Interview: Rick Heinz – The Red Opera: The Last Days of the Warlock

This week, I interviewed author Rick Heinz. An electrician by day and a geek by night, Rick has a deep interest in politics, symbology, and countless caffeine-driven hours spent playing Diablo. He is the author of the sprawling Urban Fantasy series The Seventh Age with The Seventh Age: Dawn being the first book. Other bylines can be found at Geek & Sundry, Nerdist, Gilding Light, and Apotheosis Studios about storytelling and RPG games!

Rick’s latest project is a collaboration between a band and writers to create a D&D campaign called The Red Opera: The Last Days of the Warlock.

1. The Red Opera RPG is a collaboration between a band and writers, developing an RPG inspired by the band’s music. Tell me more about Last Days of the Warlock and how that collaboration happened. 

Satanic Panic and the history of Dungeons and Dragons and metal music certainly paved the way. Remember those pamphlets we would get outside of conventions with Christian comics? Warning us that playing roleplaying games and listening to Black Sabbath would lead us into the arms of Satan himself? For me personally, that was a better ad to check out Advanced D&D more than the cheesy 80’s commercials that aired at the time (I am unabashedly, a member of the Oregon Trail generation). 

So when DiAmorte released their album ‘The Red Opera’; and I was hanging out with Paul Allender (Cradle of Filth) and Drake Mefessta (DiAmorte) we were talking about a love of RPG’s. On the fly, I suggested turning their album opera into a full-fledged campaign. After all, they had an instrumental version I could storytell too; and there was a skeleton plot that stitched the whole album together: An insane king embraces dark forces to wreak havoc on a world he once loved. The band loved the idea and gave me creative control to fill in the gaps and flesh it out. 

What spawned was a 76,000+ word 10-act epic journey through the Shadelands where player choice dominates the narrative. Pulling expertise from 20-years of storytelling, Last Days of the Warlock is built for all types of gamemasters and enthusiasts. Warlocks (one of the many playable classes), dominate the Shadelands by making deals with otherworldly entities for power. For the Accursed King, he’s made many deals, and the cost to pay those debts is becoming unwieldy. With this core concept in mind: the Players will take part in the epic journey and decide the final outcome of the Red Opera, rather than the scripted album results.

2. The Red Opera is launching a Kickstarter soon. Where can people go to find out more information and support the project?

Apotheosis Studios is the publisher bringing this project to life, and they’ve got a mailing list where you can see early art-production and layout. The Kickstarter page is the best way. The book will be fully finished when we go live in September. Following the pre-launch page is the absolute best way (and it really helps us). Once it goes live, we’ve got some awesome stuff planned for tiers. Leather-bound hardcovers, or even tiers that invite you to collaborate with us to add your characters and sidequests into the official canon!

3. Tell us more about the story, setting, and functionality of the game. 

The Red Opera: Last Days of the Warlock is an extensive, player-driven campaign designed for 5th edition. Centered upon the oft-overlooked and much-misunderstood class: Warlocks. Does this mean, you wonder, that all the players must be Warlocks and serve infernal and aberrative masters to partake of the story’s wonders? No, no… certainly not. All are welcome in the Shadelands, the all-new realm where events unfold. For anyone in the Shadelands, be they adventurer, noblemen, or a thief can strike a temporary bargain with one of its many Patrons. Bring along your existing higher-tier campaign and characters following a mysterious trail, or wander the Shadelands as entirely fresh characters experiencing adventure for the first time. The Red Opera can easily be scaled to suit all tiers of play, and each of the ten acts contained within offer boundless opportunities for sidequests and improvisation. The full book will contain all the setting information, tips for storytelling, encounter stats, items, and in-depth storyteller tools that allow you to custom weave this epic tale for your own group. 

4. How do you approach worldbuilding? 

I approach worldbuilding by creating a large sandbox to play in myself. One of my defining storyteller philosophies is and has always been ‘player-first’. That includes me. Either in my novels or in the campaigns I write, I want to make sure I find it a fun sandbox for me too! This means I usually start off with a lot of what-if scenarios. “What if demons suddenly appeared in Chicago?” or “What if the veil between worlds ran thin.”

After I’ve got an initial hook, I spend a ton of time building soundtracks and collecting character art for inspiration. Then I actually just write out a skeleton tree and launch from there. I’ve never been the one to fill in every detail and blank space, rather letting those happen naturally when the spotlight is shined on that nook within the sandbox. Players have a tendency to roam, so, I’ve learned years ago to paint with big brush strokes until you really need that pencil. Even in novels, most writers will tell you that their characters take on a life of their own and do things you don’t want them to do. We are kind of insane in that way. I chewed out one of my own characters for getting themselves killed when the outline didn’t have that scripted (yes, I’m fully aware that this chewing out took place entirely in my own head). 

