(Nota: puedes leer esta entrevista en español aquí).
If you don't know Alephtar Games, it's an indi publishing company that's been publishing campaigns and supplements mainly for fans of the D100 system since 2007. It began publishing historical supplements for the RuneQuest roleplaying game by Mongoose Publishing, like Stupor Mundi (2007) by Guccione himself or Merrie England: The Age of Eleanor (2009) by Simon Phipp. Later, Alephtar Games allied itself with the British publishing company Cubicle 7 and it started publishing supplements for Chaosium's Basic RolePlaying (BRP), like Rome: The Life and Death of the Republic (2009) by Pete Nash, that was nominated for two ENnie awards and was the Silver Winner for Best Setting. On the other hand, Alephtar Games has also published supplements for other games like Nameless Streets (2010) for HeroQuest and even roleplaying games like Aegis. For more information, you can check out their official website.
After the interest raised by the roleplaying game Revolution d100, which includes very innovative mechanics to the D100 family of games, I thought it would be a good idea to interview its main author. Luckily, Paolo Guccione was so kind as to reply to all my questions and you can read them below. As a strange coincidence, Olivier Dubreuil, author of the supplement Wind on the Steppes for Alephtar Games, had the same idea at the same time as me, so we concocted a joint battery of questions to shoot Paolo with. Without further ado, here's the interview:
Thanks a lot for letting yourself be interviewed, Paolo. It’s great to have you here at the Runeblog. Let’s start with some questions about you:
I presume you have played many games of RuneQuest. But how did you start in the hobby?
By reading the RuneQuest III rules aloud for one entire summer, as they were too complex for my group to understand and apply without a dedicated study. But the first game I actually played was Steve Jackson's The Fantasy Trip.
That’s interesting because as far as I know, both of those games started partially as a reaction to the rules of classic D&D… OK, so focusing on the D100 system now, what is your favourite supplement by Chaosium, The Design Mechanism, OpenQuest or Mongoose Publishing?
Loz's Dragonewts for Mongoose RuneQuest. Imagination without limits. But classic editions of Call of Cthulhu have a special place in my heart, too. Can we eat now?
I have just skimmed over that book by Lawrence Whitaker, but it looked packed with ideas. I know at least one person who used it in a Gloranthan campaign that included a dragonewt PC. Did you get to use it as well in any of your campaigns?
No, it was just a joy to read it. I have played other materials by Loz, but that book is impressed in my mind because of the scenes it evokes by just reading it.
All right, and aside from D100 games, what are other roleplaying games you enjoy playing?
Most, except "classic" D&D. I like 13th Age, indie games, and classic "crunchy" games, too.
What are your three favorite campaigns you have played/run?
The Crusaders of the Amber Coast campaign, the Wolf Pirates in French and my first long-spanning campaign in The Shade Land. And of course the Kustria campaign immortalized in Tradetalk has a special place in my heart.
OK, so The Crusaders… I guess with BRP, the Wolf Pirates with HeroQuest Glorantha, the Kustria campaign with RuneQuest 3rd ed. also in Glorantha, and Revolution d100 for The Shade Land. Is that right?
Actually, The Shade Land was designed for RQ3, too. The rest is more or less correct, although the Kustria campaign was heavily Pendragonised RQ3 with the addition of Personality Traits.
How did you decide to start a RPG company like Alephtar Games and how has the experience been like so far?
Well, I saw that the new RuneQuest by Mongoose allowed the publication of fan materials, so I wondered "Why not publish one of my old Stupor Mundi scenarios from the 90s as a free PDF"? Then I realised that I could write an entire setting for it, and publish it commercially on PDF shops. And later I discovered that lulu.com allowed me to produce it in print, too. People liked the idea, and I went on with historical products. Then one day YourGamesNow asked for a commercial name for my business. I was unprepared for the question so I chose a name from one of my first campaigns, on the spot, and Alephtar Games was born.
As for the experience... well, when your second product is nominated as "Product of the year" at GenCon, you start thinking it was worth it.
Of course, that must have been great!
I've read you're currently running a long-standing Revolution d100 campaign set in medieval Japan, in the lands of the Takeda clan. As a fan of the Sengoku period, and as a game master also running a campaign set in medieval Japan, I have to ask you: Could you please tell us more about that game and what's the best thing about it?
