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  • Interviews
  • Scion of the Würstreich - An Interview with Sean Äaberg

Scion of the Würstreich - An Interview with Sean Äaberg

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Scion of the Würstreich - An interview with Sean Äaberg

Game Information

Publisher
Designer
There Will Be Games

From the pits of the punk rock explosion to the mean streets of the Würstreich, Goblinko mastermind Sean Äaberg has been there, feathered quill in studded-wristband hand. Instantly recognisable, his heavy linework style leaps out at the viewer in brimstone jets of ultraviolet excess, a heady, addictive mix of xeroxed DIY bones wrapped in blue sunshine skin.

Most recently lauded for his work on Dungeon Degenerates: Hand of Doom, together with game designer Eric Radey he conceived a peak Amerithrash world-crawler that turned genre conventions on their heads and shook them ‘til their pockets emptied, looting them of archetypal staples whilst smearing day-glo paint, blood and lube atop the boring bits.

It couldn’t fail to turn heads.  

Upon opening the box it becomes strikingly clear that the sinister climes of the Würstreich were conjured fully-formed and spoke of a lifetime’s percolation, of stink and inspiration bubbling and brewing in cerebral cauldrons as a style was minted longform and lingering…

“I started drawing when I was very young, like before I could read. I decided to be an artist whenever it was that I understood what being an artist meant.

As with now, my influences are what I liked, so as a kid my favourite stuff was in comic books and honestly, whatever I found visually stimulating. Long-time contenders are the films of Terry Gilliam, Ralph Bakshi & Ridley Scott, comics like Groo, the early Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the first wave of translated manga like Akira, Nausicaa, Mai the Psychic Girl & Battle Angel Alita. Gary Panter influenced me greatly via Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, 80’s Games Workshop stuff was perfect, and I like some ‘proper artists’ too like Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, Pieter Brueghel & Hieronymous Bosch”.

From this stylistically disparate but thematically aligned palette something transformative was triggered, but the clarion three-chord call of Punk Rock as a redemptive agent of reinvention was also blaring its trebly d-beat lure…

“I think it all started to click when I was a teenager and I realized that I could become the person I wanted to be, and art was tied into that completely. Punk was the prism that I used to view the world through, and that has just evolved into me acknowledging that I have my own, weird way of looking at the world. For a while now I’ve been able to find inspiration in the real world, just from the weird way that I look at things, which is cool because my own brain is acting as the primary agent, as opposed to seeing this through someone else’s filter. Punk meant freedom and some kind of useful, tribal conformity to me when I needed it most. The incorporation of Heavy Rock & Heavy Metal into the aesthetic was personal taste. The whole package has attracted me consistently, so it was the fashion, the way of life, the music, the zines and the shops all working their magic through the fans, all of which are totally connected to a time and a place that has now passed as far as I can see”.

Dungeon Degenerates

If music and art offered an escape and sense of identity, then surely gaming wasn’t far behind in that formative triumvirate, particularly in those heady early days when it still carried the carrion aroma of the forbidden, as though swung from an ornate Gygaxian censer.

“I think I “played” AD&D before I could even read and was very attracted to the gem-like dice in a plush bag. Because of that I started tracking it from a young age, Satanic-Panic and all. I think the early art on the game book and module covers really attracted me. I started playing whatever I could get my hands on, but you’ve got to understand, video games were evolving A LOT at this time, so I was attracted to those very much. I think the first RPG style games I played and got into were Bard’s Tale, Zork I & Hack, all of which I played on the computer. Later I got into actual pencil & paper RPGs like D&D which was quickly superseded by the Palladium games, starting with TMNT and ending up with Robotech but evolving into my own home-baked version. Then I found Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay & the Call of Cthulhu RPG which both really resonated with my hopeless worldview at the time.