5. You’re the author of The Seventh Age series. Are you working on more installments? 

Absolutely! After the first book did so well, I wrote a short story (and had an audiobook!) for one of everyone’s favorite characters, Akira. A quick, short, vicious tale of vampiric revenge called Pics Pl0x. If you’ve ever suffered harassment and the pain of online trolls, Akira decides to thin the herd. (I actually give away the audiobook for free, and if you want one, email me). 

The main sequel however is called: Seventh Age: Dystopia. “Magic returns. Companies brand it. New abilities can be yours for one small payment… just sign on the dotted line.” It’s already fully written and I’m in the midst of Developmental Edits now. The copy editor is just waiting for me to finish and then we are off to publication! I hope to have it out later this year in 2020. 

Art from Seventh Age: Dystopia

6. Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome or work around it?  

I think I’ve been lucky enough to never experience writer’s block. I know that this superpower comes entirely from the fact I’m a gamer and storyteller. There’s so much inspiration to draw upon from past characters I’ve played or campaigns that I’ve run, so I’ve never sat the computer and not known what I would be writing about. 

7. What early experience taught you writing had power? 

Robert Jordan’s death. I was the biggest fan of the Wheel of Time series in high-school, and to this day; the combination of Ramstein and Book Nine hits me right in the feels. When Robert passed away and the book series was left in limbo for a time, I swore off reading anything that wasn’t completed. The characters and moments lived with me for many years and shaped a healthy amount of my interests both growing up and as an adult. Once I started writing myself, I found it entirely captivating to get lost in my own worlds and create something permanent.

I helped co-write Testificate Man and the Quest to Be More Interesting with my son and another author (Scott Kenemore). To this day, that entire experience of drafting the Minecraft novel and building the worlds with my son is something that I will take to the grave as a fond memory. Storytelling creates deep bonds and emotional connections, and the world is a better place because of it. 

8. Do you have any favorite writing craft/reference books?

Does Chuck Wendig’s Twitter feed count? I’ll admit that I don’t have a masters or formal education in creative writing. It started off as a passion project for me, so a lot of my advice and guides have been other professionals and listening to their advice. Stephen King’s On Writing and Neil Gamien’s master class were critical for me. Largely though, I take the advice of other writers who I think drop some real truth bombs. 

9. What’s your favorite and least favorite part of the publishing journey? Any advice for writers starting their publishing journey? 

Hands down: I love getting the art. Cover arts or character art, it doesn’t matter. I absolutely love having a written manuscript and watch artists bring those characters to life. Because I work the convention circuit, I’ve collected a wide-array of art based on the worlds I’ve created. I know not every author is as visual as I am, but this plays a very large role for me. I do also love editing. Send me that manuscript filled with red-lines. I take glee in enhancing and tightening up my insane ramblings. 

What I dislike about the publishing process is the sheer amount of networking and self-promotion. I know, I know, this entire blog post is basically that! The truth is, and I think many authors can agree: it is hard work maintaining all the stuff that isn’t writing. I’m terrible at keeping my Twitter and Discord updated, and I failed at the start by not having a mailing list. I’m really strong at the generation of content, and I can rock at conventions–but there is a lot of social legwork that leads up to that. So my advice to other writers starting their publishing journey is to build those network connections early. Help promote other writers, and they will help you in turn. They aren’t your competition, they are your biggest allies. 

10. If you could give advice to other aspiring authors or game makers, what would it be? 

Finish your projects before coming to other people. At conventions, one of the biggest mistakes that happen is people will come up and ask for advice. “I’ve got this idea for a campaign,” or “I want to write this novel,” and there is nothing that we can do with that. At some point, someone has to put the work in and write a complete first draft. Maybe when we are famous we can go to a publisher or someone and say: “Hey, here’s my idea” and they’ll listen (full disclosure: I don’t even know if that will work). 

Once you have a first draft done, absolutely. Go nuts. Share it. Talk with other people. As for feedback or more. Right now is a good time for RPG books and novels, but you can’t partner up or gain any traction if you are just starting out without something finished first. You’ll end up rewriting whatever you did nine times over anyway, but having that first draft done is critical.

If you’re interested in The Red Opera: The Last Days of the Warlock, be sure to get on the list of people to be notified once the Kickstarter goes live!

Be sure to follow Rick on Twitter and Goodreads, and check out his book Seventh Age: Dawn and add it to your Goodreads TBR!

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