Continuing the interview with Erik Evjen about Sword Land RPG. You can find part 1 by clicking here
JP: What can you tell us about the default setting for Sword Land?
EE: The "Iellos" setting is comprised of a single world, with four (with a possible 5th in the works) different continents. There is the typical "Material" Plane, a Plane of Elements (where all magical effects are drawn from), a Plane of Havens (Essentially the domain of the Gods), and a Plane of Shadows (Where most demonic/fun things come from, such as dragons).
Iellos is written as a more "realistic" take on High Fantasy - the standard magical elements are there, but the focus is more so on morality and ethics for the adventure modules. The typical adventure focuses more on the dramatics of various NPCs and factions committing actions and the repercussions of how Player Characters deal with them - the truly fantastic elements (For example, say Dryads, Salamanders, and dragons themselves) being used to flavor the theme of the adventure rather than being hack-n-slash cookie cutter fare. Of course players can always add in more of the "fantasy" elements to taste, but the standard is that the moral choices made by PCs matter more to the world than a single pixie, dragon, or other such creature involved in their adventures.
There's all sorts of oddities to the locations (The Shadow Plane having a ever-present reddish-green night sky, for example), and the continents on the Material plane all correspond to different play styles. People looking for more political intrigue in their games will find Alenosa appealing (With multiple Elven kingdoms and factions fighting for control of the landmass), while Norncrast appeals to apocalyptic lovers - so on and so forth. The world is balanced so that a character from one continent moving to another will not disrupt the order of things, but adventure modules for the setting focus on specific styles of play for each continent.
As mentioned with the Alenosa example, there are dozens of different kingdoms, legions and factions that populate the world - so players looking to make a grand-scale campaign can do so easily.
I'd have to say one of the weird things of how I designed the Iellos setting (the default for SLRPG) is how it draws from more recent time periods of our own history instead of staying firmly rooted in the traditional medieval roots of most other RPGs.
Of course, as earlier I mentioned I loved old spaghetti westerns - that colored the way ranged combat is handled within the Iellos setting. Even though you're able to find traditional bowmen firing line tactics in the setting, you're also likely to come up across "arrow-slingers" that fight with more modernized tactics. In particular, the combat tactics of Iellos were meant to model more modern-day applications instead of the traditional massed formations of early time periods. So to say, most people in the Iellos setting realize it's a good idea to avoid standing in giant masses while arrows are flying about - and so most lore revolves around guerrilla-style conflicts verses large-scale battles and wars.
Deities in the Iellos setting are more elemental-based and encompassing than most standard RPG Pantheons - as such the God of Fire also has things such as War and Valor in his Domain instead of having a single Deity assigned to each "theme". It somewhat frees up the mechanics for religion-based characters (Clerics, Paladins in particular) and makes it much more simple for those who want to use such themes in their campaigns without having a list of dozens of different Gods and Goddesses for the setting. In particular, one of the large variances from typical settings is that even magic-based characters (Wizards, Spellswords, Bards) tend to worship these deities. Magic is more akin to a supernatural force than an ever-present resource, and the common belief within the setting is that the various gods actively grant or deny usage of these elemental forces. As such, magic-using types often weave in chants and requests towards various gods in their spells and scrolls due to superstition - A character might be afraid that their fireball spell won't work if they didn't ask permission from the God of Fire while casting the spell, for example. Sorcerers don't usually follow that convention due to their innate abilities, but most other spell-casting classes in the setting do so.
Of course, there are plenty more things to talk about with the Iellos setting, but this is a teaser of things to come.
JP: What would you say are the biggest influences upon the setting?
EE: I'd feel that it'd be generic of me to say that I was highly inspired by Tolkien's works (I was). To make things interesting, I find the older video game RPGS were what inspired me to get into the tabletop industry. I grew up playing Dragon Quest (or Dragon Warrior here in the US) as a kid, which in itself is basically the Japanese computerized equivalent of D&D. I'd spend hours playing that game - along with others such as Shining Force, Lufia, Ys, Chrono Trigger, and of course the ever famous Final Fantasy.
