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.

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