Save vs Interview: Ryan Schoon and Carl Harrison on Edara: A Steampunk Renaissance
Edara is a serialized pen & paper RPG set in a high fantasy world where a Steampunk Renaissance is pitting Science against Religion. I spoke with its creators about the game and their attempts to fund it via Kickstarter.
Who are you and What do you do?
Ryan Schoon: Well, I am the co-founder of Caelestis Designs, Lead Writer for Edara, and have kinda taken over Marketing and Campaigning duties.
Carl Harrison: This is Carl Harrison, Lead Designer for Edara.
Give me your elevator pitch for Edara.
RS:Edara brings something new both to Tabletop roleplaying and to the steampunk genre by crafting together both steampunk and high fantasy to create a hybrid not common in any media type. And with a d12 system designed specifically to fit the world, we have a game here that tells a story, which is lacking from most tabletop RPGs.
CH: I originally started Edara five years ago merely as a campaign setting. The world and races were developed to provide a rich atmosphere for games, but it was all high-fantasy. The more I used the world, the more developed it became out of necessity. Then I decided to develop it as a full ruleset and Ryan joined the project, bringing in the steampunk idea. Time had to elapse in-world for such a technological revolution. So a big part of the reason the world and races have ended up so deep and rich is because they have literally evolved and progressed through time. They have a past that was actually used, as well as a present that we are creating now. Having fully-fleshed out cultures is easy to do under those circumstances, and we could not be happier with the way they have turned out. The story Ryan is writing creates a perfect union between his steampunk and my fantasy, so there is just so much flavor there for the players.
And this is your first project, is it not?
RS:First project together yes. And the first that we've loved enough to take it this far.
What does steampunk mean to you and to this game?
RS:I was the one who first brought steampunk to the table, I believe. Its always been a setting and theme that I've loved. Most of my favorite games, movies, books, etc, all have a big steampunk influence. So it was very quickly my first thought to bring a steampunk aesthetic to this world, and it fit in a way that we knew we had to move forward with it.
Edara is a world in the midst of it's steam renaissance, hence the title of the book. Steampunk is important to the world as it is responsible for moving technology forward. Steam-powered trains, cars, and zeppelins allow travel across the kingdoms in a way that was never seen before. This has created an environment where culture, history, and beliefs are being shared between races at a level never seen before.
How do these elements interact with the High Fantasy elements of the setting?
RS:That depends on the race we are talking about. Carl, the lead designer, was a classical cultures and Latin major, who has this awesome approach to Edara as if its a living history. We are exploring almost every facet of these cultures, from lineage of government to wars, to cultural zeitgeist. And, as huge lovers of Tolkien and his style of world-building, we knew we had to put as much thought and work into our world as he did to Middle Earth. So what we have is a complete high fantasy ecosystem. And now we throw steampunk into the mix. It is a newly discovered technology that is causing the races to reevaluate their positions.
Some races, like the Humans, Dwarves, and Gnomes, adapt almost instantly to this new technology. These races bring us inventors (think Leonardo Da Vinci) musicians, and artists who are pouring out new steampunk based gadgets on an almost daily basis. Other races, like the Elves, feel that this new technology goes against their traditional harmony with nature. They may adapt it to their needs, they may use it, but they don't adopt it into their culture. In fact, those who rely too heavily on steampunk gadgets and weapons instead of traditional Elvish teachings are generally looked upon and will never hold positions of power within their Tribes. Orcs and Ogres, on the other hand, don't care. If they can use it to make weapons and armor, they will, regardless of where it came from or what was used to make it.
Tell me about your plans for serialization.
RS: I've always loved running modules for tabletop rpgs. I feel that they make access to the game super easy for GMs that are not as talented at created their own stories. But, as a GM, I always hated how spread out the modules were. I would try to tie them in together as a story but it never really worked. And I understand that we are not the first to do this, Shadowrun has their 'Missions' and Pathfinder has their 'Adventure Paths' but I feel we will be the first to focus on it and truely invest it into the world.
The idea we have no is to call each module an "Episode" and number them in chronological order. We will release them periodically and they will be able to be purchased individually or via a subscription service. We will then divide those into Seasons. So, when Edara launches, we will also launch Season One of the Adventure Modules. These will allow for players across the globe to be moving through the story at the same time. And we will fill it with twists, turns, and amazing discoveries that only a fully-realized world like ours can offer. The plan is for players to become so invested in their characters and in the world that they are going crazy waiting for the next module to release, much like you would wait for the next episode of your favorite TV show, or the next entry into a favorite book series.
Pretty ambitious for a first release, don't you think?
RS: Yes and no. As a first release, coming from a company that no one has ever heard of, we need to get people invested immediately. We need to get people talking about this. If everything goes as planned, the minute a party finishes Episode One, they will be racing to talk to their friends about it. Its within our realm of ability to release a project like this, and if you aren't going to be a little ambitious and take a few risks, then you won't be doing anything to change the game, so to speak.
Could you explain how the game plays?
RS:Yeah, the game is designed around an innovative d12 system. It literally requires only one d12 to play. This is to make it easy for new players to play, and simple for the GMs to keep track of. No need for new players to ask which of several dice types they need to roll, its always a d12. This is to keep the range of possible numbers low. We wanted to limit the possibility of successes and failure based simply on your die roll. We wanted success and failure to based on the way you built your character. And so we use a "threshold" system. Meaning, its not so much about meeting the "target number" its about exceeding it. By whatever amount you surpass the target number, you gain a bonus to whatever action you are performing, whether that is an attack, or a skill, or another type of action.
