When I saw the early teasers for this setting I almost exploded with excitement. When the Kickstarter launched I was a backer really early on, and I am thrilled to have gotten a chance to learn more about Swordsfall from Brandon Dixon, the creator. I hope you are as excited as we are to learn more about the game and how it's going to rock your world.
1) Tikor is an animist world, and Swordsfall is an Afro-futurist setting. Honestly, that was all I needed to read to be excited for this project. But, for those folks that haven't been able to dive deeply into the material on your website, what are the key elements of the setting you think people should know?
Well, the biggest key element for anyone to know is that Swordsfall is first, and foremost, Afrocentric. That means that all the underlying lore, and structure is from Africa. Specifically Pre-colonial Africa. So at first, there are a number of things that might feel like business as usual, but you'll quickly notice its not. This comes into play with things like the position of King. In pre-colonial Africa, King just meant ruler. And there were quite a few nations that were matriarchies. So you had lines of Kings that were all women. And they enjoyed all the same power as their male counterparts. It's a small change, but you quickly realize how much that ACTUALLY changes.
Swordsfall has a number of things like that. When you start taking out the European based parts of fantasy, you quickly become surprised at how different it can actually be.
2) T'umo Mere is doing the amazing art that goes along with the book, and I think the art goes along so strongly with the setting it nearly speaks for itself. That said, what were some of the principles that went into deciding what elements to focus on in the art for the setting?
Well, T'umo is an artist I picked specifically for his style. I had browsed Pinterest and Google Images for about 7 to 8 months while I was world building. There was a lot of great art out there, but not a lot of black art. And I knew that for Swordsfall I needed an artist who didn't just occasionally draw minority characters but did it OFTEN. And in various characters and types. I've always been a fan of that "old school" sketchy style. I came across T'umo's work when I came across a Black Panther fanart piece that just blew my mind. The style was PERFECT and after cruising through his Artstation, I saw that he drew a ton of black characters. Then I found out he was actually from Botswana. I knew I had found the perfect artist for my project.
When I contacted him and started telling him about the project, he was almost immediately on board. Then he started on the first piece, the Minos picture that's broadly displayed on the Kickstarter banner. And now, we're here.
3) The one thing that I'm not seeing on the Kickstarter, or the World Anvil is information on what system the RPG will use. Is this going to be all new game mechanics or are you using a system that is already out there?
Haha, ah yes, the rules. The question everyone has asked since I launched the Kickstarter. Well, the main reason I haven't talked about it is because I don't like to talk about things till they're done. Or done enough for me to REALLY talk about. It's why I didn't really launch Swordsfall till I was almost a year and 150,000 words deep.
But I'll tell you a bit about it. The system itself is a mix. It was originally a hack of the Genesys system and it's grown into more. I wanted a narrative system, but one with a bit more crunch. Something solid enough to feel rooted, but free enough to be fun and fluid. A lot of people bring up the custom dice when I say Genesys, but one of the first things I did was break the dice down. I show how to play with regular dice, and it's super easy actually. In some ways easier than the dice symbols...
I call it Cinematic Play. As rather than be about battle by numbers (Crunchy) or imagination (Narrative), I'm taking bits of both where it makes sense. Part of that combo comes from the Profession system which is my answer to Classes. "Welcome to Tikor" is actually a giant clue to the tenants of the game mechanics, as they're all born from lore rather than gamification.
4) Can you tell us more about the various nations in Tikor? I'm particularly taken with the various locations, particularly Vinyata and Grimnest, but I'd love to know more about the people that live in these places.
So there are two Great Nations; Garuda and Vinyata. That's where the bulk of the meta-plot happens, and they make up almost 70% of the landmass on Tikor. So needless to say, you'll deal with them a lot. Garuda has a moderate climate, so lots of trees and forests in between open plains. Garuda is run by the Divine Order of the Phoenix, an organization partially founded by the deities of Garuda. As a nation, it's fairly decentralized, with the populace spread across the land and some in remote locations. It's very much a place that differs depending on where you go.
Vinyata is basically one giant desert. The Southern Hemisphere of Tikor is almost all desert and ruined land. This was caused by a mix of the ancient battles between Dragons and Deities in the area, and the punishing heat from the second sun, Adume. The main people that live there are the Dracon. They are the descendants of Ryuu-jin, a dragon who rebuked his kin and fought for the side of Tikor. His betrayal is what helped tip the battle toward the side of good. However, the world was never able to look over the fact that he was a dragon. And this ingrained hatred was passed down to his children, the Dracon.