Dungeon Degenerates was my first professional foray into gaming, but it did draw a lot from role playing as a pre-teen with my own home-baked rule systems. I came up with the idea for Dungeon Degenerates in 2007 or so, with the same intention as PORK magazine, which was to synthesize what came before and drag it through the gutter with the audience included. We decided to release the series as a battling card game and texted Eric Radey who ran with the ball and came back with a board game. Eric is a childhood friend who I used to drink and game with and played guitar for my teenage Punk band “The Masked Men”

Sean Aaberg

Alongside the dirty denim battlevest smears, Sean’s style, particularly his embrace of such wild, high-contrast colour schemes speaks of psilocybin and psychonautical inner-space diving, recalling the Blue Meanies as strongly as it does Blue Cheer.

“I myself like the drug culture more than drugs themselves, but I’ve smoked a lot of weed and more recently have done a lot of mushrooms which have all added to my oeuvre. To quote Dali, “I don’t do drugs, I AM drugs.” That said, Zane Kesey (the inheritor of the Kesey lysergic dynasty) asked me to do some blotter paper with him recently”.

Emerging during a particularly fecund period for the gaming underground, with Dungeon Degenerates, Sean and Goblinko joined a growing cadre of DIY publishers with a countercultural punk/metal aesthetic and mindset infiltrating the tabletop community that includes the likes of the Emperors of Eternal Evil, Craft Fair Games, and the swelling ranks of the Old School Renaissance.

“Unfortunately I’m too busy to play most games myself, but I have noted Cave Evil by Blast City Games, the Wasteman series from our sculptor Jason Fairclough and our friends in Ghoul released a board game and record called “Dungeon Bastards”.

Dungeon Breakout

That work ethic has borne poisoned fruit in more projects, like the recently unleashed retrospective art compendium Acid Vomit, and the forthcoming successfully-kickstarted Dungeon Degenerates spin-off ‘Dungeon Breakout’.

“Dungeon Breakout is our fast and easy party game to get people in the door for whom Dungeon Degenerates is too heavy and too much of a time commitment. It’s more like the games I play with my family and is designed by my wife Katie. Having a supportive wife and partner in Katie Äaberg has been an undeniable necessity for all this, because I was ready to die or go to jail before we hooked up. She saved my life again when I had this stroke in September of 2018. Acid Vomit! is our first book and my first art book, acting as an introduction to my work and covering the last twenty-plus years or so of my work up until the stroke I suffered in late September of 2018. It’s 200+ full-colour pages, hard covered and people are loving it.

Despite recovering from a stroke that has cruelly forced him to re-evaluate and re-approach his artistic process, whilst being confined to lockdown as the world continues to churn beneath the Covid Cloud, Sean is busy making time.  As an artist he continues to experiment, embracing the digital medium as necessity ferries a transition from inks to bits, and hurling daggers at a wall of ideas that are sure to unfurl into fully blown abominations.

Me and Katie are having a meeting for what’s next with Dungeon Breakout soon, we’re talking about a fantasy chess set, the Adventures of Pipu board game and this Halloween book that we’ve talked about doing for ages. Also, I’ve been working on the direct sequel to DUNGEON DEGENERATES: HAND OF DOOM, and I’m working on a new digital collage style to possibly go along with it.

It’s wild. I feel like I’m handling the quarantine just fine, but I am concerned about the strain it is having on others, particularly my wife and kids. I have put my imagination to work on the various Goblinko projects and honestly have no idea what things will be like after this and have no interest in positing possible outcomes. Obviously, I want things to be better in the future and I hope people learn some crucial lessons from this, but I am going to be ready for whatever happens”.

A legion of degenerates lies waiting.

Check out Dungeon Breakout here.

Pre-Order Acid Vomit here.

Get the original Dungeon Degenerates, Pork Magazine, and more filth here.