CH:The d12 system really is for the players, as Ryan says. We like the base of standard D20 Systems, except for two things. First, they use multiple dice. Second, a twenty-number range has too much randomness. Players have to rely on good rolls to be successful much of the time. Where's the fun in that? You're supposed to be playing this cool, experienced character, yet you blunder your attacks half the time. We want players to feel their characters are as cool as they're supposed to be. With the smaller range a D12 provides, your success or failure is based mostly on your character and the enemy you are attacking. The die still adds some randomness, but it is much easier to count for and players aren't forced to rely on it.
What makes a twelve sider more accessible than say 2d6?
RS: To be honest, nothing. But we wanted to only have to roll one die. Something like 2d6 eliminates the possiblity of ever rolling a '1' which we wanted to keep. d6 and d10 were too small of a range, and d20 was much to high. D12 seemed like the perfect magic number and it fit into our calculations perfectly.
CH: Too many dice, it adds complexity. We want our system to be easy for brand new players to get into. All they have to know is "roll this one die," and that's all they have to do. But experienced players shouldn't worry.... die-rolling is simple, but we have plenty of expanded areas of character creation and combat for players that want that complexity.
So, what sort of characters will people be able to play?
RS: We don't use a class-based system. Instead we have "Bands" Bands are different than classes and play a very traditional role in the culture and history of the various races. Each Band is linked to a different element. We have five Bands included in the core rulebook, Red (Fire), Blue (Water), Green (Nature), White (Light), and Black (Shadow). Within each band, there are 4 ability trees that characters can combine. So we determined that there are sixty different types of characters that people can play just in the core rulebook. You'll be able to make everything you expect from a fantasy RPG, a fighter, a ranger, a mage, a thief, a rogue, a paladin, and the things that you would expect from a steampunk game, like engineers, gun mages, gadgeteers. The beauty is that you can combine abilites within the Bands to come up with your own unique class. Each Band has a spellcrafting tree, most have a tree that offer companions, and most have both an offensive and defensive tree. So they can be mixed and you'll come out with an offensive magician, or a defensive ranged fighter with a compaion to protect them.
What do consider to be the core activity of the game?
RS: Using skills. We didn't want to create a combat-focused game. Skills can be used to investigate, to sneak, to hide, to break into places, to gather information in either friendly or forced manner. Combat can be avoided even with well placed skills. Even within combat, skills determine a lot of different "combat maneuvers" that you can perform. A lot of players will find themselves using skills in combat instead of simply hacking and slashing.
Not quite what I meant. In D&D you kill monsters and get stuff, in Esoterrorists investigate supernatural conspiracies, in Drama System you make unreasonable emotional demands of each other. What is the primary action of you game?
RS: I would honestly say "Adventure Based Roleplaying" is the primary action. It truly is an adventure game at its core. yes there is kill monsters to get stuff, but there is also exploring, political intrigue, mission based events (protect this VIP, assassinate this target, capture this politician, break into this facility.) It is most similar in this aspect to Shadowrun. We loved how freeform the campaigns in Shadowrun felt. We wanted to replicate that, but in a steampunk fantasy setting.
CH: Adventure-based role play is definitely the focus of the game. I would say that skills and combat are actually fairly balanced in our world. Half the time players will be doing skill-based role playing like in Savage Worlds or Shadowrun, as Ryan mentioned, and the other half they will be fighting, like D&D or Pathfinder. But as Ryan points out, combat will not always be a straightforward "kill everything" encounter, there will often be objectives, and combat is designed to be interlaced with skills. We made sure that the Bands enhance both facets of gameplay, though, so we cater to all types of players.
Are there any other influences from Shadowrun in the game?
RS: Not really, honestly. There are a lot of different things we like about so many different games and of course you'll see that a little be reflected. We just loved the way Shadowrun told stories. I think our damage system may be closer to that game than any other. Its easy to hit your target in our game, but its hard to do damage. I feel that, like reality, is often the case.
Okay, and now a few questions about your Kickstarter. What are you planning to fund? Just the rulebook or will this get the adventure series rolling as well?
RS: Well its mainly the core rulebook. That is what needs funding. The Adventure Series wouldn't be too expensive since we are using a print on demand service for that. All we have to do is pay for the artwork for the modules. The hope is that after a few modules, the profit from the core rulebook and modules will pay the production costs of the next expansion and future modules.
Whatever doesn't get spent on the core rulebook out of this funding will go to the serialized stories.
How has the early response been?
RS: Its been really good actually. We are getting a lot of backers outside of our circles of friends and family. We're not blowing it out of the water like some of the big projects but the early response has put us almost to the halfway mark in the first week.
Do you feel that the bigger guys a pulling too much attention away from first-timers like you?
RS: To be honest, yeah. Kickstarter is a great utility on helping get independent projects funded, but we are seeing a lot of big studios bringing projects on Kickstarter. These are projects that could have been funded by investors, but they bring it to Kickstarter instead. And there is nothing wrong with that, but it does make it more difficult for a small independent studio to get noticed.
And what have you been doing to get noticed?
RS: Taking to Twitter, Facebook, posting on pretty much every forum we can find, trying to get articles on websites such as this one.
Beyond the book what are you offering as rewards to backers?
RS: We are offering PDF versions of the book, a speicial limited Collector's Edition, Kickstarter-only promotional posters, and to the higher backers a chance to get their likeness put into the game and even have a character based on them. If we meet our stretch goals, we are also offering a GM screen and Miniatures as rewards.