So I’m sure a few of you are scratching your head thinking, what is this? A new column at MMORPG.com that’s not about MMORPGs? Yep, it is. This has been a long time coming in my opinion but really hit critical mass a few weeks ago at PAX.
All of us here are RPG gamers. Some of us may have not hopped on board until the MMORPG but at the core we enjoy RPGs. Tracing it back, before the MMORPG, the cRPG, the MUDs, the Message Boards there were good old fashioned pen and paper RPGs. Because of that I think this is something that a lot of you will enjoy.
If you don’t want to read about anything other than MMOs here at the site, that’s great. Also don’t fret because you aren’t losing out on content because I’m writing this column. This is in addition to the other things I do. Also I won’t be the only person writing it from time to time so look out for other staffers jumping in.
So what can you expect here? News, reviews, interviews. By the end of the month I should have a review out of Out of the Abyss the new supplement to 5e D&D. I’ll also cover Pathfinder, Shadowrun, maybe some Warhammer, and possibly the new Star Wars RPG that just came out. Don’t be surprised to see a board game every now and then too. So dust off those old books and open up your dice bag because it’s time start looking at the games that inspire the video games we play today.
This week I interviewed Chris Patlovany of MithrilPunk Press. Chris along with artist Rachel Dorrett and designers Warren Hardell and Derek Harris are the creators of Legacy’s Wake. They launched a Kickstarter a few weeks ago for their new Adventure Path and are fully funded working on their stretch goals. At the time of the interview the project wasn’t funded yet so you’ll notice I asked about the possibility of stretch goals while they clearly are into them now. Read on for what Chris had to say about everything else.
MMORPG: Can you give us a quick intro to Legacy’s Wake?
Chris: First, I should say that we wanted this module to represent a unique region, but to keep that region defined well enough so that any GM could drop this module into their campaign. Starting with that, Legacy’s Wake takes place primarily in the city of Skyfall, a massive port built on the edge of the Besieged Cliffs in a land dominated by monstrous creatures and plagued by horrendously devastating armada storms. The surrounding area is so inhospitable that Skyfall is the safest place for many leagues to land a ship, or indeed, even to live.
Because of the dangers surrounding them, the citizens of Skyfall have put away normal racial hatreds and have learned to cooperate with one another in the name of profit and survival. Orcs, goblins and trolls can be found working alongside humans, dwarves and elves, if only because exile means being banished to a land filled with forty-foot tall insectoid monsters that could swallow you whole without breaking stride.
This setting owes a great debt to the Shadowrun series, one of our favorite table-top RPGs, which features a world where all races, from elves to trolls, coexist. The drama that unfolds between them becomes a sort of shorthand for racial tension in our own society. Another inspiration for this setting came in part during a 2nd edition D&D game that some of us played where the “heroes” were hired to eradicate an orc threat, but ended up “heroically” slaughtering a village of innocent orcs to collect their bounty. Morality should not simply be a question of alignment.
MMORPG: You refer to Legacy’s Wake as an adventure path. What exactly is an adventure path?
Chris: Most modules or adventures consist of a single plot arc, and cover anywhere from 1 to 4 levels. An adventure “path” is designed to take players through a much broader range of levels and will often include an overarching plot in addition to the subplots that guide each section of the adventure path. Our particular adventure path will take player characters through four plot arcs, all connected seamlessly by a single overarching plot, advancing them from first level to twentieth level. Essentially, it tells the story of four to six “nobodies” who become supremely important in the history of this great city.
MMORPG: The Kickstarter campaign seems to focus a lot on Skyfall. What else is out there?
Chris: Again, we try to keep the setting localized to allow GMs to add our world into theirs. However, while Skyfall is the largest piece of civilization for leagues in any direction, there are other locales that play a part in the story, as well as a few place we hope to be able to include in later updates.
