Is your 5E game too heroic? Is it not grim and frostbitten enough? Do you want grimy firearms to cover your PCs in soot? Well we have good news: HLG COO Josh Heath recently dropped a Kickstarter for our new setting Snowheaven, created by Justin Weaver. Josh was kind enough to answer a few questions about Snowhaven and what you can expect from it.
Snowhaven is billed as a grittier, darker, and much more frostbitten version of Dungeons and Dragons. What mechanical changes has Justin brought in to reflect the intrigue and cold of the setting?
We’ve actually written a pretty extensive set of conditions to simulate cold illnesses, like frostbite, hypothermia, and more. All in all, those conditions don’t yet exist in 5E’s core rulesets, so it will help GMs running the setting. Mechanically, there are also new archetypes for a few of the classes, and we’ll expand these in 2nd Edition, which will lean into the intrigue and corruption elements of the setting. Much of the grit though is pure setting and doesn’t really have to have new mechanics.
The description of the setting says that it originally “created during the original D20 Era.” Does this mean that Justin has been working on this setting since the days of 3rd Edition, and if so what changes has it gone through?
Easy answer, yes. The setting has been run in 3.0, 3.5, Pathfinder, and 5th Edition. There are a lot of elements that have come and gone, ideas that have been pushed on, and some that have sustained themselves. It’s hard to catalogue all of the adjustments over the years, honestly.
At the time of writing, only one playable race has been previewed; the totally rad Yetu, a race of skiing, herding yeti. Are there other races planned based on other mythological/cryptozoological creatures?
Actually, the Yetu are a steamweaving species who are one of the more technologically advanced species in the region. Yes, they are skiers, but they also know how to steamtech it up. Yetu gunslinger should be a cool concept for people to dig into if they would like.
So far, we’ve also written a species of Fox people, the Lapsa, that have descended out of the Feywild due to some sort of war that is happening in the snowy extraplanar realms close to Snowhaven. We are also testing out the idea of a snow siren species, and several other cold weather sea creatures.
Do you have plans to expand Snowhaven beyond 5th Edition, Pathfinder, and Savage Worlds?
Yes, potentially. I know this might be disappointing but we are probably going to hold off on a 13th Age conversion and some form of OSR edition until after the Kickstarter. We know that there are dedicated communities for both types of systems, and we would really like to expand into them, but we’d have to go really high on the Kickstarter for it to be a good financial decision to do so at this time. So, if we can get over the $10,000 mark, will we do it? It’s not impossible, but it isn’t particularly likely.
On that note. Once we hit our last stretch goal we are likely official done with stretch. But, the positive thing I want to tell folks about is that we will make more Snowhaven. If we have more people that back the project we will spend more time developing, expanding, and creating more products in the Snowhaven setting. If you love it, we’ll make it, and we love it, so it will not be hard for us to invest the time, money, energy, and excitement into the setting. So, come by, back the project and know that we will take the money you give us and do great things with it.
What can you tell us about the new rules for firearms?
We’ve gone back into some elements of rules for previous editions of the OGL to borrow some things that can help firearms stand out without breaking the ruleset. One of those things is the possibility of increasing the threat range of weapons. We’ve tried not to go overboard with this, but some firearms do have a critical hit range of 19-20, which fits what makes sense of their deadliness, but also is a little deviation from 5th Edition’s core ruleset. Allowing some flexibility between editions to pull in some of the best elements is something I really think makes sense for third party creators and I’m happy we are doing that with Snowhaven. The rules for Pathfinder and Savage Worlds will need some other elements, but the good thing with those rulesets is that they already exist because of the way the systems were designed.
Check out Snowhaven on Kickstarter here. The campaign ends on March 31st, so be sure to grab it while you can!
Phil Pepin is a grimdark-loving, beater extraordinaire. You can send him new heavy metal tunes, kayak carnage videos and grimdark RPGs on Twitter: @philippepin.
Before we get into the interview below, please come by and check out www.hlgcon.com We are running this convention in Atlantic City, NJ October 12-14th 2018. We’ll be running a Blood and Betrayal Chronicle larp, as well as a ton of other cool games, including V5!
For those of you that have been following our site for some time you know that I (Josh Heath, our humble COO) is deeply involved in the World of Darkness as a gamer and as a community member. So, I have been following the development of Vampire: The Masquerade 5th edition (V5) very closely. There have been ups and downs and twists and turns as this project has come to the world but I wanted to speak with some of the folks at White Wolf involved with the production of this game to get their views and to hear some more about where the game is going as we are so close to its release. We are joined by Matthew Dawkins (Senior Community Director at White Wolf and a writer on V5) and Jason Carl (V5 Producer, CEO of By Night Studios, and Executive VP of Community Development at White Wolf).
Gentlemen, can you tell us, in two sentences what V5 is and why it is important?
V5 is the newest edition of one of the greatest RPGs ever created, Vampire: The Masquerade. This edition is important as it delves deeper into the nuances, the tragedies, and horror of playing vampires in a modern world.
How does this book balance the darkness of the World of Darkness against the troubles we see around us in our real world?
Matthew: It's a fine balance, with some elements of the Second Inquisition coming from real-world agencies and paramilitary groups, and some elements of the Vampire saga made from wholly new imaginings. We mix the mundane with the supernatural. We do need to be careful to always punch upward, highlighting the struggle of neonate vampires (outsider to begin with rendered even moreso by an elder-run, elitist society) and condemn groups in need of such treatment. Undoubtedly, real world situations such as the resurgence of the far right, street protests, corrupt banks and economies, and the abandonment of society in exchange for "me and mine" thinking are reflected in some aspects of Vampire, as they always have been. We need to tackle such issues with care and a mature attitude, and give the tools to players to do the same thing.
Jason: While crafting V5 we saw Vampire: The Masquerade first edition as our touchstone, both in tone and message. Vampire's original creative mission was to encourage us to explore the nature of evil in many forms, including personal, cultural, and institutional, and to do so through the lens of the monstrous vampires. That hasn't changed and we try to be as thoughtful and conscientious about it as were the writers in whose footsteps we follow. We see ourselves as stewards and custodians of their legacy, and we want to be as thought-provoking as they were in portraying real-world evils as problems in the game, without ever being gratuitous.
How are you ensuring player safety, consent, and engagement with a product that tackles dark horrific storylines?
We've tackled this in a few ways. There's very little egregious material in the core book. While we have some material some readers may find offensive, we attempt to couch it in mature context. We have a strong foreword covering the subject of consent, adult material, and how to play the game responsibly. We also have a several pages long appendix in the core book that handles matters such as consent, controversial and offensive elements in games, mature conduct, and similar. We hired Jacqueline Bryk to write it after she co-wrote similar guidelines for Changeling: The Lost Second Edition and after I hired her to do the same on an upcoming sourcebook for Kult: Divinity Lost. Jax is an excellent writer with a real expertise in the subject matter of handling traumatic material in roleplaying games, and her contribution has been fantastic.
What is updated? Why should I buy this if I already have 27 years of books sitting on my bookshelf, right now, calling to me?
The setting has gone through some changes in the last couple of decades, many of which were alluded to in Beckett's Jyhad Diary! A lot of elders and Methuselahs have been "Beckoned" to North Africa and the Middle East by someone or somethings; the Sabbat have in large part pursued them in what they call the "Gehenna Crusade," leaving many domains scarcely populated with Kindred; London and Vienna have been targeted by the Second Inquisition, a new body of hunters; the Tremere are splintered into factions; some clans have switched sects; we have exciting new mechanics for Blood Potency, Hunger, creating your own Disciplines via Blood Alchemy, and so much more.
Tell us about the most radical mechanical change that this edition of the game is bringing to the table?
Matthew: For me, it's Hunger. At first I was on the fence regarding this one, but seeing it in play and running games including it really emphasised the vampiric need to feed. In the past, it was a bean counting exercise. In V5, Hunger is ever-present. It doesn't disable the game or make your character a drooling beast, but it does add an air of danger to an already tense situation. I'm also a big fan of Memoriam, allowing characters to indulge in flashbacks to answer questions and solve conundrums, as well as providing fun elder play.
Jason: (in addition to the above) For me one of the best and fundamental mechanical changes is that creating characters and coteries is now a group activity by default. You can still create a character in isolation, but the rules for making characters and coteries as a player group are so fun and engaging that it's easily my favorite new mechanic in the entire game. Roleplaying should always be a fun, collaborative activity, and these new rules support that idea very strongly.
What is staying largely the same?
Matthew: The Camarilla, the Anarchs, and the Sabbat are all still around, even if they've undergone tweaks. No clans have been annihilated. Vampires still can't daywalk. And Mithras will rule London forever, in whatever form he takes.
Jason: In terms of play experience the game is as flexible as ever. Moreso, really: V5 can be played as a sweeping, international blood opera of deep political conspiracies, or as a super-gritty, hyper-realistic street drama of intensely individual stories, and everything in between.
The book is being printed, right now, the PDF is due on 2nd August to pre-order backers, that includes myself. Tell us about the one thing we should read first?
Matthew: I always tell players to read the "splats" — the clans — first and foremost. People want to know their playable options and I've seen new players read these ones when we've done playtests, and immediately come up with a character concept and ideas for their role in a chronicle. It's been great to see.
