Thursday 28 June 2018

Inspiring art #5 - 'Dragon Issue #126 Cover' by Daniel Horne

I hadn't bought Dragon magazine for a long time as I was reading a lot of White Dwarf magazine before it became focused on Games Workshop games, but issue 126 in late 1987, with Daniel Horne's amazing cover, quite literally leaped from the shelf and landed in my lap.

I love it because there's a story in there; there's so many ways you can interpret this image as a huge skeleton warrior looms over a lone warrior. Now, it appears that she's had a right old fight with this thing. There are arrows stuck in the creature already and there's a sword jammed into it's armour - I'm assuming she's the cause of all of that - and she has an empty quiver with a single arrow on her bow. I'm hoping it's a powerful arrow as the cock of the creature's hand tells me he's about to deliver the killing blow and she's been through a lot already, what with her torn leggings and empty quiver. It's quite an encounter, but who will be the ultimate victor?

I've loved this image since I first saw it. I originally thought the creature was bursting from the snow in ambush but the closer I looked the more I saw. This is the climax of a long battle; she's got some hits in, even one through the head, but the damn thing just won't go down. I could feel the cold coming off the image, and the detail is excellent. Also, it was one of the first images in my hobby where I saw a lady in action instead of an unrealistically dressed woman in form-fitting armour standing like she's posing for a photograph (or whatever appealed to young men at the time).

It's a fantastic image and I based an encounter on it, in a D&D game set in Icewind Dale. As soon as the encounter was over one of my players said, 'Why am I thinking about Dragon magazine now?'

I parted with my entire Dragon magazine collection years ago. This is the only issue I kept.

Tuesday 26 June 2018

Inspiring art #4 - 'Looking Down Yosemite Valley' by Albert Bierstadt

I adore Albert Bierstadt's work. Out of all of them I find his 1865 painting 'Looking Down Yosemite Valley' to be the most inspirational as it's just gorgeous and could easily be used as an otherworldly location.

It's the lighting that does it for me; even though that's the sun creating the light it can easily be interpreted as something greater, as if adventures abound where the imagery ends. Bierstadt's landscapes are gorgeous and he captures lighting wonderfully, so the paintings feel both real and mystical at the same time. Looking at the painting I can imagine all kinds of things in addition to the scene that's been depicted; a small town, maybe, situated around the river or a castle on the high rocks to the left.

I have a great love of landscapes, especially mountains and forests with no human or artificial presence, and Bierstadt really does it for me. I can take any one of his paintings and add a fantastical slant to it, but that's usually after I'm done drinking in how gorgeous his work is.

Monday 25 June 2018

Inspiring art #3 - 'Dragon Warriors' by Jon Hodgson

I allowed Dragon Warriors to pass me by in the 1980s because I was involved with Fighting Fantasy and other games. However, I saw the Magnum Opus book and immediately fell in love, and why? Because the Jon Hodgson cover was crying out 'Jonathan! This is your game!'

Dragon Warriors by JonHodgson

The reason why I find this image inspiring is because it represents everything I love about fantasy tabletop roleplaying games and the kind of adventures I like to run. There's a nicely mixed party of warriors and magic users, and they're descending into a dark ancient ruin ready for action.

I love the mood the image creates; there's tension and darkness but the characters are tooled up for adventure. There's a nice nod to the original Dragon Warriors cover image with the skull in the winged helmet in the bottom right - the unfortunate soul - and there's a large clash of cultures; robed sorcerers, an armoured European knight, a powerful Nordic warrior, all descending into what seems to be a tomb built by indigenous South Americans. It's excellent and really helps spark the imagination.

Saturday 23 June 2018

Inspiring art #2 - Chris Achilleos' 'Blood Royale'

There's so much going on in this image it gave me adventure ideas for a long time. I never played the boardgame but I do remember seeing the image in Games Workshop's 'White Dwarf' magazine and being bowled over by the painting.

artsytoad:  “ Chris Achilleos, Blood Royale  ” 

Chris Achilleos has always been a favourite of mine and has produced some of the best covers of some of my favourite games and books. This one in particular came along at a good time for me; I was between campaigns and could not think of a new adventure, but after seeing this image I ended up running a long War of the Roses-type game.

