Monday, September 16, 2013

Interview: Quentin Bauer and the Raiders of R'lyeh Kickstarter

I've been on a bit of a Lovecraft kick again lately, and that means that Raiders of R'lyeh has been on my radar. Quentin Bauer's Kickstarter is for an Edwardian Mythos and Adventure RPG, and I thought it'd be be interesting to interview him about this effort. Below, we discuss his vision for Raiders of R'lyeh, some of the inspirations about the game itself, and why he feels this can be a successful Kickstarter effort. 

Quentin, thanks for your time. How is the Raiders of R'lyeh Kickstarter doing?

QB: Very well! We got a huge start out the gate (all thanks to our backers that jumped on the project in our first week). We hit 30% before the end of the initial week, and then hit over 50% funding by the middle of week two. As of this writing, we are 77% funded with 9 days left, so this is looking to be very successful. We are doing so well that we recently upgraded our print edition to hardcover with Smyth sewn binding (which I am really excited to put together). Our backers have been amazingly supportive of the project. I cannot thank them enough.

What sparked your interest in making an Edwardian Lovecraftian game, versus a Victorian one, or a Roaring 20s one? What are some of the differences between those periods, and how do they show up in this RPG?

QB: World War I. Zeppelins. Aristocratic empires vying for power. Occultists and secret societies. A golden age of travel and global commerce. Lost worlds and explorers. The design and architecture (everything from the lettering and ephemera to the architectural movements and design of machinery). The cast of eccentrics. That’s a short list.

The political tinderbox right before World War I is definitely unique (and the division of powers between multiple empires). The crossroads between the old world of superstition and the Modern world we know is unique. For a mythos game, there is also a sense of innocence still existing in the world (albeit with this darker conspiratorial undercurrent) that just does not exist post World War I. We wanted to explore that zeitgeist of hope, possibility and adventure, just before the apocalypse of World War I shattered everything.

In Raiders of R’lyeh, the history (and its people) are just as important as the dark horrors of the world. In fact, one could even play this game as a straight adventure without the mythos, and have a solid experience. Heroes come from all corners and cultures of the globe (our iconic hero in our logo is a Cherokee, and a vast array of heroes and villains from multiple cultures are represented in the setting). Regional areas are very important (not just how they connect with the mythos, but how they connect with a larger tapestry of historical conspiracies and struggles). The real historical period almost presents itself as a ready-made sandbox of events, NPCs, territories, seeds, just waiting to be grafted into a dramatic setting like this (read our update on Rasputin and Papus, as an example:

We have a completely novel take on the Dreamlands — not just novel, but one rooted in occultism, social movements from the period, and new incredibly interesting play spaces never seen in a mythos game before (to my knowledge). We are planning a Western expansion, a British spy expansion, and more, and these are all designed to operate with or without the mythos. We’re also going to be tackling the Great War in an expansion (as all of the groundwork in Raiders will lay the foundation).

Go ahead, give us that all-important elevator pitch.

QB: Indiana Jones (“Raiders”) squaring off against Cthulhu (“R’lyeh”) in 1910 (the twilight before the Great War).

Or, we could go with “Edweirdian Cthulhu.”

The system will be d100 based, right? What sort of tweaks or overriding system goals can we expect?

QB: Yes, it is d100-based.

It has a new skills list, a new way of thinking about investigation checks (not as a mechanic, per se, but rather in the way our “scenarios” are designed, and the way we allow failed investigations to spill into new directions), a new sanity system (taking into account the worldview of the Edwardian period, rationality versus superstition as a major theme, theories about the sublime, shell shock studies from soldiers in the Russo-Japanese War, a theory in Japan about insanity as a virus, and some other interesting new takes on the concept), and an entirely new magic system (taking into account the occult groups that played a part in the history predating the Great War, the Edwardian resurgent interest in the occult, actual reported occult activity from the period, spiritualism, theories of magick... occultists — and occult detectives — actually play a bigger part in this setting).

There is no APP; we use Charisma, instead. Charisma hooks into other aspects of the game (influencing everything from a cult leader’s power over his/her subjects, a sorcerer’s presence, or a team leader’s ability to hold the morale of his mercenaries together when the horror hits the fan).

