The Year Zero Engine (YZE), the award-winning system behind Free League Publishing’s ALIEN RPG, Tales from the Loop, Coriolis, Forbidden Lands, and more, speaks to me as a creator and fan. I backed the Forbidden Lands RPG Kickstarter to get their Open Gaming License (OGL), and I wasn’t the only one. Enter Michael Prescott, the creator behind Trilemma Adventures, and his latest Kickstarter, Trilemma Adventures: The Servants of Memory, creating a bestiary using the Year Zero Engine OGL to give more monsters for your fantasy YZE RPGs.
EGG EMBRY (EGG): Thank you for making time to talk with me. Can you tell me about your Kickstarter, Trilemma Adventures: The Servants of Memory?
MICHAEL PRESCOTT (MICHAEL): Sure! It’s a bestiary of creatures for fantasy RPGs based on the Year Zero Engine, with stats for 117 of the creatures from the Trilemma Adventures series. The stats by lead designer Craig Atkins, along with help from Doug Ruff, Reilly Heijkoop-Logan, and Simon Bokvist.
Last year I published the Trilemma Adventures Compendium Vol I, which just won gold and silver ENnies for best cartography and best adventure. The adventure sites are system neutral, which makes them easier to run in really lightweight systems, but we’ve been busy publishing bestiaries to adapt them to other games that are a little crunchier.
We’ve covered 5e, B/X, and Dungeon World, and Servants of Memory is the Year Zero Engine edition.
You can of course use Servants of Memory to play the Trilemma Adventure sites, but it’s a handy book on its own to add variety to the creatures you throw at your players.
We smashed through all of our stretch goals in short order, so the book will also have encounter tables for a whole variety of terrain types, new spells for Dradkin chimeromancers to use, and stats for some of the cooler magic items mentioned in the compendium.
EGG: What system is this for?
MICHAEL: It’s for fantasy RPGs based on the Year Zero Engine. As you may know, the terms of the OGL prohibit us being more specific!
EGG: Will this act as a bestiary for Forbidden Lands specifically, or any Year Zero Engine powered RPG?
MICHAEL: It definitely works best with YZE fantasy RPGs: not all Year Zero Engine games have quite the same rules. Some of the games are quite close, mechanically, while others are a little further away. In fact, the Twilight: 2000 game apparently gets rid of dice pools entirely in favor of paired polyhedrals.
A big feature of the book, however, is the random table of creature special attacks for combat. Craig has done up more than half of the creatures with a table like this, which adds variety to how monsters act in combat regardless of the system.
EGG: You’ve been successful with Trilemma Adventures projects for 5e, B/X, and system neutral offerings, why jump to a new-to-Trilemma system?
MICHAEL: The roots of the project lie with Craig Atkins, actually. He’s been a big fan of YZE games for years now, having done many monster conversions already. Daniel Tobin got him started converting the Trilemma bestiary creatures over, as fan project. Daniel had to bow out before things really got started, but Craig picked up the banner and ran with it, and brought on the other contributors. By the time he reached out to me, they had done a ton of work already.
EGG: How did this project come about? What made you decide to create this bestiary?
MICHAEL: The decision to publish as a proper book had a few factors. When Craig contacted me, I was just wrapping up the B/X and Dungeon World versions of the bestiaries, so all the pieces were already laid out on the workbench already, so to speak.
The decision to launch it on Kickstarter actually came a bit later, as we were approaching the first draft being complete. Running a Kickstarter is a pile of work, but it also has a big effect on sales, something I could see by contrasting the sales of my Kickstarted compendium and the three straight-to-DriveThruRPG bestiaries that followed it. It was something of an experiment to understand the impact of a measured Kickstarter that didn’t run me into the ground!
But really, while there is some great content for the Year Zero Engine, there isn’t yet a solid fantasy bestiary, so this seemed like a no-brainer project to bring to the game.
EGG: On the Kickstarter page, you have a good group of creators. Most of the bios point out that they play Year Zero Engine RPGs. When putting together the team for this, was being a YZE fan a prerequisite?
MICHAEL: That’s an effect of how the team was found, by putting out the word in YZE online spaces... but yes, familiarity with YZE and how it flows in play is really crucial in adapting creatures to it.
EGG: As far as I know, this is the first major use of the Year Zero Engine OGL. Did you talk with Free League before creating this, or did you take the approach any company would with any other OGL and make great products on your own?
MICHAEL: Craig is a regular in the Year Zero community, and he put us in touch with Free League quite early on. We let them know we wanted to make a fantasy bestiary, and they were quite supportive. Using the OGL was a decision we made well into the project. There are a lot of details to work out in any situation where you’re working with someone else’s brand, and using the OGL has the advantage that the expectations are all laid out in black and white. It’s a solid core and we’re really happy with the results.
EGG: Are you thinking of creating more YZE content after this?
