Tuesday, February 04, 2014

A Dorkland! Interview -- Fall of Man

The Fall of Man Kickstarter has just under two weeks left at the time of this post, and we here at Dorkland! got a chance to interview the team over at Samurai Sheepdog about the forthcoming post-apocalyptic RPG.

Dorkland: Fall of Man is being created not for just one system, but with at least four different system conversions. Why do it up front and not set them as stretch goals, as other Kickstarters have done?

Samurai Sheepdog: We like this game so much, we wanted it to be available to play by as wide a range of players as possible right from the start. We knew we initially wanted it for the Pathfinder system, but after some conversations, we decided to convert it to the other systems (13th Age, FATE, Castles & Crusades) to expand the potential audience.

DL: How does your post-apocalyptic fantasy setting differ from others that are out there? What about it will really grab potential players and hold their interest?

SS: Fall of Man is not elves, dwarves and trolls in suits convening on who is going to do some virtual cosplay tonight.  Fall of Man pulls in the world of Gothos.  A world LITERALLY made from and created by man’s dreams, fantasies and nightmares.

The goal of Fall of Man is a game world where the GM and players have the opportunity to adventure in a setting which is dark and full of all the horrors we can imagine. Searching to find that little bit of hope and faith (and perhaps a semi-automatic or a bloodripper sword) just to survive.

We have devised the world so you can go very adult if you want.  Explore what it means to have faith and how that works (even crunch wise!). Play with and tweak to find the perfect blend of technology and magic for yourself and your group.  Is this a real world?  Is it a representation of the afterlife?  Was the Maul the Rapture???  (Note we the game designers feel real world faiths should be treated with respect.  The story is presented so the GM can choose what the force behind the one God is.)

Of course if you just want a world of twisted magic and technology in a post –apocalyptic setting, the crunch is there to work that as well.

Blood Magic and Blight Magic fight and exist alongside the power of the one God (an abstract presentation of the Jewish/Christian/Islamic influences combined for simplicity) and technology. People’s nightmares and even their very thoughts can manifest physically. There is a class at higher levels that as they get closer to death, literally start to manifest horrors around them (let’s hope closer to their foes than their friends).

And then there are those who are wholly fantastical. The elves, gnomes, dwarves and other races have all suffered through the transition. The anger of losing their own home and of the new physical deterioration and mutations of their own bodies consumes many of these new Earth inhabitants and dealing with these harsh new realities influences and guides much of their thinking.

We wanted a world where as adult role-players you could experience something a bit harsher and new, mixed with our real world.  Earth.  But we also realize that most GM’s want to be able to pull in content to what they are already doing.  Thus the game is designed to be compatible with Pathfinder and other systems.  And have easy mechanisms to bring players in…and out of the world.  After all, are we sure it was only Gothos that helped caulk up the cracks in our world?  The crunch is also easy to overlay for existing characters, to minimize the transition.

This is a world full of dreamwalkers able to manifest and twist reality (at first only subtly). Of Asphalt Samurai whose code allows for a mix of magic and technology that keeps them alive. Of undead player races who are ACTUALLY undead, gripped with sorrow and pain and the knowledge of their death.  Sparkling vampires have no place here. This is a world where characters with faith in their one God might see a man save some of his friends by beating a million to one odds of escaping a building that was just ignited on fire by a ball of magic from a rival Arcanist. This is a world where bullets are treasure and a good meal worth its weight in gas.

DL: How unique are your classes? What differentiates them from the standard RPG classes?

SS: They are very different. You have, for example the One God based classes, who have mechanisms which represent subtle changes in the game.   Passive DR and multiple dice to accomplish a task.  Things which emulate faith having real game play effects. 

You have dreamwalkers who manifest their thoughts.  Not in a psionic mind control way though.  It is that their fears (and in many cases hopes) become reality.  It is as though the game is their dream and they are aware enough in the dream to manipulate it.

You have the Face class which tends to be intuitive; able to discern things about the past and present, even manipulating situations with that knowledge in a “crunch” way.   They are of course master barterers and their skill-set helps keep the logistics side of the game for the party in better shape than any other class.