The reason I mention those in particular is the fact I absolutely love the Eastern interpretation of Western Fantasy ideals - the way the Japanese portray high fantasy is very different than how it is portrayed in the traditional markets. It is difficult to explain, but there is a unique flair to Japanese fantasy that makes it extremely interesting to me. For an example I'd recommend watching Ryo Mizuno's Record of Lodoss War, which is quite possibly one of the greatest fantasy sagas ever created.
There is a delicate and serene feeling to the way mythical creatures and tales are portrayed in the Eastern style, especially in comparison to Western works such as Conan or Lord of the Rings. This definitely shows in their fantasy artwork, and the art from those old video games and mangas definitely moved me towards what I'm attempting with IGRE now as far as art direction is concerned.
As it is readily apparent, I am in love with watercolor artwork - Western or Eastern. For Sword Land I'm definitely trying to approach a more traditional style for the game's artwork. There is a deep demand currently in the rest of the industry for the computer-aided artwork, but for SLRPG I was wanting to break away from that trend. I'm aiming for the artwork to be something that is reminiscent of an earlier time in game design, yet still feeling modern and overly inspirational to those players flipping through the rulebooks.
JP: What makes Sword Land particularly unique among all the games out there?
EE: The main design goal for Sword Land RPG was that I wanted it to be simple - yet have an amount of complexity that players could layer on as they desire. In that, I think I've achieved that goal so far, as the basic game has been deemed easy and quick to learn for beginners. However, with optional rules for how HP is handled, to combat mechanics, and other such things, those players (and veterans) can go ahead and change fundamental parts of the game to their liking. Essentially, you can make Sword Land as simple or as complex as you'd like it to be.
The Abilities as mentioned earlier are a big change - Rather than worry about leveling Skills, players can just rest knowing that their character will relatively be able to accomplish anything without having impossible DCs (or Difficulty Checks) to beat. The Abilities give you a big jump in comparative power against the checks, so it would be akin to your character being a "specialist" in that particular skill being used.
The other major unique element to SLRPG is the adjustable scale of combat - in a way, SLRPG can be used as a war game within a game. The standard combat mechanics scale along with the size of the encounter - so your standard party verses monsters battles still occur, and can still occur while there is a major war going on around you in essentially a "zoomed-in" view. At the same time, you can "zoom-out" to role play that army verses army battle, with the PCs still being able to sway the outcome of that battle due to their actions. The new "Captain" class specifically is built around the combat scale mechanic, where at the party level they are giving their individual allies bonuses to attack rolls and morale - while at the mass combat level they are giving those bonuses to entire squads/platoons/divisions/armies, and providing negative effects to the enemy.
Overall, SLRPG is intended to be a "toolbox" of sorts as there is no immediately attached fluff within the rules themselves - so players can use the rules any way they wish without needing to revise or house rule the majority of the game.
Other oddities include new weaponry styles - things along the lines of a Projectile-Launching Crossbow (Imagine a bolt that has an adjustable head that holds onto items such as holy water vials, thunder stones, or oil flasks, and then launch it to where you could use those items most), and Automatic Crossbows.
JP: What would new GMs/players be familiar with in Sword Land?
EE: One of the main reasons I went with the OGL was due to the fact I wanted SLRPG to be a homage to the RPGs so many players are familiar with, and the tradition that comes with those RPGs. There are the classic four classes (Fighter, Wizard, Cleric, Rogue),which though they operate differently in SLRPG, they are immediately recognizable of representing those core roles. There are many other classes which survived the transition into SLRPG, and I wanted to make sure that the classics are there for a new generation of players to experience.
Of course, there are also the hard-coded mechanics as well - Hit Points and Experience Points are still around in SLRPG, along with Armor Class and Saving Throws.