The main foreground image of the two warriors, especially the big dude with the sword, is tremendous. Even with all the pageantry and heraldry on the clothes and armour - this grandiose statement of apparent nobility - the act of bloodshed and the lack of mercy is still a brutal and nasty job. There is no compassion in this knight as he prepares to plunge his sword into an unarmed foe. The lady looking on with part shock and part anticipation is very telling and the only person who seems even slightly horrified is the jester, the one person in the room whose opinion everyone no doubt disregards. The act also appears to be the start of something bigger, what with the warriors in the background preparing for action.

This is a fantastic image and I found it inspiring for all kinds of reasons, especially the gaming angle of warring nobility and the duty of warriors.

Friday 22 June 2018

Inspiring art #1 - Michael Whelan's 'Elric'

I'd like start a short series detailing the artwork that has inspired me and/or really triggered my imagination over my years of gaming. I'm not sure how long this will go on for, to be honest, but I've been going through my books recently and some images have really jumped out at me so I thought I'd share.

I thought I'd start with an amazing painting, 'Elric and the Sinking City' by Michael Whelan.

I first came across Elric when his stories were reprinted by Grafton in 1989 and I bought the entire run. This was my favourite of the Whelan covers because it captured both Elric and his world for me; he's muscular but not overbearingly so, and he has obviously has a deep connection to the sword Stormbringer as he cradles it, with a flat, expressionless face that speaks volumes about his torment. As well as that, the surroundings are obviously ancient but also bleak, disturbing and in a state of decline, just like him and his people.

It's a fantastic image and is one that I find not only inspiring but also incredibly evocative of Elric and his saga.

Wednesday 20 June 2018


Image result for first conan story
Conan Illustration by Mark Schultz
'Know, O prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars - Nemedia, Ophir, Brythunia, Hyperborea, Zamora with its dark-haired women and towers of spider-haunted mystery, Zingara with its chivalry, Koth that bordered on the pastoral lands of Shem, Stygia with its shadow-guarded tombs, Hyrkania whose riders wore steel and silk and gold. But the proudest kingdom of the world was Aquilonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming west.'

- Robert E. Howard "The Phoenix on the Sword" (1932)

Read that aloud with the Basil Poledouris 'Anvil of Crom' theme in your head and I guarantee that you're thinking of gaming in Hyborea right now! When this huge larger-than-life Cimmerian hit the shelves for the first time in December 1932 in the pages of Weird Tales they surely could not have imagined that he would still be going strong eighty six years later, cleaving his way through the imaginations of millions of people worldwide, and yet here we are. There's an excellent roleplaying game from Modiphius out now and there's a TV show in the works which is going back to the spirit of Howard's original stories - although, we heard a similar thing when they were making the Conan movie that came out in 2011, and all we got was a horrible messy mish-mash of sources, mainly from the 1982 John Milius movie (saying that, I liked Momoa as Conan, and with a little tweaking of the hair and an accent change I still think he'd fit the part quite well).


Image result for The Complete Chronicles of Conan: Centenary EditionAs with most people, no doubt, my first exposure to Conan was the 1982 movie where Arnold Schwarzenegger smashed his way through a pretty good film with plenty of atmosphere. I enjoyed it, and I continue to enjoy it, but I came to realise early on that this movie really wasn't Conan.

I realised this when I started buying the Marvel comics a few years later. There was a difference in tone to the movie, a world richer in history and a Conan character more boisterous and dramatic than what I had seen on the screen. From this I managed to get hold of a copy of a book by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter from a second-hand bookshop, and upon reading this I began to see that the movie was far removed from the stories. However, it wasn't until I bought and devoured the Gollancz two-volume edition and then the 'The Complete Chronicles of Conan: Centenary Edition' that I realised just how far removed from the world of Hyborea the movie was. In fact, I felt the comics reflected Howard's world much better. Don't get me wrong - I still like the 1982 movie and I even have a soft spot for the sequel, Conan the Destroyer, but these are not Conan to me, now, just fun fantasy stories.

Oh, and I did see the Conan the Adventurer cartoon and the Conan TV show with Ralf Möller. The cartoon was trash but I kind of appreciated what they tried to do with the TV show, but it ended up being a cheap attempt to get in on the success of Hercules and Xena.


