Interview with Omer Joel

Omer Joel

Fantasy/Sci-Fi Focus (FSF): Hi Omer, how have you been? How have the last couple of years of global insanity been treating you?

Omer Joel (OJ): I am lucky to have a stable job, performed from home, in translation, editing, and content writing, as well as my tabletop role-playing game work. This means that very little changed for me during the COVID -19 pandemic, and I stayed in a stable economic and social situation. I am used to working from home, so, I faced very little job-related and social discomfort due to lockdowns and quarantines.

My wife, however, did lose her job in customer relations for a local gym chain (the chain collapsed due to COVID-19 restrictions) and is now looking for a new one.

FSF: I’m sorry to hear that. It’s been rough all over, but as someone that also works from home, I agree it hasn’t affected me at all.

So let’s start with the background. Tell me about Stellagama Publishing. How did you get involved in tabletop gaming?

OG: I began gaming in 1997 when my friends got their hands on a second-hand copy of the AD&D 2E player’s handbook and monster manual, as well as a photocopied version of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Back then in Israel, getting these books was not easy, as international e-commerce was in its infancy and the local publisher went bankrupt sometime earlier.

It was extreme fun – with merely three books and some old dice, we had wonderful, wonderful adventures for years.

In 2000, I found a copy of the local translation of Shadowrun 2E (best edition of Shadowrun to my opinion!), and soon began buying its expansions from a local vendor. The Classic Traveller “Books 0-8 In One Volume” reprint was added as a bonus to one purchase, and I was hooked!

Fast forward to 2011, when I published my first tabletop RPG book, Outer Veil, as a licensed 3rd party Traveller book through Spica Publishing. It was, in retrospect, quite flawed, but it was very well-received, and encouraged me to start writing more professional RPG books.

I founded Stellagama Publishing in 2016 to publish 3rd party RPG books for a few rulesets, including Traveller. When the Traveller 3rd party license was cancelled, we moved on to the open-source Cepheus Engine and never looked back…

FSF: That’s awesome. I know that many members of our community have enjoyed and continue to enjoy table top and video RPGs. What I’m wondering is if you read a lot of Fantasy and sci-fi novels that also enhanced your interest

OG: I read a lot of what might be considered “classics” nowadays. Niven, Pournelle, Clarke, Heinlein. Tolkien and Le Guin in fantasy.

Later, I went back to even earlier classics, such as Lovecraft, Howard, and Burroughs. So, my sci-fi and fantasy “education” is pretty “old school”.

I did read and enjoy Jordan’s Wheel of Time, but I do enjoy sword & sorcery more than epic fantasy. I also think that sword & sorcery is very gamable. Wandering hero who gets into adventurous messes without a big central Main Quest.

FSF: Looking through the expansive Cepheus Deluxe game, it seems incredibly well thought out and conceived. What do you find to be the biggest obstacle in putting games like this together?

OG: There is a distance, of lightyears, between the initial idea and the finished game. Rough ideas, even if they work perfectly at my table, are not necessarily effective for other tables. So, editing and a lot of playtesting are in order. I can easily invent rules and rule systems – but, again, this rough gem needs a lot of cutting, which is the most time-consuming stage in game design.

FSF: Can you tell our community about the story of Cepheus? Often the story is just as important to gamers as the mechanics.

OG: The Mongoose Publishing version of Traveller had an excellent third-party license. This created a community of third-party publishers making great stuff for Traveller. When the 2nd edition of Mongoose Traveller was released, Mongoose terminated that license and moved to a much less publisher-friendly license. Thus, publishers used the old Mongoose 2d6 sci-fi Standard Reference Document, which is “open source” (Open Game License”), to create a ruleset compatible with the old 3rd-party material, which grew into the Cepheus Engine. The original Cepheus Engine SRD, by Samardan Press, was pretty close to the Mongoose “open rules”. My old Cepheus Light, and now Cepheus Deluxe, moved somewhat away from this origin to provide a sleeker and smoother play experience.

FSF: How important is participant interaction to you as a creator, and what is your preferred method of networking with your users?

OG: Participant interaction is crucial to my game design practices. I want to write games that actually get played at people’s tables. Which means that I have to listen to my player base. This usually comes from social media, though blogs are also important. I am very active on relevant Discord, Facebook, and MeWe channels, always open to customer questions and feedback.

FSF: What takes up your time when you’re not working on games?

OG: As I noted before, I have a “day job” in translation, editing, and content writing. I also enjoy cooking, reading, playing video games, and herping (going out to look for cool reptiles and amphibians). I am the cook at home, cooking varied food for me and my wife, and, last but not least, I spend time with my cat, Saki.

FSF: So let us all know what you have planned for the immediate future and what we can expect from you over the next year.

OG: We are working on several more books, including expansions for our Barbaric! lightweight sword & sorcery ruleset; a new, near-future, near-Earth cyberpunk-ish setting for Cepheus Deluxe, called Cradle of Stars; a renewed edition of our These Stars Are Ours! space-opera setting for Cepheus Deluxe, and genre mods for Cepheus Deluxe

FSF: I like to end all of my interviews with this question. What one piece of advice can you offer to new and aspiring writers and game creators?

OG: My advice would be to get an honest person to edit your book. I learned much from my editors, and they made my books much more awesome than the original ideas. Learn how to listen to constructive criticism, but do not fear to make mistakes; you learn from them.

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