JP On Gaming

Thursday, September 12, 2013

D12 OGL: An interview with Erik Evjen on Sword Land RPG

Many things have change in my life since I started writing this blog to talk about my personal passion: RPGs and Miniatures. Over the years since, I have met a number of colorful characters (LPJ, Venus DC, Joanna A, Tim Brown *giggle*, Peter B to name but a few I've worked with on this blog). Many of them I've known about or heard from people I knew with a "do you know?"

Then there are the oddballs. One day I receive a facebook friend invite from this guy called "Erik Evjen". Seeing that he was friends with other people I knew, I accepted the offer. I mean perhaps he was a NeoExodus fan or an interested party. After I accepted, I thought no more of it.

A few days later, guess who pops up in my Facebook chat? Erik! We get to talking and he tells me about his game called Sword Land RPG. I'll admit being mildly interested. Nothing against his game, but I just have a finite amount of time to play. Maybe I'll get to play the game sometime in the future at a con. But then we talk some more about (well he talks more) and my interest is suddently peaked. Notion of "OGL" and "d12" brought my attention away from the TV to the conversation.

I had to interview this guy and know more about it. And what better way to make that happen than to write a blogpost about the game!

JP: Who are you?

Eric Evjen: I am Erik Evjen, the creator of Sword Land RPG. I was born and raised in Great Falls, Montana. Currently I am the President of the Sandbaggers Game Club in Great Falls, which happens to be the longest lived social gaming club in the continental United States.

Along with running the club, I spend time working with the Great Falls Gaming Rendezvous as their RPG and Schedule Manger, which I've had a blast doing so. I also work for AetherCon Online RPG Convention as their Fest Hall Coordinator.

Aside from helping run social clubs and conventions, I freelance for Ophelia's Workshop of Roleplaying Specialties. They will have a future release that I have worked on, with hopefully more to come. As far as other concerns, I recently received an Associates of Arts degree in May and intend to finish an Associates of Science as well.

JP: How did you get into RPGs?

EE: Well, I first dabbled with RPGs when I first became acquainted with the internet back in 2000 or so. Of course, those were the days of those old Play by Post Forum boards that you'd usually find power players with Level 99 Half Goblin/Half Elf/Half Dwarf/Half Vampire characters after their first post. As I couldn't really find anyone that was interested in the more traditional role-playing that I was looking for, I eventually quit playing in those forums.

I didn't really dabble in RPGs much until after High School, though during my middle school years I'd often see a copy of the d20 SRD in my local book store. I'd always read through it and think that it would be so cool to write my own game - as such, I found it ironic I eventually ended up doing so. I never did end up buying that book, but I wish I did.

My first formal time playing a tabletop RPG was in 2008, after I had found out that two good friends of mine from High School were also interested. After somewhat cursing the fact we didn't get around to it sooner, we went and picked up the 4th edition of the World's Greatest Roleplaying Game that same day. It was decided I was to be the Game Master due to the other two being more interested in just playing - and we decided to start playing the very next day. It was probably one of the longest nights of my life trying to make sense of those three books, but I'm extremely glad I ended up doing so.

We started playing with the module that came with the rulebooks. In the middle of the first session, however, I found that I was more inclined to just start building the game world from scratch. After a quick talk with my two players, I set the module aside and started building what eventually became the Iellos setting.

JP: What game would you say is your favorite?

EE: I've played all sorts of systems in the 5 years since I first started playing tabletop RPGs, so picking out a personal favorite is tough. However, I find Basic Fantasy Role Playing Game to be the one game I prefer running when I'm not playtesting the SLRPG rules. Chris Gonnerman and his helpers did a great job of modernizing the 1st edition of the World's Greatest Roleplaying Game, and I find it especially easy to run when I'm teaching newer players how to roleplay. I'd highly recommend that system for those wanting a simple yet exciting game.

JP: If you could only pick one D&D setting, which one would it be?

EE: I've always loved the Dragonlance setting, just because of the sheer depth of lore that it contained. It held a grand element of romanticism and epic fantasy, and that flavor seemed to fit the tone of the game more so than the other released settings. It maintained d a balance of the traditional "Good verses Evil" feel, yet had it's own intricacies concerning morality and made for a great read without being a generic Tolkien-esque setting.

Despite my love for Dragonlance, though, I still can't find it in me to allow the Kender to be ran at my table.

JP: Most influential non-gaming inspiration for you?

EE: One of my favorite movie trilogies would have to be the Dollars trilogy (Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly). That and along with other excellent traditional and "spaghetti" westerns (Django, SHANE, Pale Rider, Last of the Mohicans, The Searchers) definitely flavored my writing a bit towards that style of "unsaid" coolness.

Other than that, of course I would have to mention the original Star Wars trilogy (A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi) as being one of my biggest inspirations into getting into such a creative business. As a kid I spent countless hours wondering what it would be like to be able to create such interesting stories like that saga, and in some way I'm pleased as punch to be able to work on such things now.

