Behind the Scenes of Accursed
Today sees the start of the Kickstarter campaign for Accursed, the dark fantasy Savage Worlds setting from John Dunn, Jason Marker, and Ross Watson of Melior Via, LLC. I’ve been intrigued by Accursed since shortly after the development blog launched; it’s my kind of setting – alchemy, (sort of) alt-history, mad science, underdog heroes, vampires, the works – and I have no shame in admitting that it helped inspire my approach to The King is Dead (though little to nothing about the content). Since the guys were kind enough to treat this blog as a serious thing that actually deserved to receive press releases and review copies, I’m happy to return the favor and give them a forum to share a little more about Accursed.
The following interview was conducted by e-mail before I received my preview copy of the playtest materials.
W&S: I’ve familiarized myself with your biographies and past work from the website, but what would you like to say to introduce yourselves and what you bring to Accursed?
Melior Via: We all bring different elements to the project, because with our breadth of game freelancing, we've each had the opportunity to work on different projects from different perspectives. We've also done an amazing amount of collaborative work on the project. In truth, everyone has backed up one another throughout. Ultimately, though, that's a bit of a cop out. So, here's the short version:· With his years working as lead developer on Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay for Fantasy Flight Games, Ross had the most discrete experience directly within the industry. He's got a fantastic breadth of knowledge for everything that can work well and that is likely to encounter issues on a large scale perspective. He's also been the "big idea" man on Accursed.· Jason has a knack for compiling an amazing word count in an extraordinarily short time. He's also got a very down to earth point of view as regards the kind of material that people are going to find appealing and for judging human nature -- both within the fiction of the game world and for what people are most likely to find appealing. He's also been the one to make certain that everything stays "dark" enough to be true to the setting's ethos.· John's done the small press publishing thing before and has focused on making sure that the project can get done, to the high standards we expect, within the desired time frame, and within the allocated budget. To a certain extent, that's meant that he's been the one to play taskmaster and schedule keeper, but it has also meant that he's the one to try to make sure that nothing slips.W&S: You describe Accursed as a dark fantasy setting. What does “dark fantasy” mean to you and how does that differentiate from horror?
Melior Via: There are certainly elements of both Dark Fantasy and Horror in Accursed. The biggest thing, though, that distinguishes our setting from typical horror is that the characters are true heroes. We expect them to have a decent chance of succeeding and triumphing in the face of improbable odds. From the fantastic perspective, we certainly have magic and fantastic races -- in the form of archetypical movie monsters -- but we have a world in which the characters must struggle to survive. The combination of a world of magical fantasy mixed with one where the characters desperately battle tyranny seems like an ideal combination to us.
W&S: Why the Witchbreed? Is that the influence of Hellboy and the Hammer horror films? What made you choose to go with a setting where the monster hunters are monsters themselves?
Melior Via: All of us our fans of classic monster movies. Jason, in particular, loves to recount how his dad would tell him as a child about how the monster movies were historically accurate. One of the elements that we really loved about these characters is their inherent nature as tragic characters. That's certainly epitomized with Hellboy. The idea that the characters, through their Witchmark, are doomed to a tragic fate, but that they may have some chance to overcome it. We thought the combination of internal and external conflicts with terror made for a particularly compelling storyline for the game world.
W&S: I notice that the bylines on the blog articles indicate John Dunn has written the most about Caer Kainen, Hyphrates, and Manreia, Jason marker has written more about Hebron and Steppengrad, and Ross Watson seems to handle the broader strokes of the setting (and vampires). Have each of you carved out your own territory in Morden?
Melior Via: Don't trust the bylines too much. John ends up making sure that all of the posts go out at times, so he inadvertantly ends up with more credits than he deserves. Having said that, there are six major nations, six major witches, and six major witchbreeds because that way we could each handle one of them. John had Hyphrates/Mummies/Djinn and Manreia/Mongrels/Chimera. Jason had Steppengrad/Vargr/Baba Yaga and Hebron/Golems/Crone. Ross had Valkenholm/Dhampir/Sanguinara and Cairn Kainen/Revenants/Morrigan. That's not to say that any of these were solo projects -- we all had a lot of interaction and input with one another. However, those are more or less how we broke down the principal writing.
W&S: I notice strong parallels between the nations of Morden and those of Earth (Caer Kainen and Celtic Britain, Steppengrad and Tsarist Russia). This archetypal similarity seems a good choice to me; it renders easily familiar a setting wherein the PCs themselves are so strange. Was this your thinking as well, and is there any particular reasons you chose the Earth cultures you chose?
Melior Via: Yes, that's certainly the case. In some places, we went with settings that were a little bit more of a hybrid or that had a particular twist on a setting, but we definitely wanted to create places that were easily identifiable. There are a few reasons for that. The first is that by relating things to archetypes that people already know, there's a bit of a shorthand in that people can sort of "fill in the blanks." This enables us to do things with a bit less of a word count allocation. At the same time, we're able to make things distinctive by clearly delineating the places where things are distinct from those archetypes.
W&S: Is this secretly a steampunk setting? I notice that Manreia has steam trains and airships. Is the setting (metaphorically) like the old Universal horror films where the civilized parts of the world look like the 1930s and the countryside is full of lederhosen-wearing peasants?
Melior Via: We like to think of Accursed as a "steampunk-friendly" setting. We didn't want it to be a steampunk setting, but we wanted to include some steam elements. Manreia has some brilliant scientists, as well as some mad ones. We definitely wanted to enable Game Masters to introduce as much or as little of that into their campaigns as they could. And, you're bang on with the Universal analog. Yes, there are portions of the setting - particularly Manreia, that look like, let's say the 1880s, while there are also people that'd look like peasants in your prototypical medieval fantasy movie toiling away in the countryside.
W&S: Is this secretly a sci-fi setting? What’s up with the lightning bridge?
Melior Via: No, it's not a sci-fi setting. Well, inasmuch as you can have mad scientists and golems without sci-fi. But, we'll take the 5th amendment on the Lightning Bridge.
W&S: You’ve written about why you chose Savage Worlds on the development blog. Are you finding any challenges in adapting Savage Worlds to your vision, or has it been pretty seamless so far?
Melior Via: I hate to give you a total non-answer, but Savage Worlds has really been a fantastic fit for what we wanted to do with the setting. Maybe the hardest thing to decide is how many of our banes we wanted to have as Wild Cards. Initially, we wanted to make them all Wild Cards. Playtesting has indicated that we probably need to scale that back a bit. We're still feeling that out, and we hope to get some good feedback from our backers during the Kickstarter.
W&S: A lot of the magic described on the blog so far seems more subtle and fanciful than the artillery spells that dominate Savage Worlds’ magic system. Are we going to see any significant additions or changes to the magic system in Accursed?
Melior Via: We have two Arcane Backgrounds in Accursed. Witchcraft and Alchemy. They both have access to a limited subset of the Powers included with the core rules, as well as a few from the Horror Companion, and then some we've reprinted from other sources as well as some we've created. I think it's safe to say that we have a bit of a different tone with these Arcane Backgrounds, but again, we do want to see what feedback we receive during the Kickstarter about them. We're willing to make changes until we achieve just the right tone.