Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Ten Questions Blade Raiders Creator Grant Gould

Cover to the Kickstarter exclusive hardcover edition.
Pretty much all I've been able to write about lately is the wellspring of awesome gaming projects being offered on Kickstarter. I've been pretty much exclusively buying new tabletop games and products exclusively through Kickstarter. There's just a lot of exciting new things popping up as a result of Kickstarter, and I'm very grateful for it. I haven't done a 10 questions interview post for quite some time. It's not because I have a hard time finding creators willing to spend a little time asking questions; on the contrary, creators, have unanimously been willing to donate a bit of time to the lowly Hopeless Gamer. Nope, it's not that. It's because I usually only want to spend my time on interviewing creators who are really inspiring to me in their creativity or drive to produce something close to them.

Today's 10 question post is no different. Grant Gould is an artist and creator behind the Kickstarter project Blade Raiders. While we all love art in our RPG's (and really it's what separates a game from a textbook), I, like everyone, have a specific aesthetic I go for. I like colorful, expressive animation styles in my art. Grant seems to specialize in this aesthetic.

So, I'm pretty stoked. Grant was kind enough to take a bit of time to answer some questions I had about his inspirations for the game as well as some specifics about the game itself. As of this posting, the most important information about the game is that it's only got 8 days left to go to reach it's $9,000.00 stretch goal. I want to see it reach that stretch goal (this is possibly the second most important part of this posting). Another important thing - $15.00 gets you a pdf of the game, $25.00 gets you a signed softcover version (which you can see a picture of the cover below), and $100.00 gets you both of the above AND a copy of the hard cover limited edition (with the cover pictured above). Anyway, on with the questions!

The Hopeless Gamer: What are your biggest influences in tabletop game design?

Grant Gould: Well, D&D would have to be #1. I grew up on Dungeons & Dragons; I first started playing it in the mid-'80s and have followed it throughout all its various changes and editions. I always liked that D&D felt accessible to new, young players. And of course I was hugely influenced by the look of the game -- those D&D artists from the '80s (Caldwell, Elmore, etc.) -- I can't even tell you how many hours I spent staring at that stuff. I played a pretty wide variety of tabletop RPGs and genres in my teen years especially: Palladium books, White Wolf, GURPS, Twilight 2000, and about a dozen others. But I always came back to D&D. 

I'm also heavily influenced by a lot of the other things that I loved when I was growing up. For example, some of my first major introductions to the fantasy genre were comics like "ElfQuest" and movies like "Willow" and "Conan the Barbarian," where it's more about an emotional journey & fun adventure than it is about magical unicorns & wizards with pointy hats (no offense to Gandalf -- I do love me some Lord of the Rings too!). 

THG: What is one thing about the Blade Raiders setting that we haven't seen yet that sets it apart from other fantasy settings?

GG: Well, I think the way that magic's handled is pretty unique. The use of magic is dependent on these mysterious artifacts that are buried in the earth called runestones. People can read more about that in the Kickstarter FAQ section -- I talk a bit about the world and magic and such. But one thing that I haven't mentioned anywhere yet is that, in addition to magic-users relying on runestones for their abilities, there are some creatures/entities in the game that exist solely in the presence of runestones. For example, runedrakes -- a short, overly-simple description of what a runedrake is would be "a shadow dragon." 

Those who play the game will discover that there's more to the runestones than the fact that they emanate powerful energies. I introduce some ideas that are meant to make players ask questions, and these are things that will also set the stage for future adventures and sourcebooks. Where did the runestones come from? Some say they came from an ancient race who descended from the skies long ago... I'm designing Blade Raiders to be both a fairly simple, fun, straight-forward fantasy adventure world AND a world that -- if the storyteller chooses -- holds some deeper possibilities. Another thing that sets Blade Raiders apart is the fact that I'm avoiding a lot of the typical races you see in other games, such as elves, orcs, etc. My world is focused on human characters, and the beasts and monsters you run into during your game sessions will be pretty unique. I want people to fall in love with the setting just as much as the game rules, if not more.

THG: What's the last role-playing game you played?

GG: Pathfinder. My gaming group doesn't love D&D 4th edition, so we've played Pathfinder a lot. Admittedly, it's become tougher and tougher to get together to play anything now that people are older and married and having children. It's a natural thing, of course; I'm sure a lot of gamers in my age group (mid/late-30s) can relate. But I think it's for the best, because being away from that ritual has really sparked my desire to create my own game. In a way, working on Blade Raiders has now become my own personal weekly RPG session, if that makes sense. I was almost always the Game Master and I was addicted to putting work into each week's game, so it's nice to get back into the groove of creating and inventing and putting myself into that fantasy world mindset.

THG: What of your own work makes you most proud (other than Blade Raiders)?

GG: Well, I've been lucky enough to get regular freelance work from Lucasfilm for the past six or seven years. I've worked on Star Wars comics and kids' books, I've done a bunch of stuff for the Star Wars website, trading cards, stuff like that. So I'm definitely proud of the fact that I've had such amazing opportunities to live out my childhood dreams and work on things that really are the reasons I even do what I do.