Overall, the world of Tikor is huge and it's one of the reasons why doing the setting book was so important. There's Grimnest, a land with no ruler or government but plenty of pirates. Then you have Hawklore which was founded and run by god turned king, Hawken. In the waters that surround the landmass, you have the island of Teslan where Crystal Priests study the secrets of the world's biggest source of energy, Azurean.
And you can't forget about the rest: Ramnos, Ebon Cascade, The Canopy, The Isle, Martalan and so much more.
5) With so much amazing lore on this game already, how long has it been in development? I find myself getting lost and learning new things every few clicks when I'm on the site.
Well proper, Swordsfall has been in development for just shy of a year. However, I started the original story when I was just 17. So the seeds were sown over 18 years ago, ya know? It all started when a group of friends and I decided we were going to make a video game. My job was the story and world, someone did programming and another person was doing music. Well, in the end, I was the only one that followed through. I wrote about 40 pages of world building and basically fell in love with the story. Back then it was called Ethereal though. Over time I'd tinker with it, write a small chapter here or there, and a character and such. I'd then take little pieces of the world and use it in other Tabletop campaigns. I used the character's names in video games and such as well. Haha, my World of Warcraft account after the novels come out is going to be hilarious. My toon roster is basically the names of all the main characters from the meta-plot and books.
One day I decided to do a "new" storyline for a campaign. But that time around, something was just different in me. I wanted to do more than a simple campaign. I wanted to do something deep, something fulfilling. I knew that this was the right time to finally make my old story happen. So I sort of did a giant world smashing event. I grabbed all the side stories, campaigns and random things born from Ethereal, and the campaign idea I had called Swordsfall and put it all back together. Once I did that, it was clear I had something special. My brain had just worked through this whole world in different sections over time. And when I put it all together finally, it just clicked. I spent the last year fleshing out all the parts of the story I had ignored. Connected pieces and doing in-depth research on pre-colonial Africa to give it a real backbone.
6) What is the central conflict that you expect players experiencing Tikor to focus on? There are so many interesting hooks that it is hard for me to pick just one, but what would a good starter idea be if I was a GM looking to drag some excited players into this world?
In a way, you can pick themes by picking places on the map. So like with any tabletop game, the first question will be "What's the tone going to be?". If you want to see the futuristic, Afropunk side of Tikor then you head to Northern Grimnest to visit the city of Prime. If you want to crazy tech and awesome tattoos, that's the spot to start. Looking for a more classic fantasy romp? Then head to Garuda, where the area is vast enough for huge sections to be unexplored or poorly mapped. When danger and death is a must, an expedition to the Ebon Cascade is the ticket. Waterfalls of acid and light emitting vampires are all there to be found.
Part of the fun with doing a whole world is that I didn't have to create any singular experience. I was able to let the history of the land truly transform it. One thing that's missing from some TTRPG's these days is the understanding that a world is actually quite big. Traveling a landmass is no small feat. The first thing a post apocalyptic world drives home is how FAR something like ten miles can be. While Swordsfall is not post-apocalyptic, it is a world unconquered by man. Travel isn't as simple as buying a plane ticket, nor is it as basic as foot travel. It's as a world as advanced as the world ITSELF seems to allow. It gives each land its own feel and vibe without being alien.
7) Is there anything else you'd like to leave us with? I'm already breathless.
I'm excited for everyone to finally be able to sit down and read what's been in my head for half my life. This isn't just a single setting to eventually be paired with a single rulebook. This is a world I truly love, and one my artists are quickly falling for. I want to do this for a long time, as long as I can in fact. I'm 50,000 words into the first novel with the outline for 7 more. I have a number of short story ideas, with one half finished. The comic book Stretch Goal won't be the last one we do either.
So if you enjoy what you see of Swordsfall, then pack a couple of suitcases. You'll be on Tikor for awhile.
Check out Swordsfall on Kickstarter
Josh Heath is the COO of High Level Games. He likes to do interviews when he isn't running Kickstarters and creating projects upon projects for the writers to work on.
All blog materials created and developed by the staff here at High Level Games