanced every step of the way through Mr. Legge’s excellent editorial comments.
I also want to say thanks to you, Daron. Not only for conducting this interview, but more so for hiring me nearly three years ago. Working for the Nexus has opened a lot of doors for me. You’re a big reason that I’m here right now.
And a few final thanks go out to my parents, grandmother, and my girlfriend, Patti, for always believing in me.
That’s the end of the mushiness. I swear.
The Nexus: Thanks for taking the time to do this, good luck to both of you.
Travis: Thanks for having me. I hope to speak with you again in the near future.
Chris: It’s been a lot of fun to be on the other side of the interview questions. Thanks again, Daron!
Contagion: War Stories is available now at Lulu.com for the very reasonable price of only $10.99. Do yourself a favor and check it out!