MICHAEL: Craig is unstoppable, I gather he’s already assembled a team to produce stats for a book of rarities and magic!
EGG: Beyond this project, what else are you working on?
MICHAEL: I have a number of smaller games brewing. In particular, I’m dying for a chance to do some revising of Too Good to be True, a quick-play [Powered by the Apocalypse] game about mecha mercenaries. But of course I have more fantasy adventure sites coming up. The next one will be a take on the classic troll bridge, featuring the “marooned soldier” style ogre from the bestiary. That’s part of the long, uphill climb towards compendium volume 2!
EGG: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me. Where can fans follow your work at?
MICHAEL: Any time! If you want to follow Craig and all his YZE shenanigans, head over to his blog. For me, the best place is my site and blog on Twitter as @fuseboy - but of course, please make your first stop the Kickstarter for Servants of Memory!
Trilemma Adventures: The Servants of Memory from Trilemma Adventures
End Date: Tue, September 1 2020 3:00 PM EDT.
“A bestiary of fantasy monsters for the Year Zero Engine.”
Egg Embry is a freelance tabletop roleplaying game journalist writing for EN World, Knights of the Dinner Table, RPG News, d20 Radio, the Tessera Guild, the Open Gaming Network, the AetherCon Convention Magazine, GAMA’s Around the Table, and more. His areas of focus are RPG crowdfunding projects and RPG reviews as well as interviews with a range of gaming professionals from freelancers to CEOs. Beyond journalism, he dabbles in freelance writing and producing gaming zines for the roleplaying zine-aissance, including POWERED by the DREAMR, a Powered by the Apocalypse RPG zine about living out your dreams within other’s dreams.
Amazon Prime is streaming the Tales from the Loop series based on Simon Stålenhag artwork, the same inspiration for the award-winning tabletop roleplaying game.
“Inspired by the wondrous paintings of Simon Stålenhag, Tales from the Loop explores the mind-bending adventures of the people who live above the Loop, a machine built to unlock and explore the mysteries of the universe – making things previously relegated to science fiction, possible.”
The pitch is vague on details begging the question, is this sci-fi ensemble series worth checking out? To answer, the creators behind the Doctor Who RPG, Gimmerspace, CAPERS RPG, and more, as well as bloggers, a Youtuber, and fans share their [mostly] spoiler-free thoughts on this series.
"Tales From The Loop is living up to my expectations, a genteel series of mysteries blending old school Twilight Zone stories and more modern Black Mirror themes with the community spirit of Eerie, Indiana, and, yes, a modicum of Stranger Things."
~ Tim Knight, Blogger, HeroPress
[NOTE: Read Tim’s full review on HeroPress (here) or check out his “Musical Monday: Soundtrack Visualizer - Music to Relax To (Tales from the Loop)” article.]
“The series is beautiful, moving and emotionally powerful. The pacing is slow and glorious, letting you take in every second of how gorgeous it is, while presenting you with a series of interlocking stories that explore life, death, time and being. The score perfectly echoes the timeless scenes, and the flash-glimpses of what has happened, beautifully tells each story with very few words.
But at the heart of each episode is a character caught up in the very real world of The Loop, where you should be careful what device you switch on, where you go, and whether you have made the right choice.”
~ David F. Chapman, Tabletop RPG Designer
[NOTE: David is the designer behind the Doctor Who RPG for Cubicle 7, and worked on Star Trek Adventures for Modiphius. You can follow David on his website, Autocratik.]
“I’m thoroughly enjoying the Tales from the Loop TV show. Thoughtful, deliberate stories on very human themes in a quietly bleak setting. The weird sci-fi tech is icing, not the cake.”
~ Craig Campbell, Game Designer, NerdBurger Games
[NOTE: Craig is running the CAPERS Offworld RPG Kickstarter based on his award-winning game, CAPERS, through April 23rd.]
“Tales from the Loop reminds me a LOT of those low-budget, high-concept indie sci-fi films where ‘the science’ is irrelevant compared to the deeper character study elements of deeply flawed individuals that the creator of the movie wants to get into.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind would be one of ‘the most popular’ examples in my mind -- that movie was technically about memory erasing technology but it was very much less about ‘the technological spectacle’ of a blockbuster sci-fi movie (say Avatar) and more about using the premise for an interesting story that would be hard to tell without the crazy premise/tech being possible. Vanilla Sky might be another example (in terms of big films a lot of folks would know). There are hundreds of solid indie films that folks wouldn't as readily see in this category.
Anyways if those interest you, check out Tales from the Loop on Amazon Prime. If those annoy you, you might not enjoy TftL. It might still interest you, but yeah...”
~ Lucus Palosaari, Project Manager, Fat Goblin Games
“The music is so moody, and it’s so not techno-babble sci-fi; how something affects people on an emotional level is so much more important than some pseudo scientific explanation.