The Mechanist is a master at fixing things, and even at times, mixing magic with technology to achieve the end result.  They can get a tank running, maximize ammo, increase the range of weapons, fix jammed items, and tinker with things to make them better.

The Asphalt Samurai mixes guns, swords, tech and magic and lives by a code of honor similar to the samurai of the past.  Their meditation grants them a sense of hyperawareness, allowing them to move supernaturally quick and focused. Because of this, they seem to end up in the right place at the right time or they are able to do more with each moment than maybe others could.

Fall of Man also has its own take on some of the more classic archetypes. 

The Arcanist, for example, is based on the classic wizard but whose magic comes from understanding the new state of the world, and the boundaries between reality and thoughts.  Thus as time goes on, the Arcanist can take over constructs and even other nightmare and dream manifestations, grant items sentience or otherwise magically enhance them, and even pierce the fabric of reality itself.  However, it still maintains its base in classical spell casting. 

The Gifted is similar to a sorcerer, but their magic is almost always warped.  Maybe it mutates their bodies or minds. Or drains life from them or their allies, and when they can, their enemies. Or emits radiation or toxins as they expel their arcanic energy.

The Clerics of Many Gods have the classical abilities of clerics in other games, but also use the favor system outlined in The Hunt: Rise of Evil / Pantheon and Pagan Faiths books.  This favor (which other classes can gain to a lesser extent) grants them singular special effects which go outside the realm of normal spells, but require time and energy to regain.

The Scavenger is similar to a rogue/thief, but with adaptions for the new world.  In addition to some of the classic high damage output abilities, the Scavenger is hard to kill, can “lick their wounds” to effectively ignore the negative effects of damage (for a while) and gain “crunch” based advantages through the use of the terrain around them.

The Soldier is a well-trained warrior who is adept at the fine art of modern combat, with its roots more in D20 Modern than anything in Pathfinder or any of the other game systems.   But something really exciting is their ability to specialize in different classical solider roles; scout, assault trooper, communications, medic, etc.  Heck your whole party could be soldiers and do just fine (We are sure some of the enemies you fight will be this way).  An example of a bit of out of the box thinking on this is a communications specialist granting the party additional time to solve a problem or an officer specialization granting a number of points to hand out to other character’s roles or even allow a player’s turn to be “replayed” to represent tactical thinking.

Even our barbarian, the Wasteland Barbarian is different than other settings as they often mutant and evolve, often overtime, but occasionally on the battlefield!  Did your arm just get slashed?  What the hell is coming out of the wound!!!!

So yes the classes are a bit warped, but are designed to bring something different, not just in their fluff, but in their crunch.

DL: The races in Fall of Man are a mix of RPG regulars and some new races. At least one of the regulars (the gnomes) seem to be different than usual – are any of the other regulars different? And if so, how and why?

SS: One of the things Fall of Man allows for is leveling in your race, effectively evolving you.  This allows for tremendous customization and grants each race a greater level of characterization.  You’re not just an elf with pointy ears and a long lifespan. You could evolve the ability to see fey lines, lay lines and other sources of magic or divining influence and gaining greater ability when around living non-sentient natural things (trees for example).

We wanted each race to stand out as different.  The gnomes are twisted with something called “the bent.” As they level they gain disadvantages, but no so much as to make them un-fun; it’s about adding flavor.  Gnomes also excel at mixing technology and magic.

Halflings are lucky and love stories.  They have been the least affected by the transition to Earth.  However, now at times their stories, much like the dreamwalkers, seem to actually influence reality, granting unseen but tangible bonuses to them and those around them.
   The Reborn/Risen are PC undead.  Most were once humans before the apocalypse, a bit alive again after it.   As they level in their race, they become more and more like classical undead.
   We’ll leave the others as surprises in the future, but as you can see, the goal is to give a new feel to each race to represent their transition to Earth.

DL: On the Kickstarter page you mention: “This setting is based on the Pathfinder system on steroids.” How so? What might Pathfinder players find that is different from what they are used to?