As all these parts started falling together and Howard's rich world was laid open to me, my thoughts quickly turned to gaming. What kind of game could I run, and what system would I use?

I missed out on the TSR Conan RPG from 1984 but, to be honest, I don't remember even seeing it available. If I had I would have most certainly bought it as it was then I was getting into gaming and I was experiencing Conan for the first time. I've read it and it seemed like a playable game and I'm always on the lookout for a copy. I also didn't see the two modules they created for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, either.

The GURPS versions totally passed me by. I wasn't that into GURPS and my gaming at the time mainly consisted of Star Wars, MERP and Warhammer FRP so it wouldn't have got a look-in anyway.

My first attempt at a Conan game was using the Cthulhu: Dark Ages rules. I thought the historical feel to the game would reflect the Hyborean age nicely and it mostly worked. There's a creepy Lovecraftian feel to the nameless horrors that Conan comes across and this game was pretty good for it. I feel that with a few passages from Howard's books and an introduction to the world of Hyborea, Cthulhu: Dark Ages may have made a pretty good Conan RPG.

My biggest success was using 13th Age, the Tweet/Heinsoo game that came out in 2013. It was heroic, fast-paced and a lot of fun, and the Icons were replaced by Hyborea's Gods (of course, everyone worshiped Crom because he laughed at all the other Gods from his mountain). As the players started out pretty damned heroic straight away it was easy to throw them into the fray with no real fear of dropping them into the 1st level meatgrinder. In fact, it was the players that ended up doing the grinding so managing to carve their way through a host of mooks gave them an immense feeling of satisfaction as well as give the game that feeling that they were carving their way through the hordes of evil. It was suitably epic.

I wrote an article a while ago about how I felt about running a game in Tolkien's Middle-earth and how difficult I found it because I was emotionally attached to the source material. As I had already been exposed to the 'wrong' version of Conan through the 1982 movie, the better interpretation through the comics, the edited version from L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, the cartoon, the TV show and then - finally - the true version, I didn't have the same emotional connection to Conan and his adventures as I did to Tolkien's work. I can't compare them - they are very, very different kinds of fantasy literature - but I did find it so much easier to game in Howard's world because it was so much fun, and I felt no qualms about making changes here or adding things there because it had been done so much previously, so much so that when the phrase 'Conan the Barbarian' is used most people will think of long-haired Arnie in a pair of furry pants swinging a sword - and that's a real shame, truth be told, because Howard's stories are so much more than that.


Now we have 'Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of' from Modiphius Entertainment. By Crom, this looks good. I've read the quickstart and intend to purchase the main game but if the core rulebook is anything like the quickstart - if they have put even half the love and attention into that game as I felt coming off the pages - then I think I'm going to have fun with this. The 2D20 system seems flexible and easy enough to use, the layout is gorgeous and the book itself seems to invoke what I love about Conan; dark and dangerous yet adventurous.

I have a lot of love for Conan, for the world he inhabits and the journeys that he has taken me on. It's only been since the turn of the century that I have truly appreciated Robert E. Howard's work and the sheer energy that leaps out of his Conan tales, and the world of Hyborea is one I wish to travel again, and crush the shining dice of civilisation under my slippered feet. My venturing into the world via RPGs has been brief but always fun, and it's getting the right system for the setting that counts; high adventure, brutal combat, mind-bending mysteries and monsters and the chance to be a larger-than-life hero.

'What do I know of cultured ways, the gilt, the craft and the lie?
I, who was born in a naked land and bred in the open sky.
The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing;
Rush in and die, dogs—I was a man before I was a king.'

- Robert E. Howard "The Phoenix on the Sword" (1932)

Monday 18 June 2018

The influence of Hollywood epics

Image result for The Fall of the Roman Empire hollywoodWhen I first got into tabletop RPGs in 1984 there were very few movies or TV shows around; I think I'd seen the animated Lord of the Rings, Dragonslayer and Hawk the Slayer at this point and other than the books themselves that really was the only visual representation I had as to how these games looked and felt.

The other imagery I used to draw on was from the huge Hollywood epics from the 1950s and 1960s. I'd watch El Cid, The Fall of the Roman Empire, Land of the Pharaohs, The Vikings, Prince Valiant and all kinds, along with movies like Jason and the Argonauts and some huge Italian classics. Along with the TV show Robin of Sherwood to keep me 'grounded', I absorbed these movies and allowed them to colour my games.