There Will Be Games

Photos

Scion of the Würstreich - An interview with Sean Äaberg
Scion of the Würstreich - An interview with Sean Äaberg
Scion of the Würstreich - An interview with Sean Äaberg
Scion of the Würstreich - An interview with Sean Äaberg
Scion of the Würstreich - An interview with Sean Äaberg
Scion of the Würstreich - An interview with Sean Äaberg
Scion of the Würstreich - An interview with Sean Äaberg
Scion of the Würstreich - An interview with Sean Äaberg
Scion of the Würstreich - An interview with Sean Äaberg
Scion of the Würstreich - An interview with Sean Äaberg
Andi Lennon (He/Him)
Associate Writer

Andi Lennon is Sydney based writer, musician and soap dodger. He graduated from Wizbang University with full honours and no teeth. When he isn't feeling conflicted about Morrissey he likes to play indie games with a dubious 80's aesthetic.

You can read more of his work by visiting Mongol Cult

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ChristopherMD's Avatar
ChristopherMD replied the topic: #310504 21 May 2020 11:45
Great interview!
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #310511 21 May 2020 13:09
Good stuff, thanks for this.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #310519 21 May 2020 17:40
Cheers guys, it was fun to do. Stay tuned for a chat with the Emperors of Eternal Evil soon.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #310520 21 May 2020 17:52
I think my favourite thing about Sean is that he totally looks like one of his drawings.
mc's Avatar
mc replied the topic: #310528 22 May 2020 08:32
great read again andi, cheers mate. d-beat and games eh, this is a one stop shop now.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #310529 22 May 2020 09:01
Oh man, if you're a Discharge guy you're gonna dig next week's review.
Cheers for reading!
mc's Avatar
mc replied the topic: #310546 22 May 2020 21:58
Awesome I'll look forward to it :) I was never the biggest fan going around but it was kind of hard to avoid back in the day - I never saw Discharge (although I did see the Varukers) but I must have seen about 50 clones I'd say, at least half of them all on the same bill more often than not haha.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #310548 22 May 2020 22:11
Haha the amount of bands that popped up with the 'Dis' prefix in their wake was kind of embarrassing hey. I'm more of a crasshead myself but my true heart lies with post punk. Joy Division, Bauhaus and the spikier end of the ouevre.
mc's Avatar
mc replied the topic: #310549 22 May 2020 23:25
Certainly more interesting overall :)

I'm always happy to give Crass a spin and Conflict were my favourite of that era I think.

Anyway - I've got to give these games a bit more of a look it would seem.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #310550 22 May 2020 23:35
There's a really cool undercurrent of punk spirit in certain corners of the tabletop scene. The DIY and zine factor is a particularly strong sign of the weird kinship they share. Then there's the likes of Bolt Thrower who were never shy about it. Dungeon Degenerates, although drawing from that well is more draped in denim. A gonzo airbrushed van blaring NWOBHM tapes. Which is awesome.
mc's Avatar
mc replied the topic: #310551 23 May 2020 01:16
Yeah, it's been fun coming across stuff like this. I've started to gravitate towards the print and play thing in particular which is perhaps not surprising.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #310552 23 May 2020 01:26
Yeah that's a whole other world of cool shit, especially on the more RPG side of the fence. Ink is always at a premium though. You're Sydney based right?
Pugnax555's Avatar
Pugnax555 replied the topic: #310561 23 May 2020 09:24
I love that picture of Sean holding the mini issue of Pork. If you're not familiar with it, Pork was tabloid-sized. So that picture makes him look fuggin enormous!
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #310563 23 May 2020 13:19
Dischange, Disrupt, Disfear, Disdis...LOL so many d-beat bands. Most of them are pretty good but you can’t beat Discharge. I love crust. Mob 47, Rattus, DROPDEAD, Siege, Doom, Amebix...good stuff. I was actually in a D-Beat band for about a minute. We had a song called “Pig Bastards”.

