Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Dorkland Interview - Nefertiti Overdrive with Fraser Ronald

A few days ago Dorkland! covered the new Nefertiti Overdrive Kickstarter -- an RPG that offers punches to faces and kicks to groins, all in the exotic setting of ancient Egypt. Today we had the chance to sit down with Fraser Ronald of Sword's Edge Publishing about Nefertiti Overdrive and its ongoing Kickstarter.

Dorkland!: Having a successful Kickstarter under your belt already, what did that experience change in the preperation for Nefertiti Overdrive's Kickstarter, if anything?

Fraser Ronald: I've had a successful Kickstarter (Centurion) and a failure (Farewell, Something Lovely). Having a success means I know what to expect, how to get the project rolling, and I also have some support mechanisms already in place, such as using the same company for fulfillment as I did for Centurion.

The problem is that past experiences also create expectations and assumptions, and I'm working hard to rid myself of those.

DL: Why ancient Egypt?

FR: Nefertiti Overdrive is based on a story idea (more of a screenplay idea, but let's not quibble). I stumbled into the story, and the story dictated the setting. I was doing some reading on Sudan, and learned of the Kingdom of Kush. That led me into reading about the 25th Dynasty and its fall to a Lower Egyptian dynasty backed by the superpower of the day – the Assyrians. That sparked the story idea.

I guess I could have transplanted the story. It really would have fit into any setting in which a foreign (but culturally related) dynasty is being removed, but I didn't really see the need. Ancient Egypt is cool, right?

DL: Why wuxia? How does it fit ancient Egypt?

FR: This was also dictated by the initial idea. You can kind of blame the Prodigy for this. I was walking to work and listening to music while mulling over the initial story idea that became Nefertiti Overdrive. The song "Warriors Dance" from the Prodigy album "Invaders Must Die" came on. I was thinking of a scene on a wharf, and when the music came on, I started to think of a fight scene. A crazy fight scene. That's where the wire-fu aspect came into it.

I've been berated – and not without reason – for using wuxia to refer to "wire-fu" (for lack of a better term) – the kinetic, physics-ignoring style of fight choreography made famous in North America by the Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Wuxia is a literary genre from China, and while many "wire-fu" movies are adaptations of wuxia stories, wuxia is not synonymous with wire-fu. In my defence, everyone to whom I have mentioned Ancient Egyptian Wuxia understood exactly what I meant.

In any case, the cinematic action element came into the story at that point, and then it began to dominate the story in my thinking. It was also the reason why this project changed from screenplay or story idea into a role-playing game. Choreographing those fights in my head, and thinking of other cool fight scenes, I decided I wanted to play it as a game.

And thus Nefertiti Overdrive: Ancient Egyptian Wuxia was born.

DL: You mention the rules are similar to some of your previous titles, what are some of the differences?

FR: The main difference is the task resolution mechanic. Nefertiti Overdrive uses four dice, derived from the character's Attributes, for task resolution. One die is used for initiative, two dice for success, and one die for effect. Using things like Luck, a character can have more than four dice, and those extra dice can be used however the player wishes to increase any of the three results. This task resolution system is completely different than those from Sword Noir, Kiss My Axe, and Centurion.

DL: What is there in Nefertiti Overdrive for fans of your previous titles? What is there to draw in new, potential fans?

FR: I would really like to believe I have fans. If I do, it means they probably really dig my games. What those games share with Nefertiti Overdrive is my focus on cooperatively building a story. The philosophy remains one of cooperation, with players and GM working together to create a fun and exciting story.

That's really important to stress. If you are the kind of GM who feels it is his duty to destroy the characters or make it nigh impossible for them to succeed, this is not the game for you. If you are the kind of player who needs to undermine the story the GM is trying to build or point out to him why he is so wrong, this is not the game for you. If you play RPGs with your friends, if you consider it a win when everyone has a good time, and you all try to support each other and allow everyone to have some spotlight time, I'm pretty sure you'll enjoy Nefertiti Overdrive.

For those unfamiliar with my other games, I hope the cooperative nature of the game would be appealing. I would also hope that potential backers would appreciate Nefertiti Overdrive's easy character customization. While pre-generated characters are provided, the game does include character creation rules, and like my other games, these rules will allow a player to pretty much build the kind of character she wants.

This game is designed to allow characters to be awesome in their niche, and who doesn't want that? This is a wuxia game, after all, and so the heroes are generally going to succeed and be completely amazing doing it ...until the scene in which they get trounced happens, but we're pretty sure they'll live through that.