We use character archetypes instead of occupations. Archetypes come with back story seeds which provide a rationale for the characters adventuring in the first place (and hooks for the keeper to exploit). Archetypes come in two flavors, the more active adventurers (people seeking fortune and glory; in other words: “raiders”) and the more passive “everymen” (people like us, just trying to get on with life, and thrust into extreme circumstances...governesses and chauffeurs and solicitors, and the like). Archetypes are important because each has some form of patron and faction in his/her circle of influence. Patrons and factions run independently of the adventure, with their own motivations and conflicts (working for an industrialist like a Hearst type will greatly affect the tone of the adventure, as will working for a crime syndicate, or for the mysterious cabal of financiers known as the Glove...). These patrons and factions are designed to generate their own conflicts (and some of the Great Old Ones have their own suggested factions, or ways of influencing factions).

Social Class — incredibly important in the Edwardian — is an attribute (which ties very deeply into how etiquette and social mechanics work in the game; this is crucial for negotiating with aristocrats in a ch√Ęteau, or negotiating with Bedouin in a beit sha'ar). The attribute also describes the power level, assets and capabilities of our patrons and factions.

There are no “Magic Points,” but a metric for Willpower instead. A hero’s Willpower relates not only to his ability to function mentally (and to hold his composure under stress) but also to his capability with magical realities. We also include a characteristic called Rationality which further measures a character’s worldview and attachement to reality (as a big theme of the Edwardian — and especially Edwardian weird fiction — is this conflict between superstition and reason). Willpower gets really interesting when applied to some of the incorporeal monsters in Raiders of R’lyeh, where the attribute acts more like Hit Points and defines how well the creature incorporates itself into our plane of existence (as a congeries of protoplasm held together by a malignant will, as an avatar projected into the material world from another dimension, as a psychic force pushing its way into our world, or as a Great Old One “imprisoned” in a fleshly form).

Ultimately, our mechanics system is really a springboard to explore these other ideas about how one can play a mythos game. So we took something that is familiar and pulled it apart to find new ways to play the game, design adventures, and run campaigns.

What about overall art and layout? What sort of feel are you going for?

QB: We are definitely going for the look and feel of books at the turn of the century, and the illustrations and craft that made them so beautiful. We are paying careful attention to fonts (even using a type specimen book and sample catalogs from 1910), page layout, and spot illustration to evoke the period. Even beyond that, we are looking at the architecture and burgeoning commercial art (and how these were used as political and philosophical tools). We are trying to capture the elegance (and gilding) of the Edwardian design ethos, as well as trying to suggest (in the artwork) the danger waiting just under the surface. Translated, this means we are going for a bit more subtlety in the way creatures and characters are represented, and trying to juxtapose the exuberant happiness of the period’s design with hints of danger, shadows, and so on.

What current add-on or feature of this game currently has you the most excited?

QB: Allowing larger spaces of exploration for players, for one. Secrets of the Sargasso Sea ( is an example of how we are trying to open up the canvas of exploration to players (in Secrets of Sargasson, players get rules for leasing, stealing, or running their own merchant vessel, and the kinds of dark territories they can explore once they venture into deep waters). We are just beginning to reveal some of the other expansion modules.

I am also really looking forward to sharing our vision of the Dreamlands. I think we found a way to integrate the Dreamlands into our setting material that is going to blow people away.

In terms of literature, what would be your game’s “Appendix N” (list of fiction to read for inspiration), and how might it different from some of the other Lovecraftian-inspired RPGs out there?

QB: History and travel books FROM THE ERA (as these really reveal a different mindset than modern history books). One of the best travel diaries I’ve read is from a British soldier in Tibet in 1910, and reveals far more than what we get in any of our history books today. We’ve also looked at a lot of journalistic satire, essays and debate (G.K. Chesterton, H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw...)