Jason: I like to encourage players to browse the clans first because they provide the best overview of what kinds of stories you'll tell in V5, but also check out the Coterie Types for inspirations about how your characters will all interact together.
This setting has a large community, some might call it fractious and be close to accurate. Can you tell us more about how White Wolf is moving forward with community engagement?
Matthew: White Wolf definitely made some mis-steps at first by not engaging the community more closely. Now myself and Jason have taken the lead on this, we're rolling out the Gentleman's Guide to Vampires series (and look at the comments on those videos if you want to see something uplifting), clan teaser videos, regular posts on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and the White Wolf website has undergone a major overhaul. This is just the start of reaching out to the community, finding out what our fans wants, and responding to their concerns. We are also hiring several community managers to help with this task. We hope to see live streams, AMAs, interviews, and gaming advice to come!
Jason: (in addition to the above) We are planning better convention and event support, including a volunteer Storyteller demo program.
Why would someone want to be a community manager for White Wolf?
Matthew: You mentioned we have a fractious community and you're correct. Being a community manager wouldn't be entirely peaceful. That said, it will be interesting, challenging, and exciting to work for the company responsible for developing Vampire: The Masquerade. The role gives you a look into our direction, helps you engage and enervate the community, and puts you in a position where you can assist all our fans.
Jason: We have an incredible number of fans who are extraordinarily passionate about this story world and its games. Becoming a community manager is one of the best ways to share this passion, to channel it into activities that can grow and strengthen the community, and invite even more people to share it with us.
What can we expect next as far as books?
We aim for the Camarilla and Anarch books to come out before the end of 2018, and hope to get the Sabbat book out by close of 2019. There will also be a quickstart chronicle (already written) available for download from worldofdarkness.com. As for the rest? You may just have to wait and see....
How does the Larp management of Blood and Betrayal Chronicle tie into this release? Does it?
The Blood and Betrayal Mind's Eye Theatre chronicle is still in development. We realized that, as eager as we are to make it happen, we needed to focus on completing V5 and getting it out into the world. Now that V5 is a reality, we can give some love again to this LARP chronicle concept.
If a person that is reading this hasn't pre-ordered the book, where should they go to pick up a copy?
V5 will start appearing on the shelves at your local hobby game retailer in mid-to-late August, depending on where you live. If your local retailer doesn't carry it, you can ask them to order it from their usual distributors. You can also order it directly from Modiphius, our distribution partner, online at https://www.modiphius.net/collections/vampire-the-masquerade. If you'd like to buy just the PDF, you can get that online at worldofdarkness.com, starting on 2 August.
What, if anything, can you tease about Werewolf: The Apocalypse 5th Edition?
Matthew: We have been listening to our community, what they want, what they don't want, and are determined to deliver a product that does not court controversy for controversy's sake. It's always tricky when creating a new edition of a game not to be entirely swayed by shouting fans, but as long as the creative vision is mature and responsible, as well as exciting and engaging, we're confident people will love it. The next edition will be fast, desperate, and as rage-filled as the Werewolf you've come to know.
Jason: Werewolf: The Apocalypse has a fan community that is intensely passionate about the Garou and their story, and we want to take their opinions into account as we craft this new version of the game. As with Vampire, the setting will be updated to the modern day, and that means looking hard and realistically at many of the environmental and ecological problems of the world--and their causes--through the eyes and actions of the werewolves.
What is the last thought you'd want to leave someone with after reading this interview?
Matthew: Thank you so much for your interest in V5! We really want you to pick it up, run it for your friends in person or online, and tell us (and everyone else!) about the good time you've had. RPGs should bring people together, and we hope to do that with all our games.
Jason: We hope that you'll enjoy V5--if you're not sure about it yet, get the free Quickstart, round up a few friends, and see how it plays. Then tell us what you experienced. And if you are playing V5, we want to hear from you about what you like and what you think could be improved. We especially want to hear about the stories that you and your friends are telling together!
Josh is the Chief Operations Officer at High Level Games. He is also the madman in charge of www.hlgcon.com please come by and purchase some tickets and come play games with him.
Recently going through Twitter I saw a lot of the people we follow really excited about a Kickstarter that had just launched. That game Kickstarter is Power Outage, a kid-friendly, kid-focused, Supers RPG that focused on accessibility, teamwork, and fun. So, even though I am already way over Kickstarter budget for the year I had to back this game. So, I did. Then, I reached out to the creator because I wanted to hear more about what this game was about and why the creator had chosen to develop this particular game.
So, first, Bebarce, tell us a bit about yourself and why Power Outage? Is this your first foray into writing RPGs?
So my name is Bebarce El-Tayib. I'm a supervisor of technology for a school district in NJ. Originally Power Outage came about with my (then 4 and 6 year old) daughters continuously stealing my poly dice. I figured, if they were going to have them, I might as well come up with a game for them to play. Dungeons and Dragons, as enjoyable as it was, didn't fit my needs exactly, and when I started out, I wasn't aware as much about what was out there, so we built a miniature game from the ground up with very simple rules. After thinking back over the fun we had, I decided that I'd like to really see this game become something that encourages parents to play with their kids, in a form of structured/unstructured imaginative play. Over time, that simple game developed and redeveloped, and morphed into what the game is now, and likewise, so too did it's promise.
This is definitely my first foray into writing RPGs, but not my first foray into writing or game design. This is the first time however that I've committed myself so wholeheartedly to a single purpose for such an extended period of time.
You mention accessibility and wanting to develop a product with this focus. Tell us more about what this means for you and for Power Outage?
While there is a part of me that has attachments to people in my life that have disabilities, I believe that it's importants not just for me, but for all of us to endeavor as best we can to create more inclusive and accessible environments. We don't always succeed, but it's important that we try, regardless of whether we directly connect to a person with disabilities. I've been attending a fantastic series of conventions in NJ by Dexposure (Metatopia, Dreamation, and Dexcon) and the focus and effort they put in accommodations shows. It shows on the faces of people who feel invited, and who feel welcome without exclusion. Tabletop Roleplaying games become a haven for many of us. A place to express our emotions through our avatars, to connect to other people, to gain a sense of being something. Making sure EVERYONE has access to that same feeling? That's pretty much the most important task we should all be undertaking.
Power Outage is tackling it in two ways. Within the book I have a small amount of generalized guidance on Accommodations that are divided into 5 primary domains other than general guidance (Physical, Communicative/Receptive, Behavioral, Cognitive, and Emotional). The idea was to approach things from a symptomatic approach rather than focusing on particular conditions. Addressing the effect, and providing guidance and support for that, without focusing on the cause. I've found it to be the best method for creating a large net of coverage of disability accommodations than just focusing on a single condition. But secondly the book refers back to a website that I set up called www.accessible-rpg.com. It's not much yet, and what is there currently is geared toward gaming with kids. It's a wiki that still needs a lot of revision, guidance, and thoughtfulness. Most importantly it needs input directly from people within the community. People that have disabilities. Once I finish this Kickstarting campaign, my focus will most likely shift back to that site, while my designer and artist work on the book.
What do you want to accomplish with this Kickstarter in particular?
This Kickstarter specifically is an attempt to fund the cost of a designer, editor, and artist, with whatever is left over going toward miscellaneous production costs. The honest truth is with enough time, I could probably release the book with much less art, and my somewhat shoddy design skills. I don't believe however, that this is what Power Outage deserves. I believe the system is great, and it has a lot of promise. I don't want it to be chained by my inability to make it stand out among a stack of other TRPGs. I believe we have something really special here, that I'm willing to dedicate my life to, and that means reaching out to others to get it to where it needs to be.
Have you looked into connecting with RPG Research, Wheelhouse Workshop, or any of the other RPG therapy groups out there? This seems like a game that would really help their practices.
I think it would! I've talked to RPG Research about the wiki, primarily and again because I want to ensure that the guidance I'm providing is sound, functional, relevant, and non-offensive. To this point, I've also partnered up with some local professionals that I know through my work in public education that are doctors in the fields of counseling and psychology. When I have a book, that I am confident will benefit the community as a whole, I'll do everything within my means to ensure that they have enough resources to play the game. I've also communicated with some great twitter community members to help refine and restructure guidance.But yeah, I think this would work fantastically in a counseling setting, and the professionals I work with agree. One aspect of the game, aside from it's flexibility in rule structures, is the concept of meta weaknesses applied to villains. In this way, achievements that occur outside of the game, can have an impact within. This helps bridge the gap between personal goals and game goals, and slots in perfectly as an educational aide.
If you had one thing that you wanted to leave us with today, what would that be?
There are a couple things to know about kids. They're more capable then they're often given credit for. They often think in circles around squares. And they are the next generation of players that will be sitting at your tables. This is our opportunity to use our games to impact the up and coming generation. To help give shape to the importance of empathy. Of teamwork. Of dedication to a cause. To the nobility of altruism. And we can do so, while having a pretty fun time of it. So get out there and be a hero to some kid. Help them learn about the hero they're meant to be.
Thank you Bebarce for telling us more about Power Outage. If you are interested in learning more you can go to the Kickstarter and become a backer.