So, my first Fighting Fantasy games had the wonderful artwork of the gamebooks to give them flavour, but my D&D games needed a different injection of visuals as the few pieces of artwork in the red box Basic D&D set I had to source inspiration from another source, and this ended up being the Hollywood epics.

So, when I was describing a fallen tomb I took my cues from the great sets from The Fall of the Roman Empire, when I was describing raiders hitting the shore I used elements of The Vikings, and when the players found themselves in a huge battle between two nations I used the great war scenes from Alexander the Great and Spartacus. As soon as I said 'have you seen Quo Vadis? The city is burning like Rome' the scene was set and it made for one of the best action sequences I think I've ever run in a game, with the collapsing buildings, panic in the streets and the struggle to get out of the city as the capital was ransacked, and the players had find the way to their tavern to get hold of the riches they had accumulated over the last few games.

These films were a great source of inspiration for me in my formative gaming years, and they still have something of an influence on me now. After Gladiator hit the screens I ran a huge Warhammer campaign with those elements, using stills from the film to get my point across, and recently I've been thinking about a Conan game and I used images from Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments to help visualise ideas. As well as being amazing movies they can really help fill out a world and can be source of amazing melodrama.

Friday 15 June 2018

Culling a game collection

I've been subjected to a lot of cyberpunk recently, especially after the Cyberpunk 2077 trailer, and I've been looking at other games like Deus Ex, Syndicate and the Blade Runner game from the late 1990s that I still can't get to work on my machine.

Because of this I thought a hell of a lot about the roleplaying games, so I dug through my boxed RPG collection to get hold of my copy of Cyberpunk 2020 with the intention of settling down for a couple of hours to enjoy that retro gaming feel.

I couldn't find it. I found my old copy of Shadowrun first edition - which was nice - but I still couldn't find my CP2020. Then, as I wondered at the missing book I suddenly remembered... I'd sold Cyberpunk 2020 and the supplements I had back in 2006. My son was on his way at that point, and to help pay for his impending birth I sold a huge swathe of RPG products. I made a lot of money; my collection turned out to be a hell of an investment and it pretty much paid for my son's first year on the planet. More than worth it, but when I realised that this particular game was gone my heart sank.

However, I did hold some games back, games I didn't think I could part with for all sorts of reasons, but sadly Cyberpunk 2020 didn't make the cut. It was one of my favourite games, but I think I was putting the feelers out on Ebay and I was made an offer that was amazing. I remember parting with quite a few things I said I wouldn't; my MERP modules sold really well and a lot of my more obscure and collectable games ended up in bidding wars.

So, how did I decide what was going and what was staying? I remember sitting down for an entire day going through the collection and making three piles of books and boxes; To sell, to possibly sell, and to keep. At first, I just went through the games deciding what it was I didn't want anymore, but in the end the 'possible sell' pile was the highest and it made very little difference to the collection. I decided to have a look at what had been sat on my shelf for years without being used, and that was a lot! It was a shame to hold on to stuff that wasn't going to be used, I'd rather they went to people who would appreciate them more.

Then I did the hardest thing, and that was to go through my collection to see what I'd get for it on Ebay. That drastically reduced my collection; the impending arrival of my son overshadowed any emotional connection I had to some of these games, and I think Cyberpunk 2020 fell into that category. Over the following few weeks my collection went out across the world, and I like to think they have a place on someone else's shelf and they get used often.

Selling a collection is not an easy thing, but I had to be realistic. I needed the space more than I needed the money, and being a dad meant that the majority of the games I owned would never see the wood of a gaming table again. I had no qualms about parting with about 80% of my collection for my son, but there were a few games I didn't want to let go. Regardless, sitting down and going through the collection piece by piece and deciding what to sell and what to keep, and then looking at it all again and being honest with myself as well as checking prices, meant I got the collection down from more than 300 books and boxes to less than 60.

Three entire bookcases, one entire wall, of games was gone. For a long time it kind of hurt as there wasn't a single game in my collection that I wasn't connected to in one way or another, but I realised it was necessary and in the long run the best thing to do. There were a few things I sold that I regret parting with - Cyberpunk 2020 and my five D&D Basic boxsets mainly - but that can't be helped. I can still get hold of CP2020 on POD and I got an original copy of the D&D Rules Cyclopedia, so it's all good.

