Novelist and game designer Aaron Allston has died in Branson, Missouri, age 53. Cause of death is currently unknown, but Aaron suffered a massive heart attack in March 2009 and bouts of poor health thereafter. Aaron was an endlessly inventive creator, one of the best roleplaying gamemasters ever, a mordant authority on bad films, and a rare wit.

Though he later became well known for his many licensed tie-in novels for Star Wars, Terminator, and other franchises, Aaron started in the plantation fields of gaming, editing Space Gamer magazine for Steve Jackson Games and writing a lot for Car Wars. He achieved early stardom in roleplaying games with his standout work for Champions and the Hero System. His Lands of Mystery lost-worlds supplement for Justice Inc. pioneered the idea of tailoring rules and setting to match genre conventions. Aaron's Strike Force remains, after decades, one of the most engaging and thoroughly grounded treatises on the development and maintenance of a long-term campaign. He wrote from experience, having refereed three different years-long Hero campaigns with months-long waitlists.

Recognized for his extensive contributions to BECMI-series Dungeons & Dragons, Aaron wrote hugely for the Known World (later christened "Mystara"), and he edited the fondly remembered Rules Cyclopedia. His AD&D Dungeon Master's Design Kit was an amazing toolbox, one of the first of its kind, and his Complete Fighter's Handbook set the tone for the long-running AD&D 2e "Player's Handbook Reference" series.

Aaron also contributed to several computer RPGs from Origin Systems, including the "Worlds of Ultima" games Savage Empire and the primordial steampunk precursor Martian Dreams. He brought his highly developed sense of genre conventions to a company best known for open-ended worlds. The combination was an artistic success but a financial disappointment. Though he worked intermittently in computer games throughout the '90s, Aaron seldom played them himself and never really warmed to the field.

In 1988 Aaron turned to novels with Web of Danger, a tie-in for TSR's Top Secret S.I. RPG line. A decade later he started writing for the Star Wars X-Wing novel line almost by accident. His X-Wing predecessor, Michael A. Stackpole, recommended Aaron to his Bantam Books editor as a likely candidate to continue writing the series. After Mike and the editor both left the line, the next editor saw Aaron's name and assumed he had already been chosen. Months later the new editor called Aaron's agent and asked "How's Aaron coming along on the new X-Wing book?" Huh, whah? In two days Aaron put together an outline for his seventh novel, Wraith Squadron, and then wrote the book at speed against a ferocious deadline. He went on to write a dozen more, for the X-WIng series and also for New Jedi Order, Legacy of the Force, and Fate of the Jedi.

Aaron enjoyed a high reputation among connoisseurs of Star Wars fiction for his well-drawn characters, adroit plotting, and especially for his evocation of the original films' humor. He once told me he seemed to be everyone's third-favorite Star Wars author -- every reader had two top faves, always different, but they all had Aaron in the #3 spot.

Aaron's non-licensed novels include Galatea in 2-D and a delightful pulp-faerie mashup, Doc Sidhe. (The sequel is Sidhe-Devil.) In recent years Aaron had turned to short fiction and was excited with the success he'd found contributing to several high-profile small-press anthologies. He self-published a massive nonfiction treatise, Plotting: A Novelist's Workout Guide.

A lifelong lover of genre film, Aaron made a foray into screenwriting and directing in 2005 with the zombie rom-com Deadbacks. He assembled dozens of friends and local actors as a full-on low-budget indie production company, and they filmed for a couple of months of weekends on a friend's farmland in Lockhart, Texas. He completed production, but the project died in editing. It would be nice to think that fun and funny film, like its ever-hopeful undead farmhand characters, might rise again. It is so sad Aaron won't.
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