Josh Heath is the COO of this outfit. He’s also organizing HLG Con. www.hlgcon.com in Atlantic City October 12-14th. Come join us!
One of the trends in gaming lately has been trying out new mechanics and ways of resolving conflict. Suited takes the whole “using cards” thing to its logical conclusion and breaks out the playing cards to create a wacky, setting-adaptive system, excellent for one-shot adventures. The best part is that the system was developed in the best place ever to use playing cards: a road trip. Check out what designers Ted Pick Jr. and Erin Johnson had to say about the game below.
First, Suited looks like a blast, but it seems like the car ride that spawned it may not have been. Did you have the idea to work on a game before you set out, or did the deck of cards get you thinking?
The car ride itself actually was a lot of fun, Texas has a gorgeous countryside that is worth driving through if you get a chance. But to answer your question, we had discussed working on designing a tabletop game the night before the drive, and we decided to spend some of our time during the drive working on one. At the time we had just gotten our hands on a copy of WYRD'S "Through the Breach" which uses a card-based system, as opposed to dice, and we fell in love with that idea and couldn't figure out why there weren't more card-based game systems out there. So we started spit-balling ideas on how we could put together a Two-page RPG using card mechanics, and about 3 hours later we had the bare bones of Suited. Side note: We seem to do our best game creation while driving, over the course of two other drives we designed two completely new playsets that we are planning on releasing as stand-alones at some point.
You state in the sample document that one of the goals of the game was to keep it quick. What was your biggest challenge to keeping the pace of the game up?
The biggest challenge to keeping the game fast was in trying to keep everything slimmed down. There are volumes of games out there (that we love dearly) that have page upon page on game mechanics, enemies, weapons, and chapters detailing how to level your character. While these games are fun, we wanted to create a game that people could pick up, spend maybe 10-15 minutes reading over the rules, and then start playing. Originally we designed Suited for a Two-Page RPG challenge, but as we worked on it we realized that we could never fit everything on just two pages, and as we designed more playsets we had to add in a few more rules mechanics to accommodate actions that could occur in that setting, which then required trying to keep the rules slim enough to not slow down the game, but in-depth enough to do what they needed to do.
All of the missions are randomly assembled by the GM. What’s been your favorite combination, and what were some of the hijinks that ensued?
I think my favorite combination so far occurred in the Post Apocalypse Playset. The group in the Post Apocalypse game had gotten a world that was run by robot overlords. Working with them to design the world, we decided that it was a world where humans were cloned and used as batteries by the machines, but that some humans had gotten free, but they were dying off because the robots wiped the knowledge of how to reproduce from their genes. The item that the group started with was a VHS Tape and their mission was to Save The Information. So they decided the tape was a copy of Debby Does Dallas and the information they had to save was the way humans reproduced (as demonstrated in the tape). The downside was that the only way to copy the tape was controlled by the villain, Emperor Gor-Urs, so they had to make a dangerous trek across the land to his base and convince him to allow them to transfer the data and copy the VHS tape. They started in Guttown in a desert and immediately got into a scrap with some robot sentinels out looking for free humans. The group then had a run in with some free people hiding in an old scrapyard (The Dumps), and were then chased up into the Mountains where Emperor Gor-Urs lives by a Robot Hunting Pack. They successfully destroyed the pack, found Gor-Urs base, and convinced him to let them use his VHS copier. It was a blast!
In the free sample you have rules for noir, western, and post-apocalyptic settings, and you have announced rules for anthropomorphic animals, space exploration sci-fi, and wushu settings. Can you give a hint for future settings?
Our plans are to release two Pay-What-You-Want expansion packs, both with 3 new playsets, and then combine the two expansions and the free edition playsets into a high-quality full book that will be available for purchase on DriveThruRPG. So right now we have the six playsets you mentioned, and then another seven playsets planned for the core book that would range over all of the common settings people enjoy roleplaying, everything from 80's action hero to horror to high fantasy. We also have a couple of stand-alone playsets like I mentioned earlier that we will save for special events, kickstarter stretch goals, and the occasional April Fools release. One example of the stand-alones is a touring band simulator in the idea of Spinaltap/Airheads.
We cannot express how awesome it feels to have people looking over our works and playing our game, and if you haven't checked out the DriveThruRPG file lately, we released an updated version of Suited: Free Sample Edition last month with better graphics, and much nicer layout, and a slightly larger section on the rules mechanics of the game. We hope that you enjoy Suited, and should you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to let us know!
Check out Suited 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: http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/241178/Suited-Free-Sample-Edition
Let’s be honest; we’re all nerds here. And as nerds, we love more than medieval fantasy. We love steampunk, Lovecraft, gothic horror, and we really love sci-fi. So how about we talk about a sci-fi 5E compatible setting inspired by Mass Effect, Phantasy Star, Ghost in the Shell, and more. Chris Negelein, one of the project’s story writers and project managers, sat down to answer a few questions about Esper Genesis.
One of the first things that struck me about Esper Genesis was the fantastic art. What might a typical art order look like, and how closely do you work with artists on fine-tuning to what you had in mind?
We are very proud of our artists and feel lucky to have them help make our vision a reality, like Santi Casas, did with our race portraits. Our team tries to match up an artist’s talents with subject matter that plays to their strengths. After that, they often turn in art that surpasses our expectations and blows us away.
Our art orders also try to be specific while we also provide reference material for inspiration. The more you provide in the beginning, the more it smooths the process in the long run.
We pay special attention to our covers, it’s the first impression you’re making with a player. So we work closely with our artist to get the look just right. I think when you see our covers you can tell the effort pays off.
But it might surprise people on how easily great art can be buried on page with poor presentation. So our awesome graphic designer, Brian Dalrymple, makes that awesome art really pop with great backgrounds and layout.
Aside from its popularity, why did you decide to base Esper Genesis on 5E instead of another system that already caters to science fiction, such as Starfinder, Cortex, or What’s OLD is NEW?
Well, it breaks down into two parts. The first is that we were simply working and playtesting Esper Genesis long before most of these games were even announced.
For a time, Esper Genesis was going to be its own rule set, but then the flexibility and compatibility of 5E changed our minds. It’s much more flexible than many people give it credit for and it invites lots tinkering for fun. Lots of GMs already do that with 5E but only for their fantasy games. We had a blast taking it one step further!
Our main game designer, Rich Lescouflair, is also a Guild Adept for the DM’s Guild. He understands the mechanics and philosophies behind 5e. He’s also our world architect. So if you love the rules and the world, he’s the mastermind behind both.
Everything in the galaxy revolves around massive structures called Crucibles, which power spaceships and heroes, and have mysterious origins. Are you willing to give up any secrets about the Crucibles? Do you have any plans to publish adventures in which heroes can explore the nature of them?
We have some deep lore about the Crucibles, but right now there’s so much more going on in the Silrayne Arc that needs the immediate attention of the PCs, the heroes, of the setting.
Though, that doesn’t stop a GM from doing his own thing with the Crucibles in the meantime.
It seems as if the act of using Crucibles to power individuals (esper genesis) is new to the galaxy. What ripple effects is this discovery having on the galaxy?
The tragedy that ravaged Eldor when a nearby Crucible was activated happened in our Middle Ages and it spawned two different species, the noble PC race of Eldori and the imperial Lorendi.
For humans, the technology and powers of the Crucible gave us FTL, but also sparked a horrible war.
So it seems the pattern is that while the Crucibles give sentinent species the power to reshape the galaxy, the end results -- whether wonderful or terrifying -- are the consequences of their (and the PCs) actions.
Space combat can be tricky to pull off in an RPG. What was your main objective when designing space combat, and can you name some key decisions that helped you accomplish that objective?
Our three main goals were: fun, getting the whole party involved, letting the crew’s performance enhance a ship’s overall performance. Funny enough, the turning points in development that really helped get us there also came in a set of three.
One concept was the idea of finding ways to link a ship’s station (Pilot, Gunner, and Engineering) to Attributes, Backgrounds and Skills, but not necessarily classes. This means that while one PC might be a better fit in a certain chair on the bridge, your second choice in a pinch won’t be so bad.
Just yesterday I was watching an old sci-fi show and nearly every character jumped into the pilot seat at one point or another. You could do that in Esper Genesis right out of the box.
The other is to have a PC version of a ship that is modified by which PCs are in control of which combat stations. The same ship can trade off maneuverability with durability depending on who is doing what behind the controls.
There’s also a lot of tactical tradeoffs in Crew Maneuvers, where PCs have to work as a team to make sure they can keep the bad guys off balance. My personal favorite is Feinted Stunt, which is a maneuver you see in every cool space opera dogfight.
Check out the Esper Genesis Core Manual 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/113664363/esper-genesis-heroic-sci-fi-role-playing-for-5e
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
Here at HLG, our Corporate Overlords actually ARE benevolent and have sunk countless hours and their own actual money into the upkeep up the site and taking care of us lowly content producers (you know, the ones whose work you enjoy reading and listening too). Help them help us entertain you, and supportour Patreon here.
If you’ve been playing RPGs pretty much at all at any point over the last 25 so years, the name Rob Heinsoo has probably popped up. He’s best known for his work on Dungeons and Dragons and 13th Age (a favorite of myself and editor Sean “Heavy Metal GM” Clark), he’s also worked on board, card and miniatures games like Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures, Three-Dragon Ante, and Shadowrun Crossfire. Rob was kind enough to spare some time to talk about designing monsters for 13th Age, D&D, and the awesome that is Glorantha.