The plateau above the Besieged Cliffs is mostly filled with tropical rainforests that descend into boggy marshes; they are filled with ruins of cities both ancient and recent. The surrounding coast is dotted with small villages generally springing up around air or sea ports, most of them heavily protected by natural features or fortified structures. The few people that grow up outside of the protection of Skyfall’s walls are hardened survivalists, and rarely reach adulthood unscathed.
To the east of Skyfall are the Worldsplit Mountains, a range whose heights become lost in cloud. The lowest point known in this range is Velbore Pass, which was open for travel years ago but is now a fetid mire of magical energy too dangerous to traverse. In the course of the campaign, players will visit here and a few other spots on the mountain range.
A fair number of islands lie just off the coast within a day’s travel of Skyfall. Some of these are provisioning stations, others are pleasure isles or private fiefdoms, and a few holder darker secrets.
The cliffs around Skyfall are riddled with an extensive cave system and contain more than a few Dark Elf strongholds. They are only held back from Skyfall proper by the intervention of the Necromancer’s guild and their legion of undead.
Part of our design centers around scale and trying to keep players feeling as small as possible, especially in early levels. So, while we have ideas for other locations we are trying to keep the surrounding areas a bit shrouded.
MMORPG: How is this game innovative from other P&P offerings?
Chris: Our focus for this adventure path, in addition to telling a great story, was to inject unique storytelling elements and combat mechanics. For that reason, we think of our adventure path like a season of netflix-style television, using old cinematic tricks to ratchet up tension through cliffhangers, flashbacks, and other non-linear storytelling methods.
One of our core changes is the addition of cut scenes. Instead of delivering off-screen action and information in the form of box text or npc exposition (boring the players to tears) we have scenes between acts where players role-play as different characters while still having an effect on the story. So, instead of listening to your GM drone on about the devastating orc attack on the outlying province, your crew plays the role of the defenders of that province being slaughtered by orcs. Players have agency over a ton of choices that can dramatically alter the course of the campaign even though the events of the cut scene are somewhat fixed. On top of that, there is a cool opportunity for great emotional impact when a player character encounters the corpse of the "npc" they were inhabiting during the previous scene...
MMORPG: You mention on the site that you have chosen to focus on story and that in some systems monster feel like loot piñatas. Can you give an example of how Legacy’s Wake seeks to rectify this?
Chris: Primarily we try to avoid "space filler" encounters (like two kobolds, then four orcs, then six goblins in successive static rooms), to avoid overusing random encounters, and to take our cue from other media formats like MMORPGs (we promise this was one of our core tenets long before you asked this question!). The "solo monster” class from the previous edition was supposed to fill a role similar to a massive MMO raid boss, but a party facing an appropriately leveled solo monster faced a much easier fight than if the same challenge level were spread across a party of more minor creatures. It's an inevitable consequence of the action economy limits inherent in the system. But if you look to games like WoW or other MMORPGs, the epic boss battle is something they've made into an art form. By taking some of those concepts (like multiple phases, unique triggered events, and a huge focus on interaction with the environment) and applying them in a tabletop setting, you end up with epic, memorable "boss" battles and avoid having your BBEG just melt or get stunlocked by a strong party. That sort of anticlimactic combat is something we are striving to eliminate.
Another way we try to shake things up is by changing win conditions. Perhaps the party has to defend itself from an attack inside a burning building; if they defeat their enemies but don’t put out the fire, a local tavern and several shops burn down, denying them access to future goods and services and even making them unpopular with the locals.
MMORPG: Is Legacy’s Wake system agnostic? Does it depend on the OGL? If not is it self-contained? Would I need other products to play this?
Chris: We are publishing Legacy's Wake compatible under the 3rd-Edition era Open Game License. We can ensure that you have everything you need to play in the new edition while staying compatible with the OGL. That said, we feel confident that our backers, with a little work, can experience our story in whatever pen and paper system they prefer. If there is enough interest in it, we would definitely consider publishing the adventure path in other open license systems.