Since you asked for literature: we’ve pored over all of Lovecraft’s canon from beginning to end (and his Commonplace Book). His Letters are very valuable as well. We’ve found his Supernatural Horror in Literature essay essential, and then followed some of his influences from the essay. For me, William Hope Hogson and M.R. James were the two heaviest hitters. Following them: Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood. Then Dunsany.

With Robert E. Howard: his El Borak stories. All of his mythos fiction, especially “The Fire of Asshurbanipal.”

Lost World fiction: H. Rider Haggard, Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, A. Merritt and (earlier but important) Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

Films: Raiders of the Lost Ark (for feel) and the films that influenced it — Sergio Leone Westerns, Seven Samurai, David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia), Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Gunga Din. Wild Bunch. The Prestige. Not that all of these are period-specific, but at the end of the day they all contained something to contribute in flavor, tone, or feel.

I am surely forgetting a whole swath of material, but offhand these are what come to my mind right now.

What’s your gaming background like? Lots of Call of Cthulhu games back in the day?

QB: Call of Cthulhu. D and D. Champions in my early days (also West End’s Star Wars, FASERIP, a little bit of MERP, some GURPS). I loved all the crazy directions of TSR’s early stuff. Beyond playing, I love looking at any system I can get my hands on, reading design theory, studying game architecture, writing and illustrating. I’ve always enjoyed writing and designing games.

I need to bring this up: there’s no shortage of RPG Kickstarters out there that haven’t delivered on their promises. What sort of experience and assurances do you bring to the table to give Raiders of R'lyeh backers confidence? How much of the project is already written?

QB: The core rules are done and going through revision. What we are working on now is additional setting material and adventure templates (taking the sourcebook and expanding it into gameable material, so that instead of getting a paragraph about the politics in Manchuria — as one example — you are getting adventure hooks, maps, equipment lists, NPCs and scenario ideas).

Everyone that I’ve brought on board is a professional: fast and good at what they do.

Also, we are very aware with this first project that we are establishing trust with the backers, which is supremely important to us. First and foremost, we want to be proud of what people are receiving, and we want backers to be happy (they deserve to be happy for putting their faith and money into a creator’s project!).

I find it unfortunate that some people have misused Kickstarter; that kind of behavior is bad for the backers, but also undermines all the other creators who would like to bring something new to the hobby. Kickstarter is a fantastic tool, and we would like to honor the opportunity it presents by providing a great game and delivering on all of our promises. Lastly, we’ve got other exciting projects we’d like to put together in the future, so we look forward to establishing a LONG TERM relationship with our backers so we can continue doing so.

If someone wants to jump into this Kickstarter and get everything needed to run Raiders of R'lyeh, what’s the best pledge level?

QB: We’re offering a range of tiers for people with different needs (including a Keeper’s Guide level for people who just want the setting material). But since you asked for everything needed to run the game (including the core rules), I recommend the following. Just want a PDF? Grab the $20 Gothic Black and White. Want the print edition? Then the $39 Anarchist pledge is a great deal (especially as the book just got upgraded to hardcover with Smyth sewn binding). Completionists who want everything (including the aforementioned print edition, all the PDFs, Kickstarter exclusives like the Kevin Ross add-on and the Pundit add-on) should opt for the $75 Arkham Headquarters.

For more on the Raiders of R'lyeh RPG and Kickstarter, visit their Kickstarter page. Thanks to Quentin for the interview, and best of luck!


Anonymous said...

I wonder about the negative effect of having John Tarnowski associated with their project. It has certainly cost them my interest, to say nothing of my participation.

Umberto Octo said...

Negligible effect. It's just you, O Brave Anonymous.

If personal dislike of an individual involved merely as a consultant to a game costs them your interest, then it is most certain that creative processes are better off far from your small, simple-minded world.

And, from the sound of it, when the game comes out, you'd probably read it anyway, scoffing the entire time about how much better you could have done if only you had the creative drive and talent to do so.


Zachary Houghton said...

Well, as I write this, they have a week left, and about $4.5k to make their $22k goal. I think they'll make it, but we'll see!

Not super-appreciative of the negative Anonymous comments, btw. Usually, this site is blessedly free of them, but I suppose there's always going to be one.

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