Q: 13th Age monsters tend to be simpler than those found in other F20 systems. What was the process for you and Jonathan Tweet in developing that stripped down format?
A: I thought about it a couple minutes and realized that when Jonathan and I first collaborated on a stripped-down format for an F20 system, it wasn't for a roleplaying game. It was the Chainmail miniatures game that Jonathan and Chris Pramas were working on with some other folks, and then I came on board. Though we didn't always stick to the mission, the plan with that game, and with the D&D Miniatures game that grew out of it, was to provide just enough abilities that people would enjoy the monster's special flavor without having to cope with an overload of complexity.
I wanted to handle 4e in a similar way, but I wouldn't say that was entirely successful, many legacy-abilities crept in or got added for simulation purposes.
By the time we designed 13th Age, Jonathan and I agreed that the purpose of a monster is to help the players and GM have fun, usually during a single combat, since most monsters don't last long. If a monster does something exciting or weird or effective that evokes its place in the campaign world or its unique attributes, that's all that players really need in order to get a different impression than they get from all the other monsters. Players are focused on their characters, they just need enough from the monsters to frame the PCs' actions in the best light! GMs, on the other hand, simultaneously need something fun or elegant to keep them interested in the game, but not so complex that they have to think too much about each move the monsters make.
So that's why a lot of our monster abilities get triggered in unpredictable ways. You want the players to be surprised and the GM to wonder how things are going to play out without having to make all the decisions as if they were half-a-dozen cunning monstrous combatants.
Q: Matching theme and mechanics is one of the trickiest tasks in monster design. Do you typically start with flavor or mechanics? How often do you start from the other part?
I nearly always start from the flavor, from thinking about what the monster is like in the world and how it relates to other creatures or to the many types of magic. Having said that, I do have a list of unused monster mechanics, a list that started as something Jonathan wrote when we were doing the core book. I've been adding things to the list and occasionally drafting ideas ever since, but I don't remember starting by looking at a mechanic on the list and thinking "we need to design a monster based on that mechanic." Instead, I'll look at the list when first-thoughts for a monster's mechanics aren't working out, looking to see if there's anything in the list that could be adapted.
As far as I know, the only monster in our recent books that was designed mechanics-first is the salamander from Bestiary 2, but that's only because it got designed as a fire-moth at a GenCon monster design panel. Way after that initial design I realized it might be more accessible to
GMs as a fiery salamander instead of as a moth that lived in volcanoes.
Q: When developing a new monster, where do you go for inspiration? Is there a particular author, director, or selection of mythology that stokes your imagination?
I read all the time and watch TV and movies only-a-tiny-bit, so for me inspiration is much more likely to be from the word than the moving image. And when I'm working on games, it's often games that inspire me. I have giant maps of Glorantha on the walls of my study, and when I'm stuck designing RPG stuff I often grab a Glorantha book, something like Cults of Prax or Cults of Terror or a Heroquest book or one of Robin Laws' books from the various Gloranthan incarnations.
Q: The most recent book of monsters for 13th Age, Bestiary 2, features monsters from a slew of individuals. What elements do you look for in a pitch for a new creature, especially if you’ve never worked with that designer before?
I ask the designer to provide a hook. Usually it's an exciting new story for the monster that I know will be enough to inspire cool mechanics. Usually this amounts to an answer to the question: "What is cool about this monster that GMs and players are going to care about and remember?"
Q: For the upcoming 13th Age Glorantha, was there anything about the setting that changed how you approached the new monsters?
Yes! Glorantha is organized around runes, fundamental magical forces of creation, instead of around the icons. So the monster chapter is organized that way too, with a few nasty tusk riders and baboons in the Beast rune section, the magical Puppeteer Troupe in the Illusion rune section (with strange campaign-affecting powers like nothing we've done before), and so many many monsters in the Chaos rune section, because Chaos is the destroyer, the anti-cosmos, the uncreator. Gloranthan Chaos is freaking nasty, so some of the limits we observe in most 13th Age games got ignored or temporarily suspended. A quarter of the time Chaos steals the escalation die from the PCs, and we escalated the consequences from there.
To redirect the question, many of these Chaos monsters, and monsters from other runes, are creatures I've always wanted to have truly interesting battles with! 13th Age is a system that encourages combat and showcases personality during combat. That applies to the monsters as well as the PCs, so in a lot of cases we were able to find fun new ways of showcasing monsters that haven't necessarily been *fun* to fight before. They can be! And part of that excitement is tying into the Gloranthan runes and themes in ways that will be exciting for new players and resonant for long time fans.
Q: Which monster from Monsters of Faerun do you wish had more stage time?
I immediately thought about the tall mouther, a creature I'd invented with a silly name. It doesn't really deserve more stage time! But there was something dear about it to me. I decided I should leave my garage work-studio and go into the basement to find my copy of Monsters of Faerun. In the basement, before heading to my game shelf, I looked at my wall of old journals and pulled out a green hardcover book from the third shelf. I haven't looked through the journals for years and they aren't in any kind of order, but the second page I flipped to in that green book was the page where I wrote: "Forgotten Realms monsters: Big guy with Mobility and a 10' reach; or with Combat Reflexes"
That's the note that turned into the tall mouther, which I described as a "one-creature whirling skirmish." It was the first F20 creature that I made up for WotC, and I designed it around a mechanical concept, the opposite of how I usually design now. "Tall mouthers speak Common and broken Halfling, both in accents that can only be described as obscene." Welcome back, big guy.
Check out 13th Age Glorantha and Lion & Tigers & Owlbears: The 13th Age Bestiary 2 at DriveThruRPG.
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: http://forgottenrealms.wikia.com/wiki/Main_Page
Here at HLG, our Corporate Overlords actually ARE benevolent and have sunk countless hours and their own actual money into the upkeep up the site and taking care of us lowly content producers (you know, the ones whose work you enjoy reading and listening too). Help them help us entertain you, and support our Patreon here.
If you’ve been playing roleplaying games beyond D&D for any length of time, you’ve probably heard of Pelgrane Press. From 13th Age to a wide array of GUMSHOE products featuring the Cthulhu Mythos, vampires fighting super spies, and time-traveling hijinks, Pelgrane has been a force to be reckoned with. Managing Director Cat Tobin was gracious enough to answer a few questions about Pelgrane Press’ fantastic 2017, and what’s shaping up to be an even better 2018.
The past year has been great for Pelgrane Press, with the release of the Bestiary 2 and completion of the Battle Scenes series for 13th Age, Cthulhu Confidential, #Feminism, and a very successful Kickstarter campaign for The Yellow King. What big projects are you excited about for this year?
2017 was a record year for us, and I think 2018 is going to be even bigger for Pelgrane. The reason for that are the two projects I’m most excited about. The first is Fall of Delta Green. This is Kenneth Hite’s 1960s setting, which adapts Arc Dream’s intense thriller Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game for the GUMSHOE system. The 1960s brought us the moon landing, war in Vietnam, and counterculture in Haight-Ashbury, and so this decade offers a wealth of roleplaying opportunities to investigate through the twisted lens of the Delta Green mythos. I knew this was a great match of setting and system when I playtested the game, but it wasn’t until I saw the amazing art and design that Jen McCleary brought to the interior layout that I realised it was going to be one of the best books we’ve ever published on all metrics. I can’t wait for this to be released.
The other project I’m excited about is the delivery of Robin D. Laws’ The Yellow King RPG. This is a four-book core set, featuring the main rules – a streamlined version of GUMSHOE that we’re calling the Quick Shock system – in with the earliest setting, the Belle Epoque Paris featured in Robert W. Chambers’ original short stories. As a four-book set in a slipcase, it’s the most significant core book we’ve done, and Robin’s chosen top artists to illustrate it - Aaron Acevedo, Melissa Gay, Rachel Kahn, and Jessica Lee - so the art is stellar. Robin’s nearly finished the writing now, and most of the art is done, so we’re currently on track to have this to Kickstarter backers before December. Dean Engelhardt, who you might remember designed The Hawkins Papers for the Dracula Dossier for us, has now finished Absinthe in Carcosa, an in-world supplement for The Yellow King RPG. I think it’s no exaggeration to say that Dean’s an industry leader at producing realistic aged documents, and he doesn’t disappoint in Absinthe.
Outside of Night’s Black Agents: SOLO, will GUMSHOE One-2-One be expanding to any other properties?
Cthulhu Confidential really scratched an itch for a lot of people who were looking for games to introduce partners to roleplaying, and its two-person format makes it really easy to run games online, too, so it has a lot of potential. The solo protagonist is a classic of both genre and non-genre media, and so the problem we have is too much choice of which setting to adapt next!
I really like Agatha Christie’s work, and I’d love to do something like a Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot One-2-One setting. I’m very keen to do a non-genre One-2-One book, so that’s likely up next after Night’s Black Agents: SOLO. Our writers have pitched at least half a dozen other projects for One-2-One, so there’s definitely more settings coming!