DL: The characters seem to be quite the motley crew. Why have these specific characters?

FR: One of my favourite movies is the 13th Warrior (I said it was a favourite movie, not a great movie). One of the aspects that I love about that movie is its a-historical nature. The vikings in it all come from different periods and geographic regions, some before the Viking Age or beyond the reach of the Vikings. It didn't matter if a 12th century Orkneyman in an 18th century kilt hung out with a mercenary in 15th century Spanish armour, what mattered was they looked cool doing it.

And they did.

As I mentioned, this all started as an idea for a screenplay. With the 13th Warrior as a touchstone, I let my mind go wild when thinking of the kind of combatants I could have on the good-guys team. I even had actors I envisioned in the roles (you can still see that initial conception at Those characters changed as they needed to fill roles for a game rather than for a movie, but their essence and backstory remain.

DL: The game seems to be rather combat or martial focused. How do the rules handle other situations? What might there be for players that are not as combat-inclined?

FR: The actual task resolution system does not differ between combat and non-combat. The idea is that for combat, the narrative is cinematic. That applies as well to non-combat, but may include details and information rather than a cinematic description. So, in combat, in order to get the highest dice possible from one's character's Attributes, one might say something like "charging at the group of Assyrians, the Monk drops to his knees just he reaches them, sliding under their sweeping swords, then using his spear, he vaults up into the air, twisting and coming down directly on the head of the leader." Outside of combat, you might say something like "The Monk puts the prisoner at ease with his clownish antics and his sympathetic statements, first drawing out some minor personal details about the prisoner to build rapport, and then subtly questioning him about his contact with the traitor at court."

Both of those are detailed narratives describing task resolution, and both of those would get the player the highest dice to use.

DL: The setting seems pretty light. How well will Nefertiti Overdrive's rules work with other ancient settings? Other settings, in general?

FR: Unlike Centurion, which was very focused on the history and its details, Nefertiti Overdrive is style over substance. The Attributes are specific to the idea of cinematic action rather than Ancient Egypt, so it could port very easily to other settings. I could easily envision doing just about any cinematic action game with the mechanics. What it can't do well is different genres. There are games that do investigation, horror, and cultural evolution, but that's not Nefertiti Overdrive. The Three Musketeers? Yeah, I definitely think Nefertiti Overdrive could do that. Oedipus Rex? Um, no.

I have said the game can handle non-combat situations, and it certainly can, but it was designed as a game in which characters punch badguys in the face (or kick them in the teeth, put an arrow through their eyes, hack off their limbs, etc). It handles that very well.

DL: How possible is it to min/max characters in Nefertiti Overdrive? If it is, what's the most min/max'd character you've seen or created?

FR: Pretty much every character in Nefertiti Overdrive is min/max'd. There is no "balance" in the game. I think balance has its place in certain games and for certain reasons, but it doesn't have a place in Nefertiti Overdrive. That would be Nefertiti Acceptable Speed. There's no reason to make a character with an undesirable element. If you want to make the best damn assassin in the world, that's pretty easy to do. It's actually kind of the point. He doesn't have to have a weakness – though it'd probably be more fun to give him one, even if it is only narrative, like the Serpent's curse (one of the pre-gens).

DL: Lastly, what is your favorite part or experience of Nefertiti Overdrive so far? What do you really think makes this title stand out?

FR: Once players realize that the game flushes common sense and the laws of physics down the nearest commode, things get really interesting. Why not go through the wall to beat up the Assyrians? Why not call upon the wrath of Amun-Ra to topple a column, crushing badguys beneath? Using the shields of one's enemies as a ramp and then launch oneself in a corkscrew spin that only ends when you've impaled the evil Assyrian captain? Check!

Because I love outrageous fight choreography, it's my favourite part of playing the game. I honestly love it when the characters succeed and are awesome doing it. Sometimes I love it too much and forget to really challenge them. Seriously, though, when everyone is having fun, shouting and laughing, recounting the unbelievable last scene, what does it matter if the characters were properly challenged? The players were. They were challenged to create amazing narratives. It's always awesome when they succeed.

We here at Dorkland! would like to thank Fraser for taking the time to answer our questions and wish him well with the Kickstarter! If you have any questions about Nefertiti Overdrive or its Kickstarter be sure to check out our previous article, the Kickstarter page and/or Sword's Edge Publishing's website.