Wednesday 13 June 2018

Preview: Dave Bezio's X-plorers RPG

A preview? Of a game that's more than a decade old? WHAT ARE YOU DOING, JONATHAN?

Well, this game has been on the scene for a long time but in the last few years it's slipped out of the spotlight. As an OSR sci-fi game it has kind of been eclipsed by other games of the same ilk.

I've been through the other games and, as good as they are, I chose X-plorers because of it's simplicity, which meant I didn't have to worry too much about stats and figures and I could concentrate more on stories and adventures.

Player Characters are class-based - Scientist, Soldier, Technician and Scout - and they level up as a good OSR game should. They have four attributes; Agility, Intelligence, Physique and Presence, scored from 3 to 18, and each class has skills which is basically a score the player has to beat on a D20 roll. It's quick, simple and smartly laid out, and the rules for aliens, robots and starships are fully fleshed out with enough room for referees to make their own game out of it.

Even though the game is about 'Galactic Troublshooters' in a Golden Age sci-fi kind of setting, with a 'Buck Rogers' action adventure feel to it, it can be used for any kind of sci-fi; action, mystery, horror, you name it. It's roots are firmly placed in the D&D ground with levels and experience points, and the grind that may come with that, but it's flexible enough to do what you will.

I'm also giving it a preview because I'm going to be writing new material for it under the OGL and releasing it through Farsight Games on DrivethruRPG. The rules can be bought from DrivethruRPG but you can also download the entire rules for free from the game's owners, Brave Halfling Publishing. And, at only 40 pages long, you can print it off quite cheaply and use it as an old-school black-and-white RPG book.

I've purchased the POD version in book form and it's smart and incredibly old-school, even down to it's presentation, and I like that a lot. Let's give X-plorers some love.

Tuesday 12 June 2018


After having a lot of fun helping with the Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2nd Edition 'Stellar Adventures' rulebook and writing two adventures for the original fantasy game - therefore fulfilling two childhood fantasies I had, writing and drawing for Fighting Fantasy - I've decided to bring my Farsight Games label out of retirement to publish my own work on DrivethruRPG.

Since hitting the tabletop gaming hobby in 1983 and falling in love with pen & paper RPGs in 1984, I’ve always wanted to communicate my own ideas and adventures to the rest of the gaming community. I set up Farsight Games to do just that.

At Farsight Games we like to keep things simple and fun and try to reflect that in our work. The majority of our products will be uncomplicated PDFs of a low page count and cost; keeping these down means that you can print at your leisure or read from a device with ease, without having to spend lots of extra money on PODs or professional printers.

We'll keep things basic; this means we can produce material that’s perfectly suited to a gamer’s needs, make it available quickly and cleanly and always have something new in the pipeline.

Welcome to Farsight Games - we’re looking forward to gaming with you!

Monday 11 June 2018

Cyberpunk 2077 Trailer

If I was going to set up a new Cyberpunk 2020 game, this is the trailer I would show my players to get them in the mood as it's an amazing representation of how I see the excellent Cyberpunk 2020 roleplaying game.

I used to use game videos to capture the atmosphere of games I was wanting to run - the trailers for the 'Star Wars: The Old Republic' MMO, the trailer for 'Dead Space' and the 'Modern Warfare 3' trailers received some play time and got my players in the mood for the game I wanted to run.

However, this Cyberpunk 2077 trailer is a step beyond all that and captures the essence of the game beautifully. The atmosphere, the music, the visuals are spot on and, even though I'd have liked a few more 'rain-soaked neon evening' images, it still shows you what Cyberpunk is all about.

Not only does this trailer force me to look forward to this game, it's kicking me in the creative nuts and telling me that everything I imagined, every detail I thought up, was lacking compared to what this game is going to offer. This trailer alone has made every synapse linked to my imagination go into overdrive and I have the need to play the game.

Cyberpunk 2077 had better be good. After all these years, and all this buildup, it can't be anything other than excellent. Such is the nature of hype.

Friday 8 June 2018

D&D in Spaaaaace!