Also, I'm a bit of an anime nerd, so I find inspiration all across the spectrum.

JP: Tell us about IGRE publishing. Who is behind the imprint?

EE: IGRE Publishing is going to be a brand new Role-Playing Game and Fiction publisher, and will be incorporated either by the end of this year or the first quarter of 2014.

The IGRE acronym stands for Interesting Game Rules and Entertainment.

IGRE was primarily planned as the publisher for Sword Land RPG, but we have plans and ambitions for more products once SLRPG is out the door.

Currently, IGRE is comprised of myself as the main writer and editor. We also have Saph-Y, who is a freelance artist and the main illustrator on the SLRPG project, and Triton, who is also a freelance artist working on the SLRPG.

We're a comparatively tiny outfit, but intend to expand rather soon.

JP: What - if any - other products or setting are they working on?

EE: I'm glad you asked! Once the Sword Land RPG Core Rulebook has been released, we will be quickly putting out the SLRPG Bestiary to follow suit. In the same time frame we're planning on releasing the "Haunting in Glimmerpoint" Adventure Module, which is the same module I've currently been playtesting the SLRPG system with at our convention appearances.

After those have been released, we are looking at putting out the Iellos Campaign Setting (the default setting for SLRPG), along with the "Expanded Armory" (a guide of magic items and new weapons), and an expanded rulebook for the Mass Combat system in SLRPG. There will be more RPG books to come, but those plans will be revealed at a later point.

There has been some talk between me and Saph-Y about an idea called "Sword" Magazine, which would essentially be a small monthly/bi-monthly e-magazine that would feature new art, dungeon maps, NPCs, monsters, and magic items. It would attempt to keep new content generated between major book releases, though I'm still looking into the feasibility of that project with the current current lineup.

Along with RPG rulebooks and modules, I would like to start a fiction novel line based within the Iellos setting. There is a strong possibility that we will attempt to publish "Replays" as well - which are essentially a dramatized retelling of the events of a campaign in a script format. It is a style of writing that has it's origins in the Japan role-playing scene, but if it is possible I would like to see if such a style may find traction in the States and elsewhere.

Finally, at some point far down the line I would like to release another game system I've been toying around with named Itty Bitty Quest - but as of now our main focus is on the Sword Land RPG system.

JP: Why make your own imprint rather than work with an establish publisher?

EE: There was such a diverse amount of material created for the Iellos setting and for the SLRPG system that it seemed prudent to release them on my own time. I do not fear established publishers, as I do freelance work for other publishers when requested and actively work with them on a regular basis on the convention circuit. However, I wanted to have a imprint that would allow me and the team I've put together to create the SLRPG system and its' settings the way I envisioned them, and figured that it made the most sense to start anew.

JP: How/why did Sword Land come about?

EE: I started working on writing RPG material during 2008, when I first started as a Game Master for my original game group. Of course, at the time I was writing the RPG material for the Iellos setting as a hobby, as I didn't expect that it would become as popular as it did. Beforehand, I was writing sci-fi stories as my main creative outlet.

My original game group took a yearlong break between 2008 and 2009 due to work and other life issues, but I was essentially hooked by the unlimited potential that was the tabletop RPG. It quickly became my main creative outlet at that point, and I began revising the original setting material and story lines for the time we started playing again.

By 2010 we were actively playing again, and that work I had done in the break had paid off. The world of Iellos is a very expansive place, and the campaigns within it had a life to them, as I tended to run games with a bit of a dramatic flair to them. This definitely pleased the players at the table, but I was still only pursuing it as a hobby at the time.

Due to the amount of story content we had generated within the setting I began posting up transcripts of our game sessions online - and those quickly became more popular then I had possibly imagined. People were actively reading what little I had posted and loved characters such as Fiva the Ranger or K'Rena the Rogue, but I still hadn't considered attempting to write RPG material professionally. That changed after I had commissioned an artwork of K'Rena during 2012, as one person who had commented on the art stated "If I was to play RPGs, I would want to play her! This is the type of character I would like to run!". It was at that point I realized that the setting and its' contents were appealing to a good number of people, and I began writing with an intent to publish at that point.

At first I was intent on first releasing the Iellos setting as a whole campaign setting book in its' own, and began expanding the fluff for the setting past the point I had originally intended. I took this early draft to the RPG Writer's Workshop at the Great Falls Gaming Rendezvous 2012, where at that point I had several big names look over the material. In particular, I had John Goff (Deadlands Noir), Jay Peters (Third Eye Games), and CJ Ruby (4 Winds Fantasy Gaming) look at the material - it was a great experience, as even though I did not win the Workshop at that event I came out of the room with dozens of ideas to improve.