Standard Edition Cover
THG: Can you tell us a bit about the physical product we'll be getting with the core Blade Raiders rule book?

GG: The rulebook will be perfect bound (ie. square-bound) with color covers and black-and-white interiors. I can honestly say that I had quite the struggle trying to decide whether to make the book full-color or not. A lot of people are maybe scared off by black-and-white. But I'll tell you, for me (and I know this is a nostalgic thing), I love the black-and-white pages. My fondest memories of gaming (again, old D&D books, TMNT, Heroes Unlimited, etc.) involve B&W. That, and it's cheaper and easier to print. I do think at some point I'll create a fancier, color version of the rulebook -- maybe there will be a revised edition in a couple years and I'll offer it up in full-color. I can see that happening. But for now, I'm sticking to my gut instincts and personal tastes and debuting it in B&W. I hope it doesn't scare too many people off. Believe me, the book will still be full of artwork and will look awesome. I always try to put a lot of effort into making things look good. Bottom line is: I want it to appeal to both new gamers and old school guys like me.

THG: What kinds of releases would you like to see for the future of Blade Raiders to expand the game and/or the setting?

GG: I actually just posted some information about this on the Kickstarter page, so people should check that out. First up, I plan on releasing a "Storyteller Toolkit," which will be a Storyteller/GM screen and a monster manual (not sure what I'm going to call the monster manual yet). After that, I'll be working on the first location-focused source book, "Sentinels of Stonemir." I'm really hoping people enjoy the game and it keeps grabbing folks' attention, because I'd love to just keep going from there -- more source books, maybe comics or novels in the future -- I don't want to get too far ahead of myself. But, yeah, right now that's what I have planned for the near future.

Prototype character sheet - in both Male and Female Flavors
THG: How would you sell Blade Raiders to a person who is brand new to tabletop RPG's and wants to get into their first game?

GG: I'd say, "This is a game where you create an awesome story with your friends and you get to play one of the main characters. You go on all sorts of epic adventures and do whatever you want. It's more fun than any videogame you've ever played, and better than almost any movie you've ever seen. Pick up the book, start on page one, and you'll see how easy it is to play Blade Raiders."

THG: How has your experience been putting together the Blade Raiders Kickstarter project?

GG: It's been a great experience, and I think it's been really motivating. I mean, I'd been wanting to create Blade Raiders for some time. I'd been slowly working on it here and there for at least a year or more. But it was just tough to find the time to really devote myself to fleshing out the rules, creating the artwork, etc. Kickstarter made it possible to not only give myself that time and guarantee that I'll be able to give it the attention it deserves, but also showed me that there's interest out there. As a creator and an artist, it's pretty normal to have those feelings of self-doubt where you're not sure if anyone will actually want to buy the thing that you want to make. So it's been great seeing people excited about the game -- it gives me a boost of confidence and makes me look forward to delivering the final product even more!

THG: As a part of the May 26th update on the Kickstarter project, you explain that backers will receive Creature Cards, and if you reach the $9,000 stretch goal, we'll receive an Adventure Folder. Can you give us more details on what these will look like and if you plan on releasing similar products in the future for the game?

GG: The creature cards will look like two-sided trading cards, featuring some full-color monster art and some stats. Nothing too crazy, but I think they'll be helpful and handy little visual aids. The Adventure Folder will look like a standard glossy 9"x12" folder, but it'll be sporting some colorful Blade Raiders artwork on the insides and outsides, as well as a color map of the game setting. I also plan on including some character sheet blanks and some other cool stuff. So I'm hoping we reach our Stretch Goal, because I really think the Adventure Folder would be fun. I don't know yet if there will be similar products coming in the future -- I think a lot of that will depend on how people respond to this first one. My fingers are crossed!

Grant's materials at his c2e2 booth from this past April!
THG: What's the biggest lesson you've learned in designing a brand new game engine and game setting from the ground up?

GG: I think the biggest lesson I've learned so far is that developing the setting before developing the rules makes a big difference. Now, I don't think that's necessarily true for everyone -- I'm sure there are some designers out there who'd say the opposite. But for me personally, coming up with the world of Blade Raiders was something that had to be done first. About a year ago, I was focused more on trying to come up with the game system, and the setting wasn't very fleshed out. I had a hard time with it. But once I found my footing and the setting (Stonemir, runestones, lizard mounts) and the over all feel of everything started developing in my mind, everything else started unfolding naturally. I guess that's a weird way to explain it, but, yeah, I'd say it's all about finding what works for you and running with it. As with all forms of art and creativity, the only rule is that there are no rules.

Thanks again to Grant for taking time out of his day to answer these questions. I always ask questions I want to know the answers to, but of course, that's just my opinion. You have a question about the game for Grant? Go check out Blade Raiders Kickstarter page, specifically in the comments section and share it with him. Don't forget to pledge, there's only 8 days left!

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