Imagine a world where, instead of advancing in fits and starts, young humanity was ripped into an uncaring cosmos, full of wonder and terror, left trying to figure out what our species really is. That’s a pretty good summary of Black Void, a new game being Kickstarted by Christoffer Sevaldsen. Black Void is a dark fantasy RPG in focused on personal relationships, cosmic exploration, and engaging combat. Christoffer was kind enough to answer a few questions about the game for us.
Your description of the game begins with a mention of Babylon being the greatest city on Earth. Does this mean pre- or early-historic humans are the ones being wrenched into this cosmic horror? If so, why did you decide on this era and not a later one, like the 1920s as is typical in cosmic horror?
It does indeed! There are several reasons for this choice. Firstly, I am exceedingly fascinated with the ancient civilizations of Earth, particularly those from Mesopotamia. The Sumerians, Babylonians and Akkadian cultures are generally not very well-known to the public, but they have a rich heritage, intriguing myths and astounding achievements, which seem surprisingly advanced. My point was to have a basis in something which is – at least vaguely – familiar and then add my own pinch of the otherworldly and bizarre to it. Since there is so much about these civilizations which is still shrouded in mystery, it seems the ideal as a basis for Black Void. Also, the Daimons (the terminology is based on the original unbiased Greek meaning) and monsters featured in the Mesopotamian myths just fit perfectly into my idea of cosmic horror: The Anunnakku, Lamassu, Mardkhora, Rabisu and so on just seem to fit the concept perfectly and are largely unexplored in other fantasy RPG’s. Secondly, I had very clear vision of what I wanted this game to be about. 1920’s cosmic horror is - as you write – the typical outset, which has been done exceedingly well by others. I did not want to do typical and I am not even sure that I would characterise Black Void as a cosmic horror game. To me the game is dark fantasy with a focus on the struggles of humanity in terms of the survival of mankind and - more profoundly - exploring the very nature of mankind - with cosmic horror elements lurking in the background, not necessarily at the core of the story.
The key elements of the game include enlightenment and wastaah. What is wastaah, and how do both feature into the game mechanically?
Both concepts are part of character progression, but each is story-driven and achievable only through exploration and world-interaction, not by expending experience points. Wastaah is - in essence - personal connections. It entails knowing the right people in the right places and having the sway or clout to get these to act on your behalf. The reason I found this concept to be appealing is that the main stage of Black Void, the cosmopolis called Llyhn, is a hierarchical caste society with humanity at the bottom. Wastaah functions outside this system, allowing the casteless and low-caste mankind to gain influence informally, aiding the resurgence of mankind while retaining the outwardly inferiority. It is story based, meaning that if a character manages to gain influence with a powerful entity or faction he or she will gain a tier in wastaah. Wastaah directly affect reaction and persuasion rolls when dealing with the entity or faction and it can be “spent” to achieve a favour or other significant outcome helping the character’s ambition. Enlightenment is – simply put – intuitive comprehension of existence. Enlightenment allows a character to understand the relation between the Void and the cosmos and how the two affect each other, ultimately allowing him or her to navigate, control and manipulate the Void. Like wastaah, gaining enlightenment is story-driven and requires encounters with the Void or entities from there (which is dangerous business). As characters obtain enlightenment they gain new capabilities such as sensing the Void, following Void-currents to navigate and travel between worlds, as well as a range of other supernatural abilities.
Why did you choose to go with a single d12 + trait system instead of a D20, d6, or other rolling system?
There are several reasons for this, some probably more obscure than others:
- The number 12 has significance and features prominently in the Sumerian and Babylonian sexagesimal numerals as well as mythology and other esoteric fields.
- I wanted to make a simple system enhancing story-focus, which - to me - means single-dice system.
- The D12 statistically allows a higher rate of exceptional successes and critical failures, which benefits the story if these two factors are composed in terms of how they affect gameplay, adding drama and narrative opportunities rather than being game-determining or even -breaking.
- The D12 allows you to easily and precisely convert results to D6, D4, D3 and D2 (which are used occasionally in the game) by only using a single die. No other die can do that.
- And finally, I have not seen or heard of any other game giving the D12 its deserved possibility to shine! So D12 be ready, your time is at hand!