SS: That is a great question. To start off, we worked this game from the ground up to “feel” like an RPG with strong tactical elements to suit the conditions the players must face. I think at the pinnacle of it “being on steroids” is the revamped combat system. It is brutal but not so much that the players stop feeling like heroes.  We have a great injury system that takes away the abstract view of hit points. If you get shot in the hand, you are very likely to drop what you’re holding or if you are stabbed mortally through the head then the result is death.  However, since magic exists as well, you can avoid some of the worst consequences and it is better than what it would be if no magic existed at all. We do this while also keeping the dice rolling and heart of the mechanics the same.

But it is not just the combat that drives the “Pathfinder on steroids” commentary. Even the barter system, which I outline in a short video, has an elegance that makes trade and barter very detailed while keeping it simplistic from a mechanics point of view.

The races and classes are definitely on steroids too. Gnomes for instance, crossed over from the world of Gothos in a bad way, becoming subject to a terrible taint called “the bent”. This is presented in a way that can have devastating effects on the character but not in a way that will cripple the character and make them unplayable. They are often called the Twisted.

Even Humans are beefed up. They have the advantage of free will and can adapt to use both tech and magic. In the “primal balance” of forces that rage against each other (magic vs science, the one God vs many, faith vs reason) that have become tangibly impacted in the merger of the two worlds, humans get to choose.  I could go on and on! The Elves known as “The Blasted” crossed over finding themselves in a lake of toxic sludge, mingling with their natural magic to form a race of elves only a wasteland would have. The Reborn, people of Earth that died and mysteriously came back but in a state of Undeath, with gaps in their memory and no idea what returned their spirits to their wasting bodies.

I will stop there with one more thing (I could write a book about this segment). Gothos was the creation of human imagination, nightmares and dreams filtered into a state of reality through a powerful being. Now that happens on Earth too. There is a saying amongst the people of Fall of Man.

“Beware the sleeping child for in their dreams the stuff of legend and the darkest of nightmares are made manifest.”

DL: One of the aspects of Fall of Man that immediately drew me in was the artwork. How is the art being used in the book? Is it just in periodically for some color and flavor, or is it playing a bigger role?

SS: For me specifically (This is Doug Herring by the way), I am a very visual person. Art is critical to fuel the imagination of the GM and to give them the feel of the world the players live in. Art is part of the storytelling, which has equal if not more importance than rules and tactical combats. The story of Fall of Man, and its predecessor, Gothos (The Hunt: Rise of Evil), are rich storytelling worlds with deep histories and unique twists on old themes. We have yet to introduce a major element to Fall of Man which was the crux of the over-arching battle in The Hunt series; the factions of The Children of the Waking Dream and the Dark Walkers of Midnar. These cults lay hidden in Fall of Man and the ability to manipulate the stuff of dreams and nightmares has not yet come into its own in the time frame we have set for Fall of Man. It is this richness of the world, the characters, classes, and story which made The Hunt an award nominated setting and spawned many books. Art was the linchpin in the storytelling and this hold true in Fall of Man as well.

DL: Has the team min/max’d any PC’s yet and, if so, how about some tips for the future players?

SS: I will say yes, after a fashion. We have controlled min/maxing through things like the combat system and other rule sets (on-going injuries for instance). Even the most tested, maxed out character, can die from a head shot from a sniper rifle if they are not well prepared.

When I think of this and the gritty level of the world I liken a min/maxed character to Daryl on The Walking Dead. Clearly, he is a better tracker, better fighter, and (in a game term) higher level than most of the other characters yet, because of the gritty world and down and dirty fighting, he is still very vulnerable. He gets to have great heroic moments while at the same time we are afraid he might die.

This is the same in Fall of Man.  No matter the level, or how powerful a character, other players will cheer his heroics but the threat of death will always loom. With a “no hit point” system the character will always be challenged to stay alive and wits will always win out over min/maxing your character.

We here at Dorkland! would like to thank the team at Samurai Sheepdog for taking the time to answer our questions and wish them the best of luck with their Kickstarter! If you would like more information on Fall of Man or would like to support the Kickstarter be sure to check out the Kickstarter page and Samurai Sheepdog's website.