First with Seven Wonders in 2016, and more recently with #Feminism in 2017, it seems like Pelgrane is moving more into micro game anthologies. Do you have plans for any this year, and what themes would you like to explore in future anthologies?
That’s a great question. We don’t plan it, but every now and again, one of us come across a game in the experimental/micro-game space that really grabs our interest; for me, Becky Annison’s When the Dark is Gone inspired the Seven Wonders anthology, and when I heard that #Feminism, which I wrote a nano-game for, was looking for a new publishing home, I jumped on it immediately – that’s a project that really resonates with our company goals. Recently, Simon’s played Steve Dempsey’s Da’Zoon, which is a GUMSHOE-lite system which distributes some elements of world creation to the players, and he really likes it, so that might end up on the publishing schedule as part of an anthology or setting collection. Simon and I have both playtested Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan’s drone, which is a futuristic short game, where three players play controllers of a reanimated drone, played by the fourth player. It’s got a solid core, and we’re likely to end up publishing that in some format, too, although likely not as an anthology.
In terms of actual plans, we’re seriously considering two anthologies featuring our systems; the first, a new anthology of DramaSystem Series Pitches, and the second, an anthology of short GUMSHOE games. These are both longer-term projects, and likely to be next year or the year after, though.
One of the big successes for you last year was The Yellow King. What one big tip can you give to others who may be looking to fund their own projects through Kickstarter?
A thing I always say about Kickstarters is that you have to bring your own audience. Unfunded Kickstarters are often the result of creators who’ve set up a campaign and then sat back, expecting an audience to show up. That’s not how it works! You have to establish a fanbase, and get them really excited about your project, before you Kickstart it. Then once you’re up and running, tell everyone about it. Talk about it on your social media channels. Share previews with reviewers and popular online hangouts for your target market. Which brings me to another point – make it look good. Your video and sample art are the things most likely to get your campaign shared, so make them as professional and slick as you possibly can.
What conventions will Pelgrane Press be making appearances at this year? Can we expect to see any Pelgranistas at HLGCon in October?
We always have a booth at three conventions: Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio; Gen Con in Indianapolis, Indiana, and Dragonmeet in London, UK. Last year, we also had a booth at PAX Unplugged in Philadelphia, and we’re likely to be back there again this year. I love going to conventions, and I always try to get to one of the Double Exposure conventions in Morristown, New Jersey. So you never know – I might stop by HLGCon on the way!
Check out Pelgrane Press’ website here, and their DriveThruRPG products 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: http://site.pelgranepress.com/index.php/about-us/
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Lovecraft was an amazing author. His horrifying stories of cosmic indifference have influenced countless authors, game designers, and heavy metal bands. But Lovecraft always had a darker, more disturbing tinge to his stories than unfathomable beings from another dimension, the mere knowledge of which will cause a human to go insane: he was horribly racist, xenophobic, and sexist. This facet of Lovecraft has not discouraged those he hated from enjoying his work, creating new tales within his Mythos, and even working to subvert the tales they love. Enter Harlem Unbound, a source book from Darker Hue Studios for Call of Cthulhu and Trail of Cthulhu, set, unsurprisingly, in Harlem in the 1920’s, with a mission to upend the worst part of an amazing author. Lead Designer Chris Spivey was kind enough to spare some time and tell us a little about the book.
1) What new mechanics are you bringing into Call of Cthulhu and the GUMSHOE variant, Trail of Cthulhu, that brings 1920’s Harlem and the African American experience to life?
I created the Racial Tension modifier to provide a mechanical effect to aid in play and establish a baseline both for both player and keeper. This mechanic helps remove some of the out-of-play tension and lets the player know that Keeper is not just being a jerk by providing a benchmark for Keepers.
2) Tell us a little bit about your background with the Lovecraftian Mythos. What got you interested in this particular type of story?
I am actually going to pull a big chunk from a blog post I did about this, as it sums up everything…
I was part of a group that had to stay in a house for an estate sale. The owner had passed away and had these massive piles of books, and I stumbled onto H.P. Lovecraft. We were given free reign of the house but chose to all stay in one area together. Come on, empty house + young kids + reading horror fiction = ghosts!
Reading that Lovecraft collection in the home of a recently dead person, tucked in my sleeping bag, and listening to the sounds of my sleeping friends made it magical. The shadows lurked around the room and every creak caused me to stop reading and stare into the darkness. Chilling!
The ideas that were presented resonated with me as an African American male growing up in the deep South. I understand the concepts of cruelty and the uncaring nature of the universe. Yes! I get it! The best man can do is struggle against the insurmountable evil and win for a day or two, and at the very best, delay the maddening doom and protect humanity.
3) What about the Harlem Renaissance makes it so suited to subverting Lovecraft?
The very heart of the Harlem Renaissance was about embracing change and celebrating the African American spirit. The movement highlighted African American intellectualism and creativity and sought to make the world a better place through racial and gender equality and more freedom of sexuality. It was everything Lovecraft was against, and dovetails perfectly with the concept of cosmic horror.
4) Part of your work revolves around Prohibition. Is there something that ties together the hidden world of speakeasies and the world of the Great Old Ones? (Author's note: this question is a result of misreading during my research for this interview. Chris gave a great answer anyway.)
That is a great hook, but doesn't appear in any of the current scenarios. You never know…
5) The book will contain five scenes for the games (including one with the Harlem Hellfighters!). Do any of the larger than life figures of the Renaissance make an appearance?
Harlem Unbound contains four scenarios and there is an additional digital scenario that will be released to Kickstarter backers in 2018. The backers received a few exclusive items as a thank you for their support.
A few high profile figures from Harlem do make appearances throughout the scenario, such as Jack Johnson and A’Lelia Walker, and the book provides detailed hooks to bring in many more. It was one of my goals to have players and keeper be able to engage with actual Harlem luminaries at this stage in their lives.
6) What advice would you have for game designers who are cautious about creating more inclusive games for fear of “getting it wrong?”
If you are working on something that is not your struggle but care deeply about it, team up with someone for whom that struggle is real. That means hiring them at a good rate, giving them credit and being a team. Their voice needs to be heard. Research is a powerful tool but lived experience is essential and is an important way to stop potential appropriation.
Check out physical copies of Harlem Unbound here. Buy digital at DriveThruRPG.
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: http://www.darkerhuestudios.com/shop/
Today's RPG product review is Titan Effect The Role-playing Game by Knight Errant Media for The Savage Worlds game system. Unlike my standard reviews, I was given the opportunity to interview Christian Nommay, CEO of Knight Errant Media and a co-writer for Titan Effect. Having read through the Beta Edition of the rules, I (DMDR) had a few questions for Christian (CN).
DMDR: Going through the beta version of the book, and many Influences come right up to the front: X-Men, Ghost in the Shell, and real-life military and intelligence history. What inspired you and your team to bring these elements together?
CN: As a great fan of superheroes and spy fiction, I always had the crazy idea to combine these two genres together. With Titan Effect, I had the perfect project for that. I wanted to tell a spy story with an epic and heroic dimension, or even mythological. The work that probably inspired me the most for Titan Effect was the video game Metal Gear Solid. Besides the richness of the story, I was amazed by the unique mix of grounded espionage, science fiction, and superhero elements, and how these elements managed to remain consistent with each other. I wanted to be able to bring this same consistency for Titan Effect. When Daniel Eymard and Ghislain Bonnotte, my two co-writers, became involved in the project they also brought their own inspirations and references.
DMDR: By drawing from real-life history and topics, how did this affect the lore for Titan Effect? Would the cosmology have had a different feel if placed in an entirely new world?
CN: It was important for me and the team that Titan Effect was grounded in reality as much as possible. The best way for us was to mix Titan Effect’s elements with real-life history. The three of us are history buffs, especially everything related to the history of espionage and war as well as secret societies. This was really the fun part for us. Titan Effect's cosmology probably wouldn't be the same if it was placed in a different universe, or at least it wouldn't have the same impact. For example, World War Two and the Cold War had a lot of influence on how most organizations and characters have evolved in Titan Effect.
DMDR: The history references stop with 2014. Was it your team’s intent for Titan Effect to take place in the present or a near future timeline?
CN: Initially, Titan Effect was to take place much further in the future, in the 2030s (I started writing the project in 2007, but that’s a long story). Since a lot of elements in Titan Effect were linked to the Cold War, it made more sense to bring the action back to the present. Besides, trying to create a futuristic universe is a different kind of beast. At the end, it will be up to the players and the GMs to shape the future of Titan Effect.
DMDR: What excited you most about working on Titan Effect?
CN: The thing that excited me the most during the writing of Titan Effect was the opportunity to create a whole storyworld, with its own rules and characters.
DMDR: What was the most troublesome part of this project?
CN: The biggest challenge during the development of Titan Effect was undoubtedly to ensure the consistency of all the elements and achieve a good balance. It was true for the background as well as adapting Savage Worlds rules.
DMDR: The Titan Effect Kickstarter will be live in October. What potential stretch goals can pledges unlock during the crowdfunding?
CN: I don’t want to reveal too much and keep the surprise. However, I can tell you that among our stretch goals there will be a Plot Point campaign, a player companion, a world atlas, and a lot more.
DMDR: If there was one thing you wanted readers to know about Titan Effect, what would it be?