I've always had ideas about an old-school sci-fi adventure using the old-school D&D rules. I was always amazed that TSR never created a sci-fi version of their flagship game in the 1980s/90s, and even though I had fun with their 'Buck Rogers in the XXVc' game - which used the AD&D system with it's own skill system - I wasn't overly hot on the starship system.

It's a shame that TSR decided to use the Buck Rogers licence for the game - I won't get into why they decided on that setting - because I do feel that if they had made the system more generic, less setting focused and scaled back the starship system a bit it would have made a really good D&D sci-fi game.

I still have the game and every now and then I get it out and wonder 'what if...', but I've come across other games that take the OSR system and make it their own and, in many ways, use it better.

The primary one, which always impressed me, is 'Stars Without Number'. This is an excellent game from Sine Nomine Publishing that really puts the rules to good use, gives the GM plenty of material to recreate their own setting and is just a really well presented and laid-out game. If I was going to create a huge, long-running campaign this is the game I'd choose.

Next, I had a look at 'Hulks & Horrors' from Bedroom Wall Press. I've played in this and, as a group, we really enjoyed it. It was quick and smooth and really fun, and as an OSR sci-fi game it felt a little closer to the original D&D game. With more visuals this would be a lot bigger than it is, and I love the game's cover; very 80s retro/Traveller.

The game I settled on, and ordered a POD for, is 'X-plorers' from Brave Halfling Publishing. Now, this is probably the furthest removed from the OSR as far as stats are concerned, it's a trimmed-down version of the game with very simple starship rules, and there are only four classes to choose from. 

Why did I choose this? Well, for that very reason; it's fast, simple and very malleable, and I was looking for a game that wasn't only retro but also cut back, so that I didn't have to go through 100-plus pages to see how the game interpreted the original rules. At 40 pages, in which we're given everything we need to run a game, I think this is the D&D in Spaaaaace! game for me.

Thursday 7 June 2018

DrivethruRPG POD purchases

I've got quite a bit of credit on DrivethruRPG, so I thought I'd get hold of a couple of books on POD that really grabbed my attention recently.

The first is 'X-plorers RPG' from Brave Halfling Publishing. I had a look at this a long time ago and I returned to it recently, and even though I got hold of a free PDF copy I really wanted the POD book as it looked really retro. I do like the cut-down OSR system and it seems to work really well.

"The Universe is a big place with big problems - that's where you come in!

Put on your space suit, charge your ray rifle, and flip ignition on an outer-space adventure!

Here is a simple RPG of interplanetary adventure, rules-lite, fast-paced, and inspired by a passion for science fiction. In X-plorers, you're part of a group of galactic troubleshooters on the look out for the next job-whether it be salvage, search, or rescue on an alien world.

Players: Explore, defend, and save the galaxy!

Be a SCIENTIST: Unravel the mysteries of a new alien race!
Be a SOLDIER: Take aim and defend against enemy invaders!
Be a TECHNICIAN: Pilot a spaceship through imminent danger!
Be a SCOUT: Foil the overlord's plans using espionage!

Character generation is quick and easy so you can get to gallivanting around the galaxy.
Choose from four character types with a simplified four-attribute skill system. Then outfit your team and prepare to make planetfall!

Game Masters: Create a cosmic sandbox using basic rules."

The second book I went for is 'OneDice Space' from Cakebread & Walton. Apart from the cracking book cover, this game is a simple six-sided die system and, as I'm really drawn to simple systems at the moment, this was another game I liked the look of.

"Quick and easy space roleplaying rules.

OneDice Space is a game of space travel and adventure. If you want to play space games in a universe of your own devising or adventure in the ready-made futures described within, all the rules you need are in this book.

Whether you want to play shady traders in a beat-up cargo ship, the captain and crew of a massive exploration vessel, rebels fighting against an evil galactic empire or artificial intelligences downloaded into cyborg or uplifted animal bodies, there’s something in here for you."

No doubt the PDFs would have been cheaper but, unfortunately, I can't read a screen for any length of time and I'm a bit of a grognard when it comes to gaming books and anything over 12 pages has to be printed so that my head doesn't explode with the migraine.

The last PODs I got from Drivethrurpg were for the Star Frontiers books 'Alpha Dawn' and 'Knight Hawks', which were printed directly from the PDF and were of pretty good quality. I'm looking forward to getting hold of these books and checking out the quality. I'll post again once I receive them.