You describe the city of Llyhn as the epicentre of the cosmos, implying that it is the beginning, or at least central, point of the universe. How does being the literal centre of the universe affect the city and its inhabitants?
The central arena of the game is indeed Llyhn the eternal, a border domain located at the heart of a massive convergence of void currents. Technically, no one knows where Llyhn is located physically as it cannot be reached by any other means than Void-travel. The city is a principal hub and waypoint connecting major trade routes and a vibrant melting pot of species from across the known worlds, as well as more esoteric entities and beings from beyond the evident world. A main staging point for exploration of the unknown reaches of the cosmos Llyhn is a median port and cosmopolis. Independent from external influence the city is considered neutral ground and hosts numerous diplomatic missions from across the cosmos making it a natural place for enlightened species to congregate; attracting cultural tensions, social intricacies, religious polemic and political rivalry while immense armies are accommodated for transit under the watchful eyes of the masked Hohr’loh’kin, the extended arm of the unseen rulers of Llyhn. Though the unseen rulers principally look after their own interests and involve their servants very little in the managing of the city unless their authority is defied, Llyhn is not an entirely anarchic place. Through a rather harsh practice following the tenet: “might makes right” the residents have naturally segregated into distinct castes of varying power and influence, which keeps the city and its inhabitants in a somewhat stable equilibrium. Llyhn is scarcely a placid city to reside in, yet besides blatant inequality and oppression and the warping taint and influence of the void, people flock to the city for the promise of opportunities and wealth, the access to foreign worlds, baffling wonders and to satiate their lust for adventure.
Movement in combat can be a tricky thing to pull off, but you put manoeuvre at the centre of your system. How do you keep movement from getting bogged down?
In Black Void the word manoeuvre is used as an umbrella term for all “combat actions” including offensive and defensive actions, movement and miscellaneous actions performed in combat. The point was to get away from the static “standard attack” constantly being employed, which is why Black Void has 39 different actions players can use in combat. Several of the combat manoeuvres, critical mishaps and exceptional strikes entail - or has as consequence - the shifting of positions and relocation of opponents making combats constantly fluctuating allowing players to employ a variety of actions or manoeuvres to gain the upper hand. I prefer theatre-of mind combat as I think that grid-based combat is too restrictive and mechanical. In order to keep an overview in case of encounters with numerous opponents however laminated maps and markers or minis are a great tool. Again, the point of Black Void is to make intense and interesting narrative combat scenes, not play rigid “battlechess” on grid-maps.
As with most cosmic horror, your game seems at least partially inspired by Lovecraft. Where does the inspiration end and your own twisted imagination take over?
It is true that Lovecraft has inspired some parts of the game, but probably not so much the parts you would think. My favourite Lovecraft story is “the Dream-quest of unknown Kadath”, and the account of the black galleys has to a certain degree inspired Void-travel. The cosmic horror element in Black Void is two-fold: Firstly, Void horrors that generally exist beyond the bounds of the cosmos, remaining largely unknown and unknowable except to enlightened people. The role of the Void horrors is probably more in the shadows and as an underlying threat rather than as a main focal point. However, should said entities be encountered, it will most likely have catastrophic consequences for those involved. The second is otherworldly sentient species that seem horrific to oblivious humanity in their bizarre and even grotesque forms and temperaments. Their outlandishness is exactly why mankind is forced to question what humanity and its ethos is and should be, when confronted by dispositions utterly alien. So, the horror probably lies more in the realizations of humanity rather than in tentacles and teeth, albeit there are quite a few of those as well. I generally prefer when horrors are not fully revealed or at least remain somewhat mysterious. It makes the imagination run rampant and leaves the GM and scenario-writers with many options. I find this so much more interesting than defining and describing everything in painful detail, which in the end only serves to inhibit imagination. An example are the primary named horrors, namely the mindless ghostly abominations of the Void; terrible entities beyond the comprehension of mere mortals. The key words being “beyond mortal comprehension”.
See you in the Void, Christoffer!
Check out Black Void’s Kickstarter here.
Phil Pepin is a history-reading, science-loving, head-banging, river-running nerd, who would like nothing more than to cuddle with his pups and wife.
Picture Reference: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/68133405/black-void-rpg?ref=nav_search&result=project&term=black%20void
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.