CN: Titan Effect's creation has been an exciting and emotional journey. With your help, I'd like to share the result of this journey with everyone else.
Review and ScoresComing from the opposite spectrum (Fantasy, non-SW GM/Player), the Titan Effect review took me out of my comfort zone; in a good way! The art is amazing, the text reads like a novel (fun, engaging, nice flow), and the concept perfectly blends together different sources in a way that made me feel at home. I think my biggest complaint about Titan Effect is that I do not have a group using the Savage Worlds game system. I may need to change that.
Cost vs Value
The Cost here is a touch of an issue. Generally speaking, many companies set prices around 10-15 cents per page on soft covers and around 20-25 cents per page for hard covers. There are plenty of examples of main and third party publishers going outside of these ranges. This comes in at around (expected, I cannot guarantee this price) 30-47 cents per page (again expected retail after Kickstarter), which isn’t not too far off of what other Savage Worlds third party publishers are charging for a premium color, hardcover. I will note that you will be getting closer if not under that 30 cents per page if you pledge to the Kickstarter. Once you throw in the fact you get a PDF for most of the pledge tiers, and the prospect of stretch goals, that price per page drops quickly. This is one Kickstarter where there will be huge savings versus retail.
Now that we handled the cost per page, what is the actual value you’ll get? If the core book is similar to the beta rules, you get quite a bit. The beta rules come with everything you need, if you’re a Savage Worlds player. You get a cosmos that seamlessly blends with real-world history, a plethora of psychic spy character options and gadgets, a fully loaded armory, and more than 20 sample NPCs and foes. Want more? The beta rules supplied a really well-thought-out mission generator so a GM can pump out plenty of missions to keep agents busy.
20 points (KS)/ 9 points (expected retail)
I am not really a “digital painting” kind of person. People can make really awesome artwork using a digital painting medium, but I still prefer seeing awesome line-work and traditional mediums. But you know what? I genuinely enjoy the art in Titan Effect. The art is well-placed, not just filler. The images really give a sense of the flavor Knight Errant Media is aiming for. I nearly jumped out of my seat when I saw an operative image with a censor bar over her eyes trying to hide her identity. It was like something out of a spy movie. Perfect. Everything is professionally finished. Definitely order this book in premium color. 10 points
I need to do a lot of reading on my phone: in the lab, at my desk, or a even stopped at a red light. The layout and text worked perfectly on my phone. No need to zoom-in and out or scroll all over the place. The writing is just as perfect. The technical portions provide clear, concise information. Never once did I backtrack and re-read something for clarity. The creative side is not sprinkled on top; it is loud and in your face. As I read the opener, I felt like a secret agent. I reminded myself more than once this was a rule book and not a Tom Clancy novel. 20 points
There really isn’t much to say about the mechanics. But that is quite common in a “campaign setting” book. While there are a few new mechanics in play, most of what you deal with is based on the core book (Savage Worlds in this case). I will mention that Titan Effect uses a supplement that generally can be OP (Super Powers Companion). Titan Effect tones down the power creep with built-in limitations and alterations to the source material. 13 points
Titan Effect almost stands alone. Almost. Like most settings, you need the core rules. If nothing else, this is how I would define a stand-alone setting. Titan Effect calls for partial use of the Savage Worlds Super Powers Companion. While calling for a main-line product typically does not impact the score, this specific rules companion has known power creep with some SW groups outright banning the book as hard as my group did Book of Exalted Deeds from D&D 3.5e (I think that was also the last time anyone ever let me in a PvP session, too). Though Titan Effect will give you extensive use of your Super Powers Companion, not having a copy of this sparingly-used supplement means an extra investment. 12 Points
Titan Effect draws inspiration from almost every source imaginable. We have historical references, real-life military intelligence, and folklore all spliced with biomechanical/genetically-engineered humanoids (or simply evolved) X-men meets Ghost in the Shell flavors. Separate, these ideas are cliché tropes. Together, they create a diverse experience where everyone at the table feels informed with the material and game-style. 19 points
With 94 out of 100 possible points (Kickstarter), Titan Effect is going to infiltrate many Savage Worlds collections. If it doesn’t, it’s because the Kickstarter slipped under your radar (Tentative 83 out of 100 for retail pricing).
If you are interested in picking up a copy (Savage World groups really should), the Titan Effect Kickstarter is live. Keep tabs on all the Titan Effect news by following their twitter and facebook pages.
Donald “The DM Doctor” first discovered the ancient tomes known as AD&D at the age of seven. After twenty years of experience in various RPGs from both sides of the table, Donald took the leap into freelance game design. A Paizo RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32 contestant and freelance writer, The DM Doctor posts DM tips and free RPG resources on his blog: www.thedmdoctor.com. You can follow The DM Doctor on twitter, facebook, and google+.
Image source: https://www.facebook.com/pg/TitanEffect/photos/
At some point in almost every gamer’s career, we get tired of being the good guy. The helpless villagers start to look less like citizens in need of aid and more like easy marks, we realize it’s easier to burn a town down instead of, searching for the bad guys, and the princess in the tower.... Well, let’s not mention that. But most systems aren’t designed with evil in mind, and keeping a group of evil PCs together is akin to herding cats. That’s where Book of Exalted Darkness comes in. Mike Myler was kind enough to sit down and talk about his book, which is aimed at providing a world where evil will thrive, mechanics to help players find the darkness in their hearts, and tools for GMs to keep their parties focused on being the horrible people they actually are.
(Editor’s Note, interview has been edited for length.)
1) The Book of Exalted Darkness introduces Sanctity and Sin attributes into 5E, which reflects on a PC’s holiness or vile intent, but what struck me is how a character loses points, namely being witnessed taking an action of the opposite nature. Why was is the perception of others so important to the loss of Sanctity and Sin, but not to gaining it?
First of all thanks for interviewing me about Book of Exalted Darkness!
Sanctity and Sin are thematic attributes—that is to say they are mechanical expressions of themes inherent to the game. All of my 5E campaign settings use thematic attributes as a way to reinforce how the game is fundamentally different than a regular D&D 5E game. For example, Hypercorps 2099 5e uses Luck and Reputation (to quicken the futuristic cyberpunk game’s pace), Mists of Akuma has Dignity and Haitoku (how honored you’re thought to be and “fall from virtue” that ends with transformation by the mists), and 2099 Wasteland has Irradiated (which is self-explanatory).
In Book of Exalted Darkness there are two new thematic attributes each serving two purposes. Sanctity defines how easy it is for a wicked soul to seem uncorrupted and Sin is a measure of that actual corruption, but both are largely involved with inaequa, wherein your answer lies. Again I have to divert a bit to explain something important: the actual campaign setting itself is not evil, mostly it’s just the adventurers. Everything (and everyone) else is holy decopunk—think Rocketeer or Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow—so there are blimps, radios, telephones, trolleys, jetpacks, and what have you. The trick here is that all of that technology is fueled by inaequa, a substance that radiates energy elongating the lives of good creatures. The PCs (and other evil adventurers like them, as well as some mad scientists) are flawed souls that can take this fundamentally unjust technology and trick it to make it work for them or pervert it to overcharge and explode or produce other nasty effects.
Mostly it’s a matter of game intent—the book is built around the idea that a group playing in the world is out to wreck it. Throughout a campaign the PCs work with mad scientists lurking beneath the earths and seas, dismantling the 9 Spheres of Askis (inaequa being one of them) and restoring balance, or much more likely, imbalance in a different direction than before. By encouraging the party to secretly act in evil or good ways, it navigates gameplay towards subterfuge, reinforcing the pulp feel that decopunk brings with it.
2) What drove you to make inequality, which manifests itself as inaequa, the powersource of technology which prolongs the lives of good creatures, into the game?
We actually (we being myself, Savannah Broadway, Luis Loza, and Michael McCarthy) started writing this a year ago and it just didn’t hook. All of the other settings we’ve made all feel super distinct and are conceptually as tight as a drum, but the original pitch for Book of Exalted Darkness—a medieval world where angels had won the day, instilling a world of goodness for evil adventurers to fight against—just wasn’t clicking.
While checking on the status of the Book of Exalted Darkness pitch (which in its original form was not sent to Legendary Games but another publisher) I ran into an article about how the world needs more decopunk—and I emphatically agreed.
They decided to pass on it (which was a good call for everyone!) and since I had control of it again I started figuring out how to merge those two ideas together, then—like all my best and worst ideas—very late one evening I had an errant thought: “what if humans develop a gene that transforms electromagnetic energy in a practical way, like increased synapse firing or…” and off I went for a twenty minutes. The idea got tossed into my subconscious for a while and then a few days later it hit me: that could be the crux for the campaign setting! I ran to the computer and started a flurry of messages to my team and they were like “that’s it, we got it”. After a few more days all that germinated into inaequa and then the gold and blood encrusted grimoire of good and evil that is Book of Exalted Darkness. We actually had some other things planned for the start of the summer and ended up swapping the schedule around after figuring out inaequa because it really is something worth thinking about; it doesn’t do harm, it only unfairly grants gifts, a boon to one’s life, something more valuable than any gem or relic! I know I wouldn’t be cool with inaequa (even if it did work for me; anything that discourages free will is bad in my book) but it’s definitely a worthwhile conundrum and most importantly, it gives the party a reason to unify together and some justification for being truly despicable villains: for JUSTICE!