Stuff like what Goblinko, Emperors of Eternal Evil, and a handful of Publishers are doing -is- the punk rock of gaming right now. But like Andi said, it’s really in the TTRPG scene that things are just going off. I realized what was happening when o got Mothership...I was playing 5E at the time and here comes this little black and white zine with layout and graphic design that just blew all of the corporare product away. And it was daring- it doesn’t hold your hand, spell out what to do, or gives you tools and says “have fun!” It’s raw and singular. It was like hearing a punk for the first time. Later I got Deep Carbon Observatory and it was like hearing The Fall for the first time. OSE was like going back to the Stooges/Dolls/MC5/Velvets. Silent Titans is Beefheart meets Chrome meets Throbbing Gristle. DCC was like going back in time to that 1978 tour where Van Halen and The Ramones opened for Black Sabbath- atavistic and obnoxious.

Time and time again I’ve been blown away by a $10 RPG pamphlet or a PDF of a to the point where it’s all but knocked my interest in current board games (barring a couple of exceptions like the Prospero Hall games I love) to zero.

If you like like artful, innovative, and compelling games, 99.99% of today’s board games are a complete waste of time. The whole design paradigm has been co-opted by the demands of crowdfunding and sterile homogeneity. I’m thankful that folks like Sean, Nate Hayden, and Jim Felli are out there making board games that LOOK different and PLAY different with new concepts and damn-the-mainstream attitudes. The latest thing I’ve picked up is Super Blood Harvest. It’s a black book covered in glitter. It’s about space vampires. The book is all done in a CMYK psychedelic art style mixed with 0-bit video game typography. There are about four pages of actual rules. It’s singular- an art book as much as a game. And that inspires me and fired my imagination far more than whatever shit CMON or the other Kickstarter mills are pumping out.

Like that game, Sean’s work has vision. It’s an art piece. It inspires you with his aesthetics and approach. It is not the best game in its class. I would barely rank the design as “very good” if I’m being honest. There are bits of it I kind of hate. I’m not very interested in the new one at all. But because of its strong visuals and idiosyncratic approach, I value this game a lot more than than a brilliantly designed adventure game that checks all of the Asmodee corporate gaming checkboxes. It’s a little rough, a little raw, and crusty AF. But that is was makes it great.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #310565 23 May 2020 17:36
Haha yeah I have an issue, I like the newsprint it leaves on your thumbs as the inks bleed into the pulp. And yeah, it's massive!
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #310567 23 May 2020 17:59
Michael, do you still play? Lemme hear your shit. I have both post punk and a punk/deathrock outfits treading the boards. Been doing stuff since the tape trading days. Writing here feels a bit like an extension of my zines too. Deep Carbon observatory looks like a stellar adventure. Have you checked out Fire on the Velvet Horizon or Veins of the Earth? There's enough imagination in those things to derail any trope shackled party. Some of it is truly unsettling in the best possible way.
mc's Avatar
mc replied the topic: #310568 23 May 2020 18:07

Andi Lennon wrote: Yeah that's a whole other world of cool shit, especially on the more RPG side of the fence. Ink is always at a premium though. You're Sydney based right?


Not quite, I'm a decent arm's length, up the top of the mountains these days.

Yeah, my print jobs are done as cheaply and nastily as possible. They're mostly small games though, I'm not much of an RPG guy to be honest, even if I can appreciate what's going on with it presently with the whole DIY thing. A bit like all of that crust and grindcore and even the d-beat really, haha - attitudinally I was there, 100%,, but I was more likely to be listening to something else when I got home.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #310570 23 May 2020 18:39
It might be a midlife thing but i'm massively into the grind stuff i listened to as an early teen again at the moment. It's got a vitality that is infectious. Just blasting this stuff this morning:
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #310573 23 May 2020 20:14
Michael, do you still play? Lemme hear your shit. I have both post punk and a punk/deathrock outfits treading the boards. Been doing stuff since the tape trading days. Writing here feels a bit like an extension of my zines too. Deep Carbon observatory looks like a stellar adventure. Have you checked out Fire on the Velvet Horizon or Veins of the Earth? There's enough imagination in those things to derail any trope shackled party. Some of it is truly unsettling in the best possible way.