Sorry, I cannot comment about the game except that it contains a lot of violence, magic and strange creatures - but this is normal in a Japanese game. The campaign might be worth publishing, so I cannot spoiler it.
I understand. I would really love to see that campaign in print. I’d buy it without hesitation.
So you must have a long experience as a game master. What's the best skill a game master must have or strive to improve?
None. The game master is a player like all others and the outcome of a game depends on the entire group working cooperatively, not just the GM. Well, okay, this is the theoretical answer, but since many systems leave a great deal of work to the GM, there are some skills that the referee should practice for a better result, mainly the ability to improvise and the awareness that he is there to keep the world consistent and plausible, not to "tell a story". The group, together, creates the story. I agree.
By the way, I guess you live in Sicily (although Giani Vacca lives in France and he's told me he's been playing with you for a year now). What is special about the roleplaying scene in Italy in general? What Italian roleplaying games would you highlight?
I have played with Gianni in France, too. The roleplaying scene in Italy is rather peculiar, with an extremely active indie/forgie community and, on the other hand, a large part of the roleplaying masses who have never gone beyond D&D or very classic games. Games to highlight? Anything from Serpentarium games for sure, and anything from Black Box, too. The Black Box stuff is available in English, too, the Serpentarium products not yet, unfortunately.
I’ll make sure to have a look at them. I find it interesting to see what is going on in other countries. Now, let’s focus on Revolution d100. Before, it was Parpuzio. Why did you feel the need to write a new ruleset? What was the spark which stated it? What felt that you said "I want to write my game"?
The need to be independent from the various external IPs and trademarks which we used to license from other companies.
How difficult was the elaboration of the rules? Which were the biggest hurdles?
It was more difficult than I thought. The biggest problem was fine tuning the conflict rules. It was almost uncharted territory.
What did you want to bring to the game with these new rules?
A new approach to running the game outside of combat encounters, and an alternate approach to the effect-based combat system introduced with Legend/MRQ2. Even when a system is excellent, as the latter is, there is still room for improvements or variations.
Who do you think this game will appeal the most to?
Probably the people who like the toolbox approach.
That’s true in my case. I like toolboxes to tinker with. But, with other D100 versions active in the roleplaying market (OpenQuest, Mythras, the upcoming RuneQuest Glorantha), what is the niche Revolution d100 fills?
Ideally, the same niche that GURPS fills. But this depends a lot on the supplements we will produce. And the fact that you can play it as you play Fate or HeroQuest is also a factor.
I agree. If you have read my review, is there anything you would like to comment or correct about it?
Nothing at all. And not because of the language: I can manage to understand Spanish.
I'm glad to hear that! Now that the ruleset is finished and printed, what details do you wish you could tweak or add?
More examples in Chapter 4. It is really crunchy and someone might find it intimidating. And unlike the conflicts in Chapter 3, advanced combat cannot be introduced gradually: either you use all non-optional rules, or it does not work properly.
While designing Revolution d100, did you think about including some rules for animism? If yes, would they have been very different from Mythras'?
The rules from animism will be in Wind on the Steppes. Olivier's shamanim is the best I have seen so far.
I’m looking forward to reading them! Now, changing the subject a bit, I have noticed many similarities between HeroQuest and Revolution d100. Was this game a big influence while designing your ruleset? Do you enjoy playing or running HeroQuest campaigns? HeroQuest's extended contests + RuneQuest's spirit combat = Revolution d100's conflicts?
I think I have replied above. Yes, I do enjoy HeroQuest and my experience with it influenced RD100. The idea of contests actually came from something that Jason Durall wrote long ago, though, not from RQ spirit combat.
Ok so, aside from HeroQuest and the D100 rulesystems, what other roleplaying games have influenced you in devising the rules for Revolution d100?
13th Age. Freeform rituals and the uniqueness of enchantments are elements we have in common with that game.
How did you organize the playtests and what insights did they bring to you?
Mainly internally and rotating among several GMs and campaign settings, but the feedback from external groups yielded the most important changes. The simplification of the Consequence rules came from the realisation that Olivier had used a simplified model for his playtest, and it had worked well.