3) What challenges have you had bringing extra technology into 5th Edition? How have you tweaked character classes traditionally associated with medieval fantasy to integrate them into your decopunk setting?
Oooh, excellent question! Hypercorps 2099 5e is superhero cyberpunk, Mists of Akuma is eastern fantasy noir steampunk, and 2099 Wasteland is apocalyptic sci-fi, so this is going to be my fourth campaign setting where technology plays a significant role. In the past we relied on class archetypes, but starting with the most recent book we decided that technology was playing an important enough role that it needed to get entirely new class options so 2099 Wasteland has doctors, mechanics, and scrappers, all of which are available in that book’s PDF preview. We also created a customized weapon-building system but those rules don’t really have a place in Book of Exalted Darkness—we’ll be pulling the vehicle rules from 2099 Wasteland but otherwise every piece of technology is getting its own entry on how it functions (and in the case of inaequa-powered devices, the rules for how it works for a good/neutral/evil creature).
As far as technological archetypes go in Book of Exalted Darkness however, there are none yet. If backers or playtesters say, “Hey Mike! I want to ________”, I will make a draft of rules for it and toss it around with the design team, then probably include it. This book we’re shooting to make 180 pages but most of the time we end up stretching resources to the brink and producing 50% or more past what the initial budget planned on. But hey! We’re making the best books we can!
I’ve been mentioning mad scientists and those are where I’ve been putting my technological emphasis on, creating the equivalent of a warlock for the scrapper from 2099 Wasteland (which is built mostly like a wizard but with technology). Mad scientists only use their spell slots to cast offensive things through their Scientific Weapon, relying on Scientific Devices (like a warlock’s eldritch invocations) to access other magic. For their archetypes there’s an Evil Engineer (who specializes in surviving within society), Fleshworkers (chirurgeons that perform surgeries that grant a variety of benefits or things like lobotomies), Tricksters (want bombs and explosions?), and Unholy Technologists (if you’re looking to trick and manipulate inaequa, this is the way to go). There’ll be a free Mad Scientist Playtest PDF coming out before the Book of Exalted Darkness Kickstarter ends on June 17th so keep an eye out! :D
4) What’s been the most twisted thing you or your PCs have done so far in playtesting?
Oof, that’s a hard one. There are four things that stand out for me:
5) One of the biggest challenges in running an evil campaign is keeping the party focused on a unified goal. How does Book of Exalted Darkness help GMs and PCs stay unified?
Well the whole world is quite positively arrayed against them and they have a shared enemy (albeit an uncaring global effect as opposed to entity) but those are pretty vague. Part of the Book of Exalted Darkness is going to be devoted to fleshing out as many GM tools as we can provide for keeping a cadre of villains from backstabbing one another but there’s a trinity at the core of them all—fate, thematic mechanics, and circumstance.
Fate is pretty obvious: make the party need one another through plot, tie them to one another by connections in their backgrounds, or have some very vital story reason for the group to work together. Thematic mechanics are a little more vague—these would be things like an in-game pact that has out-of-game consequences on character sheets—but there’s also Sin. Killing one or two companions might not be so bad, but going about murdering too many (unprovoked allies) will rack up your Sin. Then there’s circumstance or tertiary benefits. Having a trusted ally you know is competent means access to a network of contacts you don’t have yourself, it’s easier to survive against a state government when you have allies, different compatriots have their own unique talents (like that mad scientist you all know and are kind of afraid of but have to rely on for technological help anyway), and so on. Near the end game it’ll be very important that at least one party member be able to act as the “face” when their villainy becomes truly infamous or they’ve transformed into vilespawn, otherwise the party will be up to commando-esque raids on the workings of Askis’ most powerful defenders with little ability to manipulate the exploitable bureaucracy surrounding them.
Thanks again for interviewing me about Book of Exalted Darkness! As of this writing we’re still in the first week and 67% funded, so we’re pretty excited about reaching the funding goal and unlocking a few stretch goals (hint: we’re looking to convert outside of 5E!) Check out the project page, download the 2 free PDFs, and consider pledging to my (6th, sure to overdeliver again) Kickstarter! :D
Check out the Book of Exalted Darkness Kickstarter here.
Phil Pepin is a history-reading, science-loving, head-banging nerd, who would like nothing more than to cuddle with his pups and wife.
Our intrepid reporter Philip reached out to Lee Moyer to discuss some of his amazing RPG art. Please check it out the interview, and then check out Lee’s site: www.leemoyer.ninja
1) When did you realize that you could make a living with your art?
When I was a boy of 8, I had favorite artists - John R. Neill, Arthur Rackham, NC Wyeth, Norman Rockwell, MC Escher, et al. And it was probably around that time that I realized two things:
1. That not every child spoke rhapsodically about their favorite artists or could explain why they admired them. In fact kids didn't care about such things at all. And...
2. That the artists I so respected had all been professionals who were paid for their excellent work.
From these 2 points, it seemed pretty clear that I or anyone else might be paid to follow suit - providing that we paid proper attention and practiced our craft diligently.
2) How do you approach working on a new property you are not familiar with, and how much input does the designer/publisher have?
Everything depends upon the project.
In some cases, I will literally be given a one word descriptor and told to do as I like - the Art Director trusting my grasp of the genre and necessary underpinnings. In others, there will be very complex story/design "Bibles" and councils of in-house brand specialists will ride herd over anything I do. In most cases, I will do all the research I can - often going far beyond the extent expected (I was a docent at the Smithsonian' s Natural History Museum for a decade, and I well know that proper research can make an enormous difference).
3) What has been your favorite property to work on?
I love our game/media culture so much that even writing about the favorite property I'd worked on in any given year would be challenging enough! As a lifelong HP Lovecraft fan, my board game The Doom the Came To Atlantic City obviously comes to mind. But so do my online games Sanctum and Star Chamber. And my dear friend Keith Baker's card game Gloom. And my role playing game 13th Age. But do these completely overshadow Age of Empires? D&D? Star Wars? Star Trek? Shadowrun?
4) If you could Frankenstein together three other artists who work on RPGs, who would you choose, and what would you take from them?
I'd have to include the delightful Todd Lockwood, if only to see his startled face. ;)
Todd draws like a dream and paints wonderfully. I have collaborated with him twice and been pleased and surprised with the results.
I think that Dave Trampier's work in that long-ago Monster Manual is the stuff of magic. His design sense, his grasp of pattern and silhouette - whether the menace of an Intellect Devourer (imagine trying to make a brain on legs that scary!), or the elegance of that Rakshasa - just breathtaking stuff.
While I adore Errol Otis' phenomenal Lovecraftian visions, I couldn't dare mixing him with Todd and Dave, lest the whole thing curdle. Instead, I'll pick the remarkable Adam Rex. Adam's time in gaming was comparatively short, but his imagination and humor (as seen in The True Meaning of Smekday and Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich) are as fine as his grasp of color and form.
I hope my answer was up the the mania of the question.
5) What projects are you working on now, or do you have coming out shortly?
I'd love to tell you in detail, but because of the way the industry works, I'm afraid I cannot. Maybe check back with me in a couple months?
That is all for now. Please take a look at Lee’s site and hire him to do some amazing art for you in the future. http://www.leemoyer.com/
Phil Pepin is a history-reading, science-loving, head-banging nerd, who would like nothing more than to cuddle with his pups and wife.
In late March Goodman Games launched their Kickstarter to bring the legendary Lankhmar setting to their OSR game, Dungeon Crawl Classics. I asked Goodman Games' Michael Curtis a few questions about fantasy's past and DCC’s future.
Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions!
My pleasure, Philip!
1) Lankhmar has been around for a long time and has had many different iterations. How do you strike a balance between handling the legacy of the city and creating something new?
It’s certainly a challenge. The Fafhrd & Gray Mouser stories have been around for almost 80 years, and RPG companies have been interpreting those tales since 1976. Suffice to say, a lot of people have their own personal notions of Lankhmar and Nehwon. I don’t think it’s possible to appease everyone, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t try with DCC Lankhmar.
I began by rereading the stories, first in the order they were published and then in the chronological order they were later arranged in, all the while taking copious notes. I nearly filled up two composition notebook with all my jottings, notations, and references! I then cross-referenced and highlighted this information to create a firm “canonical guide” to Lankhmar, Nehwon, and the adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.
This became the bedrock we needed to build upon, the facts that we had to take into account as we adapted Lankhmar to DCC RPG. Whenever possible, we strove to never overwrite or contradict these essential truths—which is something that even Leiber himself did from time to time! Instead, we looked for the holes in the narrative, the little details that Leiber might have mentioned but never fleshed out and used those as springboard to create new material.
Maintaining the tone of Lankhmar was extremely important to us as during the design phase. If we could find a way to tweak an existing DCC rule to make it feel like something that replicated life in a Lankhmar story, we did so. If we had to create a new NPC or monster, we looked back at who or what had already shown in the stories and used them as guidelines. Keeping that balance between the literary canon and the new RPG-related material for DCC Lankhmar was tough at times, but I believe we’ve done the best job of adapting Leiber’s stories to tabletop role-playing to date. DCC RPG was designed from the ground up to replicate the sword & sorcery pulp tales of authors like Howard, Lovecraft, Leiber, etc., so Lankhmar is in the game’s very DNA. We didn’t have to tweak the rules much to make them fit Leiber’s stories!