Finally there are a number of classic spells appearing in SLRPG alongside new ones - so your spellcasters still can sling fireballs and lightning bolts all over the place.
JP: Are there any notable NPCs you designed for the setting that you particularly like?
EE: The most notable and most recognizable NPCs are the Representative Characters - The individuals that represent various Classes in the Core Rulebook for Sword Land RPG. Most of these characters were actually derived from the campaigns I've ran that were the inspiration for creating SLRPG, such as Aras the Fighter and Fiva the Ranger (those two being the first characters I ever rolled up for a tabletop RPG). They show off various ways to build a character of a particular class (For example, Aras shows off the fact you can build an effective unarmored Fighter), and are shown frequently in the art at various points of their adventuring careers. In a way you're watching them start from Level 1 and head all the way to Level 20, and in that way I'm hoping it inspires players with their own ideas for Player Characters.
These characters also have their stats laid out, so they are usable in adventure modules and campaigns as either Player Characters or NPCs. As mentioned earlier, one lady stated she would loved to have played as one of these characters - essentially I made that a point to make them interesting pre-generated characters.
The Iellos lore has all sorts of interesting characters too - A particular favorite of mine is named Queen Venna, who is a High Elf intent on uniting her entire continent to fight against an opposing faction in a Winston Churchill-styled fashion.
JP: Who else is involved in the project?
EE: Currently, IGRE is comprised by myself and Alexia Roman, who is better known as Saph-y. Saph-y is the main illustrator for Sword Land RPG, and is the leading cause of awesome art used for the game.
We are also currently working with a couple of artists and will be announcing new hires for the art team as they come aboard. One we are working with at the moment is Triton, who I'm pleased with so far due to her test artwork for the game.
Though they are not currently attached to IGRE Publishing in an official manner, I must give a million thanks to Jay Peters (Third Eye Games) and Robert Thomson (4 Winds Fantasy Gaming) for the advice they have given me along the way. They have been excellent help, and I don't think I would have gotten this far in the process without their insight and assistance.
I must also thank all of those who have playtested the Sword Land RPG system at the Sandbaggers Game Club (Great Falls, Montana), and all of those who have played in our public demonstrations. Your feedback has been greatly appreciated, though at times it has kept me up at nights.
JP: How did you all get involved in this?
EE: As stated before, I was interested in building a game system because I'm crazy. Well, not really, but I was intent on making things simple for new players.
I first met Saph-Y on deviantArt, and her watercolor work intrigued me - I fell in love with it the first time I went through her gallery. At the time I was just commissioning artwork to illustrate several of the game sessions I had ran previously, and decided to hire her on that basis. Her art of Fiva the Ranger blew me away when I received it, and we quickly began working on illustrating more scenes from the Iellos lore and setting.
When I began working on writing Sword Land RPG, I decided that out of all artists I had previous worked with that Saph-Y was the best in representing the lore of the default setting and had the best quality of work. Her art essentially had become the "face" of my writing by that point, and I couldn't imagine anyone else creating the majority of the important artwork for the Sword Land game (things such as book covers, or chapter arts). As such I invited her to become the main illustrator, and was quite glad and rather relieved when she accepted.
Triton is quite new to the IGRE team - she was recommended to me by Saph-Y and I very much liked the gallery that Triton had put together. We decided on a test art to determine if she would be a good fit for IGRE - and based on the sketch she sent me alone was enough for me to add her on as our second freelance artist on the SLRPG project. Give her a warm welcome!
JP: When will the game be out?
EE: Sword Land RPG is currently scheduled to be released by June 2014. It will be released under the IGRE Publishing Imprint, and should feature around 250-300 pages it has gone to print. We will be releasing it on the standard RPG e-distribution chain (driveThruRPG, RPGnow, and others). We are also currently looking at print-on-demand options as well.
JP: Planning any crowdsourcing for the setting?
