TGN Interview: Sigil Stone Publishing
Sigil Stone Publishing has just launched their Kickstarter campaign for Forge of Valor, their new RPG system and world.
I got to sit down with Forge of Valor designer Ben Dutter and we had a little chat.
So grab your sword and shield as we head into another TGN Interview.
TGN: How did you originally come up with the game concepts for Forge of Valor (I.E. – the technical side of things)? Were you dissatisfied with how other games work or was there just a spark of creativity to step into your own game system (or a mix of the two)? Did you take inspiration from any other gaming systems?
Ben Dutter: I just genuinely enjoy making games, and nothing matched the exact type of experience I was looking for. So I set out to make Forge of Valor. When I first started, I had a few core tenets that I wanted to incorporate.
First, characters were the centerpiece. I wanted a system that emulated protagonists, people who actively seek their own goals. I wanted players to be able to come up with a cool character concept with all of these different motivations and skillsets, sit down, and make that character at first level.
That drove the funnel-shaped character creation, with Attributes at the top and Specialties at the bottom, as well as the inherent flexibility of a skill based system. There are plenty of great systems out there that do this, but none fit the tone and feel perfectly with what I wanted to create and to play.
Second, I wanted a one roll mechanic that reflected not only how successful the character’s action or attack was, but also illustrated the degree of success. Again, a lot of systems do this very well, or walk their way backwards into the result (from a more narrative standpoint), but I felt that I could do it differently and make FoV stand on its own. I believe I’ve achieved that.
Third, I wanted a system that provided for mechanical and narrative character depth. I love games like Fate, but I also love the process of making mechanically deep characters. There’s something quite satisfying about creating a character that matches your concept on paper, without a lot of GM fiat or narrative hand-wavery. I’ve never come across a player that had a character concept that wasn’t viable within the system. I think FoV is unique narratively and mechanically, but I would be remiss to ignore the many games that inspired me over the years: D&D, Fate, Savage Worlds, Edge of the Empire, Apocalypse/Dungeon World, GURPS, Mutants and Masterminds, The Riddle of Steel, Dread, Freeform Universal, Lasers and Feelings, Star Wars Saga Edition, Green Ronin’s Dragon Age, Legend of the Five Rings, and probably more that I’m forgetting!
TGN: How does the one-resolution, 3d6 system work? Can you give us an example of how, say, a simple round of combat or haggling over the price of an item in a shop would go?
BD: The basic mechanic is pretty straight forward: sum of 3d6 + modifier compared against a Target
Number. Success is based not only on if you exceeded the Target Number or not, but by how much. Attacking a bad guy? The difference of your attack roll and his defense roll is how much damage or “success” is dealt. A really accurate hit does more damage than a glancing blow.
This mechanic can be applied to any obstacle in the game. So for haggling a price, the character would roll an Influence (3d6 + Influence modifier) against the shopkeep’s Resist (static or rolled), which serves as the Target Number in this obstacle. If the character was just barely able to surpass the shopkeep’s Resist, the price may only drop a little, while an overwhelming success would net the character a huge discount.
Climbing a mountain, crafting a sword, or constructing a castle can all be attempted in the same manner. You can dial the scale as much as you want to as well Obstacles can be as small as picking a guard’s pocket or as grand as winning a war. This is all accomplished mechanically with plenty of easy to remember guidelines for the players and the GM.
TGN: The website mentions that much of the “heavy lifting” in the game comes in character creation. Exactly how finely detailed can you make your character?
BD: Forge of Valor was designed firmly around the character. I think that intriguing games and fiction focus on interesting characters, so that’s where the bulk of the design went into the system. There’s an enormous amount of character customization that stays intuitive and simple, even for first-time players.
Since Forge of Valor is a series of Skills and sub-skills (called Specialties), characters can be broadly competent in a few large areas, like Stealth or Coordination, but can specialize in more tightly defined actions, like Sneaking (a Specialty of Stealth) or Ranged Combat (a Specialty of Coordination).
Characters improve through taking risks and failing tasks. If your character attempts to Sneak by a guard, and gets caught, her Sneak Specialty earns a bit of XP (experience points). Accrue enough XP, and your Specialty improves. Proactive, daring characters will improve more quickly than cautious and methodical characters, but they’ll also have to deal with the repercussions of their bravado.
TGN: Moving on to the game world itself, how was the groundwork for that laid? Much like with the game concepts, do you take inspiration from other sources?
BD: When I started designing Ashkhar, Forge of Valor’s setting, I thought about what elements in a fantasy universe excite me and immerse me, and I tried to hone in on as many of those as I could while maintaining a cohesive and believable world.