2) Speaking of the new, what can DCC fans expect from the new setting?
DCC Lankhmar introduces some exciting new rules like how to handle healing in a DCC RPG game without clerical magic, a new mechanism called the patron die that allows non-spellcasters to appeal for aid from supernatural entities, and, the one I’m most excited about, the Fleeting Luck mechanic.
DCC RPG players know how important the Luck ability is in the game. It can be spent to influence rolls and plays a part in determining if you die when knocked to zero hit points. With DCC Lankhmar, we have a new system that pumps up the Luck economy of the game. Players will find it easier to earn Luck for their characters by rolling well, creative role-playing, or just engaging in actions and activities that feel properly “Nehwonian.” This increased amount of Luck allows them to pull off more daring (or foolhardy) activities, better replicating the adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. But there’s a catch.
As the name implies, Fleeting Luck can disappear at almost any moment, so the PCs are encouraged to spend it quickly. This leads to bigger risks, which results in more Luck, and so the cycle perpetuates itself. It’s a terrific new system and I expect it to quickly make the jump over to more traditional DCC RPG games.
DCC Lankhmar also has loads of new monsters, spells, patrons, and other goodies to challenge and reward adventurers in Nehwon or to be borrowed for games set on other worlds. Whether you intend to base your campaign in Lankhmar or anywhere else, you’ll find the DCC Lankhmar a valuable addition to your gaming collection and judge’s tool box.
3) Lankhmar and Nehwon have been hugely influential on gaming and fantasy. How did they influence DCC?
Leiber’s stories are about what I call “blue collar heroes.” Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser aren’t high fantasy protagonists engaging in derring-do because of lofty ideals, self-sacrifice, or strict codes of honor. They are out to preserve their own skins and fatten their purses—things any DCC RPG character is likely to identify with. The mantra of DCC RPG is “You’re no hero,” and that reflects a lot of the grittiness of the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories.
To a lesser extent, I think the characters of Ningauble of the Seven Eyes and Sheelba of the Eyeless Face helped influence the concept of magical corruption in DCC RPG. The origins of the Twain’s mentors are never fully explained in the stories, but one of the possible causes of their odd physical traits is hinted as being the magic they practice. Physical mutation and malformation because of sorcery isn’t solely something from Leiber’s work, but I believe it’s one of the more visible examples of that phenomenon in sword & sorcery fiction.
4) DCC is known for being particularly brutal to player characters. How much worse is Lankhmar going to treat them?
That depends a lot on the judge! Going back to my earlier answer about the difficulty of pleasing everyone’s personal interpretations of Lankhmar, we provide a lot of rules options in the boxed set that allow judges and players to customize their gaming experience on Nehwon. Non-magical healing has a few different rule options judges can employ to make their games gritty and grim (in playtesting, some PCs became decrepit with injuries by the time they reached 3rd level) or more forgiving without mollycoddling the characters. PCs in a bleak, street-hardened DCC Lankhmar game are going to end up battered and bruised if not outright dead. It’s up to the individual gaming groups to decide how tough they want life on the streets of Lankhmar to be!
5) The Kickstarter is the first in a line of products set in Lankhmar. What’s next for the setting and Goodman Games?
We’ve got a great bunch of stretch goals we’re still working on as part of the Kickstarter. No less than six adventures have been plotted out and we’ve got a cadre of great designers like Steven Bean, Daniel J. Bishop, Bob Brinkman, Tim Callahan, Terry Olson, Harley Stroh, and myself set to tackle them. There’s also a cloth map of Lankhmar in the works, a supplement for developing Random NPCs for the players to encounter, and a book detailing a dozen location in Lankhmar the characters might visit during their adventures.
If all goes extremely well, I’m going to visit the Fritz Leiber Papers collection down in Texas and spend a week going through his original manuscripts, story notes, correspondence, and more, looking for inspiration to write a seventh adventure. That’s the closest we can come to co-creating a DCC Lankhmar module with Leiber, himself, now that he’s no longer with us.
Beyond those planned releases, Joseph Goodman and I have hashed out a multi-year schedule of DCC Lankhmar supplements designed to span the face of Nehwon and bring it and its inhabitants to DCC RPG tables everywhere. I’d love to do a Quarmall supplement covering the subterranean city and the political rivalries there, detail the intriguing city of Ool Hrusp, scale Stardock and explore the Cold Waste, set sail on the Inner and Outer Seas and fight Mingol pirates, and visit Rime Isle. There’s no shortage of material to build upon in Leiber’s stories.
I’d be remiss not to mention that DCC Lankhmar is just the first licensed property being adapted to DCC RPG. Goodman Games is also developing a supplemental line based on the Dying Earth stories of Jack Vance. Designer Jobe Bittman has been working on that for the past year, and I understand it’s coming together nicely. There may also be some other intriguing things in the works regarding the famed Appendix N that inspired DCC RPG, but you’ll have to wait for a formal announcement on those!
Check out the Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Kickstarter ending the last week of April.
Phil Pepin is a history-reading, science-loving, head-banging nerd, who would like nothing more than to cuddle with his pups and wife.
RiotMinds has been busy for the past year. Following a successful Kickstarter campaign to translate their Nordic myth and folklore inspired Drakar och Demoner Trudvang into English as Trudvang Chronicles, the company has already smashed through their initial goals in a follow up campaign to bring their game of 18th century occult mysteries and secret societies, LexOccultum, to the English speaking world. I had the opportunity to ask Theo Bergquist a few questions about LexOccultum and Trudvang Chronicles, along with what's next for RiotMinds. (Full disclaimer: I backed the Trudvang Chronicles Kickstarter last year.)
1- What makes LexOccultum different from other mystery and intrigue games out there, and what makes it different from Trudvang Chronicles, which is powered by the same engine?
Theo: I guess we focus more on the occult and mystery play and less horror and also the time era. LexOccultum is set in a fictive 18th century whereas many other games take place in the 19th century. One of the main themes in the game is secret societies and conspiracies and less of vampires and werewolves. Trudvang Chronicles is a pure fantasy game and even though the two games share the same engine I’d say that LexOccultum is deadlier and more ”realistic” than Trudvang Chronicles.
2- Both Trudvang Chronicles and LexOccultum feature excellent artwork that seems to help shape the world. Did you have a setting in mind and use the art to shape the world, or did you come across the art first and build the world around the art?
Theo: Thanks, yes we work with truly great artists. Yes, we had a clear view of how and what the look and feel should be already from start. When I fist approached Paul Bonner years back I’d see his great work on Mutant Chronicles but also some great fantasy pieces. When I told him we was looking for a John Bauer look-and-feel he was really happy and I’d say he’s nailed it since then. Alvaro Tapia is very much behind the design of both worlds. I was working with Justin Sweet on some Conan covers and felt he was the perfect man for a more ”mature” and less ”fantasy” look that we decided to have for LexOccultum. So yes, even though we’re the first to acknowledge the great work of the artists, I’d say that we had a clear vision from start.
3- The game was originally called Götterdämmerung in Swedish; what does 18th century occultism have to do with the fall of the Norse/Germanic gods?
Theo: The 18th century was the great century of the enlightenment and as such, for the first time in history, the church was starting to loose it’s grip and power over the people. The ”gods” were losing power. Götterdämmerung means Ragnarok, the fall of the gods, but also Armageddon, it was a perfect name for a game combining the great mysteries, occultism and the enlightenment. Is this a second fall of man? Or is it the fall of the church? It’s a battle between man and god so to say.
4- Religion and myth play a big part in shaping Trudvang’s identity; is this something you specialize in and is there a particular reason for this focus in LexOccultum and Trudvang?
Theo: Good questions. I guess we want our worlds and settings to be believable and to have the depth in both mythology and ”every day life". Without that it’s just another hack-and-slack fantasy game. We’ve spent tons and tons of hours for both games just to do the research of which much was never used. However, it adds to the games and give them that flavor we like. For example the Stormlands (a region in the Trudvang world) is a mix of barbarian/viking culture and Mongolian culture, it’s not just another viking region. That kind of ”cross-over” and mix with our own ideas is what make the worlds different I guess.
5- You’re in the middle of what will be your second successful campaign to bring your games into English. What’s next for LexOccultum, Trudvang Chronicles, and RiotMinds?
Theo: Next up for Trudvang Chronicles is the Stormlands, Mittland and Westmark source books, and the great campaign SnowSaga. We haven’t fully decided in what order of scope they will be launched but focus on finalizing the core rules now. For LexOccultum we have tons of exciting stuff including a book about the secret societies, a monster book, campaigns and source books about the world. This will be a fun ride and for the English audience these are the two games we focus on. I have this crazy idea of expanding the Trudvang world into a more ”arabic” or ”asian” setting, but first things first.We’re so happy about the great support both our games have gained from the international audience and now it’s time for us to deliver.
Check out the LexOccultum Kickstarter here. The campaign ends Friday, March 24.
All blog materials created and developed by the staff here at High Level Games