UK Games Expo 2018








Tuesday 5 June 2018

Interview: Maxim Krylov of Studio Ludens

I came across 'Interbellum RPG - War Adventures in a World of Technomagic' and Studio Ludens recently after it was suggested to me that I check out their Kickstarter, and after reading about this world where 'adventurers and soldiers try to survive on the battlefields of the first mechanized wars with magic and strange technologies', I became more than a little intrigued.

I spoke with Maxim Krylov of Studio Ludens to find out more about the game, where they are in development and what else we can expect to see from this war-torn, magic-fuelled dieselpunk world.

Welcome to Farsight Blogger! Please tell us about yourself and how you got into tabletop gaming.

Hello! My name is Maxim Krylov, I'm 26 years old and I live in Russia. Over the past 8 years I've come a long way in the game development industry, although I can not boast of great achievements. I developed modifications for video games, was a freelancer, worked on a few casual games, and now I'm freelancing again as a game designer. From childhood I liked to create my own worlds - or, as it called now, worldbuilding. Of course, I read Tolkien and many other classic sci-fi and fantasy books which influenced me. Like many other teenagers I tried to write my own short stories but they were terrible! However, I think my worlds turned out to be quite interesting. I had to put them in some kind of interactive form, somehow play with them. I tried to create my own board games with my rules, almost blindly and without any experience. For a long time I was familiar with RPGs only in the format of video games and later tried their original source - D&D and other tabletop RPGs. Alas, I lived in a small provincial town, where only a few knew about such games. This continued until in 2008, when I acquire a personal PC, got access to the Internet and finally plunged into the world of RPGs in all its diversity. And here I am!

What is it about tabletop RPGs that gets you excited? What's the draw to this particular hobby?

Oh, it's hard to say... as I said, since childhood I've been craving to create my worlds and games based on them. I like tabletop RPGs for their immense freedom of action for players, GMs and their developers. In fact, games occur in the minds of players, in their fantasies. It is in them that I can revel in my potential as a creator. But I had quite a strange relationship with the mainstream products. I feel in them the stagnation of ideas, some inertia of thinking. Therefore, I am more interested in homebrew systems and settings, experimental ideas. Perhaps, from large systems, GURPS and Fuzion had the most influence on me.

Let's talk about 'Interbellum RPG - War Adventures in a World of Technomagic'. The blend of magic and early 1900s warfare is an intruiging idea, and the artwork is already evoking a very dark atmosphere. How did this particular idea come about?

The origin of the setting is a long story. Many years ago, one of my favorite pastimes was to experience grand strategies via text games, through forums or chat. Diplomacy, planning, betrayals, building temporary or permanent alliances, provocations and intelligence – I am fond of it, especially when more than a dozen players were assembled on such games. It was reminiscent of the classic ‘Diplomacy’ board game, but we had a much more detailed and complex rule system.

In early 2013, me and two of my friends created a setting for another such game. In short, the idea was to play for the revolutionaries during the civil war in the fantasy world that had entered an era of technological progress. We were inspired by the Civil War in Russia, but wanted to transfer this spirit to another world with magic, monsters and the like. I still have a brief design document and a map of this world. For a number of reasons, this idea was abandoned and would have remained forgotten, but I was tasked as part of a recruitment test for game development company, Elephant Games. To judge my abilities and skills I was required to come up with and describe an interesting world, to provide it with references and other things. So I remembered my old idea, I detailed it, describe countries, factions, visual style, a short timeline and even asked a friend to create a couple of illustrations.

So the world of Interbellum was born, which I continue to develop. Why the combination of magic and technology? I want to experiment; I wondered how magic could be used with technological progress if it could be rationalized and studied from the point of view of science. This is a very interesting field for experimentation, both for the worldbuilding and for artists too. In addition, this combination gives greater freedom of choice in the use of game mechanics and introduces many familiar elements for players.

The last line of defense trying to stop the dreadful technomagically driven flying fortress.

The game is set during a huge war and seems very combat orientated. What kind of things can players expect to do in this setting? What kind of adventures do you think they can have?

Well, I understand that this kind of setting is unusual and it is not so easy to imagine an exciting adventure in such a military-focused setting.