Seeing the events of the Loop through the children makes it more effective since nothing is explained, as Loretta's mom says, ‘You wouldn't understand it anyway.’”
~ Bill Paulson, Sci-fi Media Enthusiast
“It's marvelous, gentle and chilling by turns. Atmospheric. Very Scandinavian. It's also technically sci-fi, but when I watch I'm reminded of Clarke's famous dictum, ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ And that's certainly the approach. It felt very urban fantasy to me.”
~ Lou Agresta, Co-founder of Iron GM games and Co-creator of Grimmerspace
[NOTE: These quotes are from the “Write Club: Urban Fantasy Fans” group on Facebook. Lou invites you to check it out and, if it’s your bag, join.]
“Just watched the first episode. Highly intriguing. And I really felt for all the characters. The measured pacing (I wouldn't actually call it ‘slow’) is what made the characters real for me.
Episode two was… brutal and tragic. And frighteningly real in how it got there. This is quality work.
Episode three maintains the quality level, and breaks your heart in a different way. But not in the brutal, this-is-broken-and-lost-FOREVER way that episode two did. I continue to be enormously impressed. There are no wasted words or actions in these stories, and they are finding fresh angles on old tropes. Impressive.
I have mixed feelings about episode four, but there are reasons to believe that we haven't seen the whole story yet.
And episode five asked me to believe a few things I just wasn't willing to. For me it was the weakest one so far. Still very well done, and if you grant its precepts it was consistent. But I have trouble granting the precepts.
Completed my binge. Mixed feelings and, in the end, mixed score. But I'm glad it exists.”
~ Connor Cochran, Writer, artist, editor, and producer who has been working in various media businesses (publishing, music, film, TV) for the last 47 years
“Having been a fan of Simon Stålenhag art, and of the Tales of the Loop Roleplaying Game by Fria Ligan, after watching the first episode of the new Amazon show has me eagerly awaiting my chance to watch the next episode. It was atmospheric, beautifully rendered, and had me at the edge of my seat and emotions.”
~ Jodie Brandt, Host of the QuestWise YouTube channel
“The show is gorgeous and full of poetry. I almost cried before the end of the [first] episode.
Actually, I cried at the end.”
~ Jean-Christophe Cubertafon, Freelance Writer and Translator
[NOTE: You can follow Jean-Christophe on Facebook and Twitter.]
“I enjoy the slow burn, it takes it's time. Just finished the series and it’s hands down one of the best I've ever seen. Simply amazing.”
~ Jeremiah McMillan
“To give an idea of the level of quality I wanted from this series, let me say that I’m a fan of the Tales from the Loop RPG and I’ve interviewed Tomas Härenstam, Free League’s CEO, about the game. The RPG won numerous honors (Golden Geek Award for Best RPG, voted Best RPG on the UK Games Expo, and five-time Gold ENnie award-winner) as it brings ‘roleplaying in the ‘80s that never was’ to your gaming table. I attended the ENnie Awards at Gen Con in which TftL took home five metals (though, while attending that, I missed playing a legendary session of Tales at the con). All of that is to say I wanted to see this series, but I knew my demands of the show were high.
After seeing Amazon Prime’s Tales from the Loop, I can say it touched on everything I wanted the series to bring to the small screen. A realized world of robots and almost magical technical possibilities, its stories are told through the eyes of children that just accept this is the world, their world. Despite telling the story of children, it’s not a kid’s show. The imagery is crafted to reflect Simon Stålenhag's artwork and heighten its dramatic flair. Each episode is a short story, deliberately paced and enriched by poignant music, acting, and directing. The production comes together to evoke emotions I rarely feel when watching a sci-fi property.
As backstory for your RPG, it’s crucial world building. As a dramatic sci-fi TV series, it deserves recognition for the beauty and art it achieves. While I know it’s not for everyone, I’d still recommend trying it out because, if you connect with it, you’ll never forget these tales.”
~ Egg Embry, Freelance RPG Journalist
Tales from the Loop is streaming on Amazon Prime. You can pick up the tabletop RPG through Free League Publishing’s store. In addition, Free League is kickstarting the Tales from the Loop – The Board Game until May 7th.
Egg Embry is a freelance tabletop roleplaying game journalist writing for EN World, Knights of the Dinner Table, RPG News, d20 Radio, the Tessera Guild, the Open Gaming Network, the AetherCon Convention Magazine, GAMA’s Around the Table, and more. His areas of focus are RPG crowdfunding projects and RPG reviews as well as interviews with a range of gaming professionals from freelancers to CEOs. Beyond journalism, he dabbles in freelance writing and producing gaming zines for the roleplaying zine-aissance.
Egg Embry participates in an Amazon Associate. These programs provide advertising fees by linking to Amazon.
Picture Reference: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1192053011/tales-from-the-loop-the-board-game
All blog materials created and developed by the staff here at High Level Games