I immediately drew inspiration from well-built universes: Harn, Mass Effect, A Song of Ice and Fire, Hyboria, Middle Earth, Star Wars, the many worlds of Miyazaki, on and on. But on top of all of that, I’m a huge fan of history and historical fiction, so I tried to apply as much of my “realistic” or historical knowledge, including Earth’s fables and myths, to my ingredients and inspiration for Ashkhar.
Since the game focuses so much on the character, I wanted a world that revolves around people. How did the sentient species develop? How do their many cultures interact? What ideologies do they follow? How do factions behave? These were all questions I asked years ago when first putting pen to paper for Ashkhar. It’s grown and evolved into what it is today.
TGN: What can you tell us about the different races in the world?
BD: Probably more than you want to know, ha! There’s six sentient species: humans, anduin, grohlkin, inohkshi, koht, and krolog. Each species has multiple, distinct cultures, and in areas in which the species commonly interact civilizations have developed that are much more heterogenous than their homelands.
Anduin are perceptive and astute. They’re shorter and lither than humans, and their genders are much less distinguishable. Anduin skintones range along the gold spectrum, with a strong wedge-shaped face and delicate features.
Grohlkin are passionate and aggressive. Similar in height to a human, yet with longer necks and a tighter, more impressive physique. Grohlkin are by far the most “alien” of the species, and pursue most things with a predatory zealousness.
Inohkshi are pragmatic and fearless. They usually stand around four feet tall, have heavily dappled and freckled greenish flesh, and a coldhearted, efficient streak. They hail from the northern Drowned Lands, and are infamous for their cunning and navigation skills.
Koht are kind and patient. Easily a head taller than a human and much heavier, koht are massive furred creatures with impressive strength and a gentle demeanor. They have an innate wanderlust, and many take a pilgrimage from their home on the Titan’s Steppe to explore the lowlands and learn about the wonders of the world.
Krolog are logical and willful. Generally a head shorter than a typical human, with a stout frame and broad shoulders. Krolog enjoy things in great quantity and purity: excitement, battle, religion, food, friendship. They are insurmountably stubborn, are thought to have invented banking, and are known as the greatest conquerors in the realm.
TGN: Your site mentions vohk, sort of an all-encompassing sustenance item. Can you tell us a bit more about how it works?
BD: So “vohk” is the in-universe explanation for all forces of nature. Gravity, magnetism, chemical bonds, heat, energy from food, kinetic energy, and so on. Since Ashkharans, and by extension Forge of Valor characters, are made up of vohk and can manipulate vohk, this becomes an essential part of the universe and gameplay experience. Basically, it is what allows the characters to achieve superhuman feats of strength and skill. Those who are the most dedicated can “Control” vohk the most effectively.
A direct application of vohk is the use of Magic, or Control. A controller can literally condense or mold physical objects, weave energy like gravity and magnetism, or directly interfere with a person’s mind and soul. Vohk stays in a state of equilibrium and rest, so trying to bring about any sort of supernatural effect takes a great deal of energy to break that natural inertia. This energy comes from the character itself, often leading to injuries and exhaustion. In Ashkhar this is often called “The Controller’s Sacrifice.”
TGN: Finally, what about yourselves in charge of Forge of Valor? What sort of backgrounds do you have? How long have you been gaming?
BD: I grew up playing D&D with my older brother, and always had an insatiable interest in RPGs and fantasy fiction. I’ve been playing for about twenty years now, and working on systems and subsystems for the last seven or so. FoV has been my focus for the last two years.
Keith [Keith Seymour] is one of the best fantasy artists I’ve come across, and when we initially talked we just clicked. We’ve been working together to give FoV a really creative and polished look for the last year. He’s based out of the UK, so sadly I haven’t been able to game with him.
Josh [Joshua Yearsley] is an RPG junkie like me, but with a far more critical eye. He takes my jumbled words and make them sound intelligible. Josh is really big into narrative games like Edge of the Empire and Fate, and that has definitely left an impact on FoV. As an editor, he’s worked on several RPGs including Nova Praxis, and is currently working with Evil Hat.
Tiara [Tiara Lynn Agresta] is a well-known layout editor and graphic artist, with projects at Margaret Weiss and Paizo under her belt. It was actually Daniel Solis, an excellent game designer that I admire very much, who connected Tiara and I. I was so happy when she joined the team and started working on the book. Similarly with Keith, we all knew what we wanted, had a shared creative vision, and synergized. We both wanted to make FoV beautiful and an easy to use tool, and Tiara is making it happen.
My thanks to Ben for taking time out to answer my questions.
Be sure to check out the Forge of Valor Kickstarter.