Okay, here's an example of one of the scenarios being developed; one of the largest cities in the empire, a metropolis, turned into a war zone and was ruined due to a sudden enemy breakthrough and assault. Remnants of the garrison, reinforcements and guerillas trying to resist overwhelming enemy force, become trapped and often without the possibility to escape from this city. Civilians did not have time to evacuate, many were killed. But even so, the damaged city is still strategically important because of the many factories and depots with supplies and weapons in the territory.

Players will be able to perform different tasks in this war zone; hunt enemy leaders, seek traitors, combat raids in the enemy's positions, look for ways to evacuate civilians and save them.

Another example. A distant colony of your empire, lost in the sands and steppes. Archaeologists have recently excavated the remains of an ancient city of an unknown civilization. Rumors talk about the untold riches in the catacombs of these ruins. Adventurers and bandits come here in large quantities, attracted by the profit and the treasures and artifacts, extracted from the catacombs and sold on the black market. You have a choice - you can play as military police and protect the law, or desert and become an adventurer, or just generate a character as a civilian treasure hunter. But what if the owners of the artifacts and the ancient city return? What kind of curse are you warned of by local residents who suddenly leave this place? And what is the source of such strange and horrible sounds at night from the catacombs?

Can you tell us more about the game mechanics? There appears to be a D6 involved and there also seems to be a levelling system. How does it work?

It is a combination of old ideas that have been used in many games. Each character has its own class, which makes it possible to develop certain skills to the maximum. Also the class gives unique class perks, which further strengthen specializations. Through performing missions and defeating opponents, the character gains experience points and when a certain amount of them accumulates  the character moves to the next level and receives several skill points. Pretty classic system. Skill points are spent on developing skills. Also through 2 or 3 levels the player can choose a new perk with an interesting bonus. There’s also also traits, chosen during character generation. Does it remind you of anything? :)

In general, this concept is still imperfect and we are thinking how to improve it. We would like to see a system in which a character could progress with what he basically uses and what he specializes in.

As for the main game mechanics and combats, our rules are now based on the principle of quick contests of player’s and opponents results of action successs. This is not the best solution and we are looking for convenient alternatives, but for now it's quite convenient on tests. We try to make simple and obvious rules for players. Honestly, the current state of the rules is very early and we honestly state this. There is still a lot of work and playtesting to do and we very much look forward to feedback.

Istalian Bastion-class landship. 100 tons of perfect engineering.

The stretch goals include tank battles, air battles, more magic and all kinds of extras. What else can we expect to see released to support Interbellum in the future? Adventures, sourcebooks, that kind of thing?

Yes, all of it; new sourcebooks, campaign books, maybe expansions about underground and mountain war, etc. Of course, only if backers and other players like our game and our world.

The artwork and setting details we've seen up to yet is excellent. Has the setting been fully fleshed out and how will the game world be expanded upon?

As you know, even the amount collected on Kickstarter is not enough for such a large setting as ours. Artist’s drawings make the fictional world more believable. This requires a lot of visualization, which means big spending for artwork. Anyway, the setting will develop in depth - each country will be described in more detail, the races will be divided into separate peoples and ethnic groups, they will have their own cultural differences, own pantheons, own technologies. And, of course, new races, equipment, weapons and the like will be added.

Already, two of my friends are writing short stories based on Interbellum and they will be canonical. This is an interesting way to view the world from within. Unfortunately, we do not have time to finish them by the end of our campaign on Kickstarter, but we will definitely post them later and will write our own fiction later, too. I have a modest hope that Interbellum may be attract the interest of professional writers, but this is only a hope.

When do you think we will see Interbellum on general release?

So far, I avoid calling specific dates. We want to polish our game and release it as complete and in as high a quality as possible, to make sure the backers are pleased. In the end, we monitor our reputation, and if backers trust us and want to see a quality product for their money, we must meet their expectations. Therefore, we will be sensitive to their feedback.

We plan to reach 80% of readiness this autumn and start a closed beta test among the backers. Depending on the feedback, the open beta test with quick rules will begin soon after, in January next year. Accordingly, we plan to make the release late winter/early spring.

Note: English is not Maxim’s first language so some very minor edits to the text may have been made for clarity.