During the kickstarter in Ulule, many backers asked for a new edition of Robyn Hode adapted to Revolution d100 and this is now going to be the first official supplement for the game. How different will this new edition be from the original?
Well, there will be Robyn Hode, of course. Speaking of which, would you mind parting with your valuables? The poor in Nottinghamshire may need them more than you do.
For someone who would like to publish a supplement for Revolution d100, what standards do you require from the manuscript and how likely is it for you to publish it?
The best way is to self-publish it with the OGL. In which case there is no minimum standard except "pornography and inciting to racism not allowed".
So, under the terms of the Open Game License, do I need your approval to publish my book?
No, not at all. We will probably release a sort of "Compatibility logo" which might require a loose approval process to use, but publishing a supplement declared "based on Revolution D100" requires no authorization.
And speaking of publishing, how difficult would be to see Revolution d100 translated into Spanish? How much would you charge for the license allowing third parties to publish the translation (and not just the OGC)?
This is not an answer I can provide in a public statement. But let us say that seeing a Spanish edition would not displease me. The Italian and maybe French editions will probably be managed by Alephtar directly.
Will you update the PDF with the errata fixed?
Yes. The most relevant ones are already integrated.
Let’s talk about supplements. The first one for Revolution d100 was The Shade Land, a dark fantasy setting with orcs, dark elves and many other fantasy races, released as a 40 page PDF and available in Drivethru. What is the best thing about this supplement?
That at last those who think that Dark Elves are cool have their own BRP setting to play in.
Robyn Hode is already on the way (did you forfeit your valuables to Robyn yet? I can see him handling that bow nervously), Wind on the Steppes is being published, and the spectacular Red Moon Rising is announced. Is it enough? Because we have another unannounced one coming, just in case.
Cool! So if I tell you that’s not enough, will you reveal the title of the unannounced upcoming supplement? :-)
No. I just like to tease.
OK, I just had to try. Then, what can you tell us about Red Moon Rising? Why did you decide to publish a book about a web-comic? What will it include?
I have just reviewed Rose’s starting document for the supplement, and her concept literally screams "make me a Roleplaying Game". It’s pure coolness, and very compatible with what we have devised for Rd100 so far. The rest you will know during the crowdfunding campaign, which is going to happen SOON.
You got me interested, and I really hope the campaign is successful. Apart from that, what would you like to see for the future of Revolution d100?
A lot of supplements, and people who play them.
Ok, and for the final third part of the interview, I’d like to ask you some specific questions about the rules in Revolution d100: I love the conflicts' rules. I think they let you play out non-violent conflicts easily and in a very interesting way. However, I think I wouldn't use them for tasks such as treating wounds or casting magic on involuntary targets. How has that been in playtest?
Conflicts for treating wounds are extremely uncommon, unless you play in a setting without any healing powers. Most healing takes place after combat in the same fashion of classic D100 games, i.e. liberal use of the Heal spell. Healing conflicts are only for diseases and for wounds that go beyond the party's immediate healing capabilities. Essentially, wounds that would be left to natural healing.
Magic overcoming with a conflict is clearly optional and easy to replace with a single roll (page 174, in the sidebar marked with the retro-compatibility quill icon). However, if you give it a try you will see that it is not particularly complicated and adds a lot of suspense.
So in short, experience will show you that you will end up using conflicts only for those scenes for which the group feels they are necessary. However, the rules emphasize and over-recommend their use because there are situations when the group might be unwilling to give them a try, while in fact the players might enjoy them a lot if they overcame their diffidence. Rituals and enchanting, for instance, are a lot of fun and very, very quick to perform. It is just a matter of trying once and realizing how fun the game becomes with this sub-system.
OK, thanks a lot for clarifying. On another topic: Do you feel Clarence Redd stole the idea of basic conflicts from you when he included it in his book M-Space?
Absolutely not. The game is OGL and anyone can use its core concepts. And in the case of Clarence, we had been discussing the subject of generic conflicts behind the scenes for one year or more. As long as he acknowledges that he developed my idea (which he does), he has stolen nothing.
Ok, I understand. Using the 2D4 experience increase in skills, how many sessions of play has it taken your PCs to reach 100% in their main skills?