It first crossed my mind to focus on writing a game system instead of a setting during that time frame - I was regularly running games for the Sandbaggers Game Club, where I was frequently finding new players that were discouraged due to the complexity of the majority of RPG games currently out there. People were leaving my game tables due to the fact they did not enjoy the published RPGs I was running, and it became apparent to me that there was worth to the idea of writing a "simple" game system.

At first I was working on "Itty Bitty Quest", which was a D4 dice-pool game, but by December 2012 I had come up with the initial germ of an idea that evolved into Sword Land RPG. I shelved ITQ almost immediately as I was finding much more of a spark designing and writing a D12 system, and I shifted all of my RPG writing to focus solely on SLRPG at that point.

It has almost been a year since I originally began writing for Sword Land RPG, and I'm quite glad with the progress that the artists and I have made with the project. It seems that so far I've somewhat succeeded with the original goal of a "simple" system, but I'm leaving that for time to determine.

JP: D12? with the OGL? You have to tell me how that came to be.

EE: The main reason I decided to go with D12s for SLRPG was due to the fact so many other excellent systems exist for other dice combinations. D20 is the homeland of D&D and Pathfinder, of course, and I had no desire to attempt to compete against those giants. D6 has the likes of Dragon Age RPG and Shadowrun, and D10/DPercentile have games like Anima and RIFTS.

Rather than get caught in a trap trying inventing a better mouse trap, I figured it was best to build a system around dice that were not commonly used. My first attempts ended up with a game called "Itty Bitty Quest" that used the D4, of course being the smallest dice in the standard polyhedral set. ITQ was shelved relatively quickly as I came across some elements that required a heavy revision of the rules that had been already established, and multiple ideas that were intended for Itty Bitty Quest instead found their way into Sword Land RPG. At some point I'd like to revisit the IBQ game, but for now Sword Land is my priority.

The main reason for staying with the OGL was to cover our bases legally, and still be able to use several common themes and terms. We can use the terms like "Armor Class" or "Hit Points" without finding a Cease and Desist Order at my mailbox, which as you can expect is a very good thing.

JP: In our conversation, you mentioned the character creation was unique and fast, please elaborate on this. I'm curious to know how you replaced feats and skills with "abilities".

EE: Character Creation was designed the old fashioned way - there's no need for a overly complicated character sheet, as a single sheet of paper will work. Stats are rolled up with the D12s in a multitude of ways (along with a Point Buy method), the race and the class of the Player Character are picked, and then the "Abilities" and equipment of the character are picked out. In all, the process takes about 5-10 minutes for an experienced player, and along the lines of up to 30 minutes for a beginner. The intention was that there would be no need to spend countless hours trying to create a character - after a few choices and ability scores are determined, you are ready to play.

The Abilities are a big game changer - Skills and Feats as written in the SRD do not exist in the SLRPG rules due to the focus on a smaller cap on DCs (Difficulty Checks) and Armor Classes. The intended cap is 20, though it may change later on. For almost all checks, only the Ability Score Modifiers are added in to the roll. However, Abilities can change the results of those roles.

The Abilities are separated into 2 categories - General Abilities, and Combat Abilities.

General Abilities encompass things that are either biologically or skill-based activities and functions, and are always active. For example of a Racial General Ability, "Wood Elven Stomach" will allow a Wood Elf to eat greens (such as leaves and other plants) and receive a full day's worth of nutrition from them - where as a human or other race would find them inedible. For a Skill-Based Ability, something like the standard "Move Silent" or Hide" will grant a permanent +3 bonus to a character's roll when they are attempting such actions - which is a huge bonus in the game mechanics. If you have the General Ability, your character is essentially concerned an expert concerning the skill in question - though you stand a decent chance of still being able to pass any check without it. I was trying to avoid the pitfall of ever ascending DCs with the system, and this mechanic works in that regard.

Combat Abilities fundamentally change how your character operates in combat - of which there are multiple examples. There are things like "Cleave", "Extra Attack" and such that allow your character to potentially attempt to attack more enemies in combat. There are also Abilities such as "Block", "Parry" and "Counterattack" that allow you to interrupt enemy attacks and prevent damage done to you - essentially giving you an attack roll to cancel out the enemy's hit. Finally, there are other Abilities that increase the range of a ranged character's zone of opportunity (changing the range from melee to a straight line the length of the weapons' distance, all the way to eventually covering everything in front of the PC), amount of HP, magic usage, and other such.

Essentially, the Abilities are "perks" that make your character more efficient at certain tasks. You'll always receive one of each (General and Combat) on every even level up, and some classes will grant more.

Of course, another fundamental change is that you are not limited to receiving Abilities from Level Ups, as they are also able to be granted and used as "treasure" in a way after accomplishing quests. In that way, PCs who are more adventurous and willing to be trained or taught tasks can pick those tasks up as Abilities after the quest or training session.

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