Today we have an interview with Kevin, Ben, and Kelly from Silver Gryphon Games. I’ve met and gamed with multiple members of their crew, they are good people putting out great products and have a genuine love for gaming. They are currently running a Kickstarter for Æthermancy, a magic supplement for their Æther system. Check it out here.
Kevin: Æther is a universal system with a very gritty feeling to it that people seem to really enjoy, even at first-contact with the game. It is a D100 based game where skills determine what you do, not feats or edges. To perform an action, simply roll the D100, add your skill value, and add a Base Attribute Modifier. It’s fast, character creation is point-driven and quick, and the system is intuitive and easy to pick up. It’s a system that lets you do anything you want to do.
Ben: Ingenium’s core system has two facets. The first is the dice mechanic, which is almost always 1d10 + modifiers versus a target number, trying to get higher and “exploding” on the highest die face. The second is the “Three Word” theme, which is what makes Ingenium really unique. While the first edition only makes use of Three Words for its character creation system, the upcoming Second Edition expands that theme throughout the system. Since Second Edition has been forefront in my mind for the past two years, that’s the version I’ll describe here.
Characters, weapons, armor, and the primary type of spells all follow the Three Word theme. A character at its core is described using three words – a trait, a race, and a profession. For example, you could have a Hardy Dwarf Soldier, or an Eldritch Dryad Wizard. The trait describes the character’s physical strengths, the race gives him a racial ability or two, and the profession gives him a set of core abilities. From there, character progression is based on getting better at existing abilities and gaining new ones, but all of the new ones will be from sets outside of his profession.
The rest of this description is unique to Second Edition, which won’t be out until next year. Fair warning given, but we’re really excited about this new edition, so I can’t help but write about it.
Weapons and armor also use Three Words. Weapons have a class, a material, and a type. For example, a Heavy Coldsteel Sword. The class determines damage and how many hands the weapon requires, among other things. The material grants the weapon certain special traits, like perhaps improving spellcasting ability, or being more effective against a particular kind of armor. The type is the physical form the weapon takes – a sword, an axe, a bow, and so on. Armor follows a similar theme. This means that characters finding a non-magical short sword in a dungeon may actually want to take it and keep it, even if they already have one.
One particular type of spells also uses a Three Word system. These form the mainstay of an arcane spellcaster’s arsenal. The three words are descriptor, type, and focus. An example of this is a Slowing Cone of Darkness, which slows its victims, has an area of effect immediately in front of the caster, and has a chance to blind its victims while doing damage. Another example is a Lingering Bolt of Fire, which deals damage over time to a single target with the element of fire. A descriptor modifies the effects of a spell, the type is the form the spell takes (like a cone, bolt, ray, and so on), and the focus is the element or other force that the spell is made of. Focus also determines some secondary effects.
Spells are very flexible, too; a spell can have multiple levels of one of its Three Words to increase its effectiveness. This makes it harder to cast, but gives higher-level players more options.
In my opinion, Ingenium is a well-rounded action-fantasy-yet-character-driven game that manages to tell me everything I need to know in a mere 97 pages. Can you talk about about your design goals and process that led to such a streamlined product?
Ben: When I first began developing Ingenium, I had two design goals in mind. First, I wanted the game to feel heroic. Second, I wanted it to be possible to play the game without having to look up the exact wording of obscure rules.
A game feels “heroic” when it runs fast, lets players choose their own fate, and makes them seem larger than life. Player characters in Ingenium begin the game with stats slightly above mortal average, and goes up from there. Their power level is balanced out by enemies and challenges that normal people can’t handle.
The game being simple was also important. Whenever I run a game, any game, I want to focus on the story and keeping all the players engaged and interested. I don’t want to have to pause the action to check on obscure rules. Part of that is in my GMing style, but the other part needs to be supported by the game system itself. Ingenium has that kind of simplicity; the core rules are very straightforward. The special abilities that characters have are also pretty simple in most cases, so it’s easy to memorize their effects without feeling like you’re having to memorize things in order to play a game.
As for process, I’m really not a prolific writer like Kevin is. I’m much more of an artist, and I live moment-to-moment. When I write, it’s in creative bursts, rather than extended periods of focused brain-dumping. The rules for Ingenium reflect that a bit, since each concept is described quickly and concisely. In the first edition, that was almost to a fault, with a few rules being left a little too open even for my tastes. The freely-available errata for first edition fixes some of that, but Second Edition fixes the rest.
What sets Æther from other universal tabletop systems? How does a percentile system play into your goals for it?
Kevin: Æther doesn’t have the same feel of many generic systems, and integrating new rulesets feels like you’re just expanding an existing toolbox, not bolting on additional set of rules. It is fast and simple to add a new supplement on to the core system, such as the rules in Zombacalypse or our up-coming Æthermancy book. The D100 system makes it so skills and difficulties can be scaled with the power of the characters trying to use them. It keeps everyone on an even playing field while simultaneously allowing characters to excel and players to have the most fun out of any other system I’ve ever played.