EE: The answer for now is no. I went so far as to make a public pledge a while back along the lines that I would not do so until we were considering more wide-spread print runs.
There are two reasons for this - Currently I have been funding the project on my own, and we are doing fine as is. There are no immediate concerns as far as the financial stability of the SLRPG project, and even the start up costs for the IGRE imprint will be manageable without outside crowdfunding assistance. Even the most common reason for a RPG Kickstarter (funding to pay artists) is no concern currently, as the artist team is fully compensated already.
The second reason is that I do not want a PR disaster on my hands in the event of such a crowdfunding campaign going sour - I've been watching the trends intently, and simply put a failed Kickstarter is a career suicide for the team organizing it. There is no reason to put the SLRPG project at a severe risk at the current moment in order to make ends meet, and I will not gamble with my own reputation or that of my imprint in order to start a crowdfunding campaign.
Eventually, once we are in full steam and producing product on a regular schedule there is the possibility of running crowdfunding campaigns at that point. Mainly the aim of those campaigns would be to get the Sword Land RPG system into the hands of those unable to purchase directly through e-retail - these campaigns would be specifically aimed at retailers in order to put SLRPG in your local friendly game stores. However, there would be no significant risks with such a campaign as we would already have the products ready in hand - it would be a matter of building a distribution chain at that point.
JP: Are you running any playtests/preview events?
EE: Very much so!
The Sword Land RPG system was publicly debuted on International TableTop Day 2013, at Know Dice in Great Falls, Montana. Over the course of 8 hours I ran the game for two full tables of players (14 altogether), and all in attendance had a great time with the game.
IGRE and SLRPG also made an appearance at MisCon 27 in Missoula, Montana, where we had a 4 day stint of public games at the convention. We drew a total attendance of 26 players throughout the course of MisCon. Considering the "Haunting of Glimmerpoint" playtest module allows for 7 players, we had full tables on every day except the Monday of the convention.
Outside of public demonstrations the SLRPG has been extensively playtested over the course of the last year, thanks in part to the wonderful folks at the Sandbaggers Game Club in Great Falls, Montana.
Our next public appearance is scheduled for the Great Falls Gaming Rendezvous 2013 in Great Falls, Montana, October 11-13th. We are scheduled for multiple games - at least 6 confirmed times, with more depending on time constraints.
GFGR 2013 is also where we will be releasing the official public playtest version of the SLRPG rules - they will be available to the convention attendees first, and will be available to the public at large by October 14th!
JP: How can people help out ?
EE: We're always on the lookout for more illustrators - as more art is always nice! Generally we try to keep the traditional watercolor look when it comes to the artwork, but I'm always willing to look over a portfolio if an artist expresses interest.
As far as writers and editors, we are currently working with just the available staff (ie: Me) to finish the writing on the Core Rulebook for the system. At that point I would like to hire on an editor.
We will be actively looking for writers once the Core Rulebook is released - as I will be primarily concerned with releasing the Bestiary and the "Haunting Of Glimmerpoint" module at that point, and unable to write further modules for a period of time until those are released.
Feel free to get ahold of me directly if writing, editing, or producing art for this system interests you! Though for now I am not actively looking for writers, I will remember you when the time comes to hire fresh talent.
JP: Do you have any links for my readers?
EE: Currently we do not have an official page for the IGRE Imprint. However, as a bit of exclusive news for you - We will have an official website by the time of GFGR 2013!
As always, you can find the SLRPG system's official fB page at the link below: https://www.facebook.com/SwordLandRPG
Erik can be found at https://www.facebook.com/elperdedor4
JP: Any parting words of wisdom?
EE: There will come a day when Sword Land RPG is officially released. Today is not that day, but keep October 14th in your calendars! The official public playtest for SLRPG begins that day, and I'll be looking forward to your comments and hoping you have fun with the game.
If you enjoy a fun and simple system (especially one that only uses a single die), then you are going to enjoy SLRPG.
Thanks for your time!