LOL sadly there are no tapes. I was in a couple of teen bands...mostly cover stuff we played at parties. We did an all Misfits show that was sort of a crowning glory. I also did this Bauhaus versus Joy Division thing with a band once. I did the whole Ian Curtis impression. Played a terrible impression of David J. The D-beat band was actually my best friend and my girlfriend’s dad, who was the quintessential 70s rock dude/drummer but he LOVED Discharge and all that. He learned the D-beat thing and we almost got to open for GBH at one point through a friend of a friend booking situation.

I don’t play much now- just pick up the bass to play Peter Hook licks or the Duck Tales theme on occasion.

Veins of the Earth is BRILLIANT. Like, mind expandingly brilliant. It’s almost literary. It’s just about caves. There’s a D100 table about rock types. A whole section on light sources. It takes the Underdark concept and makes it something more like an alien world. I hate that it is a LOFTP publication and has a minor Zak S. credit, but it is truly one of the best RPG books I’ve ever seen.

Fire on the Velvet Horizon is also great- it’s a completely fresh take on the Monster Manual concept. The Scrap Princess art is awesome- I know some folks don’t like it, but they can move right on to their Larry Elmore or Thomas Kincade art books. Reading it,
You can’t help but wonder why people are having all this discourse lately over Orcs...because why the hell is anyone running orcs when there are monsters like these you can draw on for inspiration?

That’s something I’ve come to realize about D&D monsters in general...why bother with giant weasels and goblins? The best monsters are the really weird original ones- Beholders, Mind Flayers, Displacer Beasts, Umber Hulks, etc.
dysjunct's Avatar
dysjunct replied the topic: #310574 23 May 2020 21:11
Worth mentioning is that the weird D&D monsters were invented because Gygax found a bag of goofy plastic monsters at a store one day and invented stats after the fact:

diterlizzi.com/essay/owlbears-rust-monsters-and-bulettes-oh-my/

Which is a fine lesson for anyone wanting to come up with fun adversaries. Weirdness first, stats later.

Edit: comparing Elmore to Kincaid is the sickest nerd burn of 2020 to date.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #310575 23 May 2020 21:17
Yeah the more I learn about the LotFP community the more I get alarm bells and awful rapey vibes. Similar disappointment with the recent Judges Guild bigotry coming to light. It sucks that kind of thing seems to infiltrate every scene at some point but the law of averages insists there are bound to be a small amount of assholes involved in everything. I was about to jump on the Frostbitten and Mutilated book when i learned that Zack Sabbath is basically a horrorshow and a garbage person so i can't in good conscience support it.

The coolest thing about Velvet Horizon et al is that not only are the creatures super interesting in and of themselves, but the act of incorporating them makes you reevaluate your entire campaign setting and play/narrative style. It leads down some unexpected paths and the fact they aren't signposted at every junction by decades of inherited tropes and archetypes means the players are discombobulated enough to step outside their comfort zones without a thematic guiderope which leads to more emergent fun.

As far as the music, you can't really do better with bass influences than David J and Hooky. I've interviewed them both on numerous occasions and they're interesting dudes too as far as boomer rock stars go hahaha. My primary band Sounds Like Winter were lucky enough to open for Bauhaus (well, Peter Murphy with David J) about 18 months ago which was a spectacular development and great show. I've been super lucky with my journalism in getting to chat with the likes of them as well as members of the smiths, the cure, christian death, sex gang children, wall of voodoo, sonic youth, the dead kennedy's, carcass, entombed, sepultura, swans, etc etc