Your first Kickstarter, for Silver Gryphon Dice, was very successful. What lessons did you learn from that experience?
Kelly: Well, the first thing is that Kickstarters take even more work than they look like. It seems like a simple piece of advice but you really need someone to be in charge of it full-time and nearly 24 hours a day if you want to provide the best level of customer experience. We learned that you need contingency plans and that even if someone leaves you hanging, the only acceptable thing to do is to make sure you communicate with your backers. We had a slight delay due to a manufacturing issue but because we communicated what was going on to everyone they were not only very understanding about it, but really supportive! After we finished ours, we started a Facebook group, Kickstarter Best Practices and Lessons Learned, where we encourage people that are planning projects, have run projects (successful or not) and those that have them running to share ideas and tips to try and make as many projects as good as they can be. There’s always something you can forget and having a fresh set of eyes, unbiased eyes, can really give you an amazing perspective on your idea or campaign that you might not have seen before.
Kevin: Æthermancy is a magic supplement that encapsulates any type of character that has magical or magic-like abilities. Typical wizards, clerics, psychics/psionicists, etc. are all covered under the book and brought together in a unified rule set that integrates with the Core Rules of the Æther system. Also, because Æthermancy utilizes the skill system, there are no arbitrary weaknesses built in to casters; they can be just as strong, just as tough, or just as good with a weapon as any other character. Magic simply adds another tool to the tool boxes of the Players and the Narrator as they play the game.
Tell us how the Adventure in a Con concept works.
Kevin: Adventure in a Con uses the Random Setting Generator built into the Æther Core Book. The players all sit down and we go around the table and everyone rolls percentile dice. Those rolls are for the setting components of Time, Technology, Genre, and Tone. Once three settings are generated, the players pick which setting they want to play and I run it on the spot. Characters are created and the game is played!
After that adventure is run, I spend the rest of the night and Saturday writing the adventure at the convention. We use art talent at the convention for illustrations, and cartography. The challenge is to get it written over the course of the Con. The players each get a copy of the adventure afterward as well as having their names and character names published in the adventure. It is an amazing experience and the non-Silver Gryphon talent we’ve worked with has loved it and has been fantastic in getting us the finished art work before the end of the convention!
Tell us about your Wellstone City setting.
Kevin: Wellstone City is a modern setting built on a solid history. It is a dark city filled with criminals, ruled by syndicates, and was written in the vein of cop movies like Lethal Weapon, Dirty Harry, Die Hard, and other movies like Lucky Number Sleven, Shoot ‘Em Up, and to some degree, Sin City. The characters work with, against, and around the criminal elements to try to survive, climb their way to the top, and make some cash at the same time. It’s a fusion of modern noir and violence and it is a real blast! (Pun possibly intended?) I should note, that Wellstone City is actually in the Æther core book.
Can you give us some background on the Camp Wicakini trilogy? It’s a game about zombies, but when I played parts 1 and 2 at a con earlier this year, I don’t know if I’ve ever laughed harder in a game. I think what makes it shine is it *could* be played dead serious, but it also works incredibly well as a zombedy.
Kevin: I’ll let you be the first to be let in on a secret…it’s a pentology, actually. Part four will be released this year before Halloween and Part five will come in 2014. For 2015, we have something really special in the works that is related to the Camp Wicakini series, but it is kind of the ultimate outcome to it.
Wicakini started as a quick throw-together game. My wife and a few of our friends said “Hey, Kevin, we’re gaming tonight…run something!” So I got it in my head that I could do this 1980′s camp killer send off where there’s this almost impossible to kill zombie that starts up the carnage. After that, the PCs are slowly zombified and they fall upon each other and the campers. The characters are all pre-generated and they’re the worst kind of stereo types of 1980′s movies. I ended up running it at a convention about a year later and after people caught their breath from laughter someone said “So, when’s the sequel coming out?” So it kind of became this tradition to release one right before Halloween.
What’s coming next from Silver Gryphon Games?
Kevin: We have a ton of stuff in the queue. The Kickstarter for Æthermancy is eating up a lot of time right now, but we still have projects in the works. We have some more conventions we’re going to yet this year, so expect a few more Adventure in a Cons to hit the shelves before Christmas and we have some more Wellstone coming at you, as well as a few Ingenium projects…plus a few more surprises.
We’re on the verge of some other major moves company-wise, and we don’t want to jump the gun and announce that yet; Silver Gryphon is pretty much a second job for both Ben and I and, well, life happens.
Any last words?
Kevin: We have a great crew that we work with behind the scenes, and we couldn’t have done any of this without them. We have some awesome and understanding friends and families that allow us to sacrifice huge amounts of time for Silver Gryphon. We also think that we have some of the best damn fans out there, and we thank them most of all; they’re what makes all of the time and sacrifices turn into laughter and memories and awesome gaming stories.
Thanks for the opportunity to do this interview, and keep your eyes on us! There’s a lot brewing here, and we’re hoping that 2014 will see even more activity than any year ever before for Silver Gryphon Games!
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