In 1981 I partnered with the dear, departed Don Rapp to create a company called Paranoia Press. We made supplements for the Game Designers’ Workshop (Illinois, not GW from England). science-fiction roleplaying game Traveller. (Paper and pencil, not a video game, kiddies.) The company was named for the fact that we made Marc Miller, one of the game’s creators, paranoid. Or so Don told me.
We specialized in new character generation systems for the game, and had already done a couple when I had the idea to do a spy/espionage kind of thing. I didn’t know I’d be doing almost all the work on this little production.
I worked for a printer in the art department (actually, I WAS the art department) so I did the layout, artwork, typesetting, and pasteup. (If you don’t know what pasteup was… oh, never mind.) For this book, I also shot the negatives, stripped them, and burned the plates. As it turned out, I did even more than I bargained for, but more on that later.
The name of the product was influenced by my friend Steve Vice, who was staying with us at the time (this was just before my son Brian was born). He had worked for an organization called SOG (Studies and Observations Group) in military service in Vietnam. (You can see their cool skull logo at the link, which shows you they do more than study and observe). Inspired by his tales of plans to drop plague ridden rats on Hanoi, I christened my new project SORAG.
The look of the product was the result of a book I received from another friend at the time, Robin Rhodes. Also with the military, he was stationed at Fort Campbell. He knew I was interested in all things military so he gave me some old manuals of all kinds; tactical dissertations, weapons operations, even a pilot’s manual for an F-4 Phantom jet fighter (this is where I got the term “canopy knife,” which I’ll explain another time). One of these books was about operations in Vietnam. It had a red cover with black lettering, presumably because that was impossible to photocopy at the time. I guess. Anyway, much of the look of the cover of SORAG came from this book. It looked so evil and secret and angry.
Obtaining that red cover stock was very difficult. It had to be special ordered from the paper company. Even the people in the print shop oohed and ahhed when it came in. (At the time, we owned not one but two red cars, and LWC and I have a fascination with red that continues to this day.) Needless to say, the book was quite striking on a game store’s shelf. It would be even today, I think.
I wanted the book ready for Gen Con, which was coming up soon. It had been printed, but not cut, folded, stapled or packaged. When I told the print shop workers that I needed it this weekend, they said, “I’ll show you how to use the folder and stapler.” So in addition to all the other work I’d done to produce the book, I did all the finishing work for about 500 copies. Everything but print the damned thing. And I took it to the convention, and it was a big hit.
Some other fun facts about this book: I included on page one “pronounced SOAR-ag” when somebody in playtesting called it SO-RAG. That had to stop immediately.
The idea of exactly what the Zhodani alien race in Traveller was just beginning to be properly formed. You’ll find that my book describes an intelligence organization much like the CIA or Army Special Forces. Not a lot of psionic telepathic alien flavor there. In fact, I had named a character “Colonel Flagg” (a tribute to M*A*S*H) and GDW made me change that to “General Preshezdanratl.” Zhodani names were always a mouthful.
The credits for the book are what I called “movie credits” with my name prominently featured at the top in larger type. Look, I’m proud of the work we did, but the term “vanity press” is not far off.
I credited one of the illustrations to “Art Clip.” Of course, that was clip art.
SORAG is dedicated to my dear friend Dan Hillen (also unfortunately departed), and I’m proud to have his name on one of my most favorite projects. Dan got me into hobby gaming. Period. He sat me down with another friend to play Stalingrad (“Play one of these board games, you’ll like it”) and told me to run D&D (not T&T) when I moved to Fort Wayne. My many many hours of running and playing paper roleplaying games with him (after I returned to St. Louis) was “Game Designer 101.” That’s where I learned about game balance and how to make the players happy.