Yeah..i just went full name drop i know hahaha. I'll flagellate for penance. Now that the tabletop thing has me in it's thrall again i'm enjoying getting to know some of the personalities in this realm too. It's not all rapey edgelords thankfully. I think the OSR thing is a huge boon that combined with easy distro via the likes of Drive Thru RPG and now itch.io has led to an explosion of creativity that despite being dwarfed by the vanilla WotC stuff in terms of reach is most certainly punching above its weight in terms of influence. Trouble is between OSE, DCC, Mork Borg, Best Left Buried and their ilk there's no way i have time to run them all. The hidden sliver lining in that though is that it has inspired me to get my own ruleset together, condensing the good bits. This in turn has of course led to me starting some nascent world-crafting and my head hits the pillow each night swimming with ideas. I haven't felt this enamored with, and inspired by gaming since i was a wide-eyed pre-teen, so it's a super welcome development. This hobby seems like a really vibrant place to be right now.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #310576 23 May 2020 21:23
Hahaha yeah i read about Gygax and his dime store monster minis in Art & Arcana (which started great and got waaay less interesting as the editions piled up- with 4th being the nadir). The rust monster was always pretty goofy looking. For me the Dave Sutherland and especially Erol Otus stuff was always way more evocative than the more technically proficient work of your Elmore's and Easley's. That stuff is a bit too Norman Rockwell. Though i will say that i have a soft spot for Elmore's black and white pieces outlining the whole Bargle and Aleena story as it was so formative to my experience. GW had some absolute stars too in John Blanche and Gary Chalk. I think the more impressionist the style the better for fantasy stuff- it evokes a sense of the malleable and the unknown which leaves room for your imagination gild the details. This stuff should be mysterious. Like fairy tale and myth. Amorphous edges shot through with vibrant angular lines. Visually and thematically.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #310578 23 May 2020 23:23
Having said all that though, I think there's still room for kobolds and the like. If everything is weird then nothing is. It's the contrast that makes it bold.
dysjunct's Avatar
dysjunct replied the topic: #310579 23 May 2020 23:38
Well, I certainly agree with that. But what do you think about the dictum that if you can replace a group of nonhumans with human bandits, you should? I think that plays into the “if everything is weird then nothing is.” Don’t put in weird things for no reason.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #310580 24 May 2020 00:22
Ah yes, the famous “Prehistoric Monsters” toys...

When I first got into D&D and got the Monster Manual, I looked at the Rust Monster and I was like “wait a minute I’ve seen that before”. Went into my toys and sure enough, I had that same fucking set that Gygax and co. had stumbled upon. My grandma had bought them for me at Woolworth years before.

Yeah. LOFTP is pretty vile...and not because of the edgy edge lord crap. It’s the people. I really like Broodmother Skyfortress, but the author spent a lot of time defending Zak S. and shrugging off the whole thing. James Raggi is a right-winger. Their whole vibe is gross- it makes me think of those “your whole party got raped, what do you do” sessions you hear about from cons. Lots of juvenile, puerile stuff. Carcosa is also really awesome, but it has a couple of things that toe the line. And I avoid giving that company money so...secondhand or bootleg PDF only.

One of the best things about DCC is that it’s modules all have unique monsters. There are the regular things, but there also one of a kind monsters in every book and they are usually great. I’m running Doom of the Savage Kong’s now and the party is about to run into ghouls that are actually shells for these snake monsters. You gotta know when to bust out the weird or Dysjunct is correct- it becomes too commonplace.

My favorite David J moment was when he was opening for PJ Harvey around 1991/1992 here...PJ canceled at the last minute- like, an hour before the show. Basically, everyone but me and a couple of friends and 10-12 other people left. So David came out and played anyway. He brought out an acoustic guitar, sat down on the front of the stage and said “what would you like to hear”. It was awesome- he chatted with us, told stories, and played songs we asked for. He was very kind and gracious. I asked him about Alan Moore of course and he asked if I wanted to hear This Vicious Cabaret. It was so, so cool- one of the most intimate and personal music experiences I’ve ever had.