Erm... actually, if you optimise your character, he or she can actually start with a main skill over 100%. Even with standard creation rules.
Oh, I hadn’t thought about that, really. (#^_^#)
Now, when you go over 100% in a skill, any result of the number over 100% on a roll is an advantage. Also, you get to add the number over 100% to the result of any roll in opposed tests. So, those lucky characters with 200% in a skill... Have they attained perfection?
Actually, the "advantage if you roll under your skill exceeding 100%" rule is an optional rule that you should use instead of the "add to your roll for an opposed test", not in addition. And characters with 200% in a skill... whichever rule you use of the two, they will barbecue you in a second. Stay clear of them.
Right, I had clearly misread that. Why did you think it necessary to change the Size characteristic into Size class?
You will notice that each of the six characteristics can be used as a conflict pool. If SIZ were a characteristic, it would not make much sense to have SIZ as a conflict pool. So, this hints at the fact that SIZ should not be a characteristic.
It is also a wink to D&D users. D&D six-stat model is more elegant than BRP seven-stat one.
Aha, a subtle way to lure D&D gamers into playing Revolution d100, good idea! ;-) Another big change in the rules as far as previous D100 systems go, is the mixing of magic points and fatigue into just "Life points". What is the design reason behind this?
Err, actually, this is one of the details in the rules which I did not implement or design myself. Manuele and my brother designed this part, I just adopted it "as is" because they had playtested it intensively. But I think it works well, in the end: it helps you to keep the game "crunchy" during advanced combat, and narrative during the main flow of play.
In an interview some time ago, you claimed Time Scales were an integral part of the rules, not suggestions. But recently, you commented in a forum that they are just there for starting game masters who don't know that from experience. So what can you tell us about them?
I never said that they were there only for beginners. I just said that a seasoned GM instinctively uses them without realising it. RD100 makes explicit what is implicit in other games: instead of telling you in the rules "this takes X time" while knowing in advance that a veteran GM will not bother counting time but will make a ruling instead, we say explicitly in the rules "the Narrator will make a ruling about how fast time goes, and set milestones" and everything else is a consequence of this ruling. While Revolution D100 strongly advocates that the Narrator is not above the rules, we are not afraid of defining, in an explicit way, that some parts of the game are subject to direct Narrator adjudication when "GM ruling" is the best way to handle a specific detail.
That makes a lot of sense. I suppose designing a whole new game must be a difficult but very rewarding task. Could you please tell us one of those times when you thought "Wow, these rules I've designed are the best!" while running a game of Revolution d100?
The example about Professor Rathas and the blinding flash on page 65 is one of those moments. When a player managed to insert a totally unexpected trick within a conflict that had started as a diplomatic one I knew the conflict rules *did* actually work the way I had hoped.
An excerpt of the gameplay example in Revolution d100, where a character does a trick that surprises the game master.
Some people criticize narrative systems by saying: "In the old days of roleplaying, you just roleplayed social encounters and combat was rules-heavy. Nowadays, social encounters are rules-heavy and combat is roleplayed". Do you agree with the intention behind that?
First of all, if I want to play that way, who are these individuals to criticize how I play at my table? I do not tell them not to freeform their social encounters, so why do they object about how I play mine?
Secondly, I have never seen a ruleset where you roleplay combat. Maybe in a freeform, but this is not the case in "narrative" systems.
OK, now to finish the interview, most of my friends have been playing RuneQuest 3rd ed. and not any other newer version of the game. What would you tell them to raise their interest in playing Revolution d100?
Well, if they only want to play high fantasy, Glorantha-style, the old editions of RuneQuest are still a good choice for them. Just a bit dangerous for player characters. If they want to explore different genres, or even a more low fantasy approach, then RD100 may be useful to them. It is not, of course, the only D100 that does these genres well, but its strength is that the core rules can cover most genres without much additional tinkering.
Well, now that’s all for the moment, Paolo. Thanks again for the interview. I wish you and Alephtar Games all the best. Hopefully many D100 fans will jump over to Revolution d100 or start using parts of the system in their campaigns with other D100 games. I’m already looking forward to reading game masters chronicling their campaigns with Revolution d100. See you in the forums! ;-)