Fae Nightmares: The Interview.
Fae Nightmares is an Urban Fantasy setting for Savage Worlds that is currently in development by Brett and Mariah of Dark Smile Games. In Fae Nightmares, you take on the role of a mortal being drawn into the hidden society of the Fae.
Enter into a shadow war between two Fae Courts in your own city, as you’re thrown headlong into a world of extremes and contradiction where you have to adapt to a new reality or perish. Play characters who are becoming something less human and more like the beings found in stories—the fae, the monsters, the gods, and everything in between.
As of this writing, the Kickstarter to fund the corebook is halfway to its goal with half a month left to go. I recently chatted with Brett and Mariah via Skype instant messaging about this new, progressive-minded Savage Setting.
Sean Bircher: How would you like to introduce yourselves to my readers?
Dark Smile Games: Hi, we are the Dark Smile Games team, Mariah and Brett.
We started designing Fae Nightmares when we pitched the idea of the game to our RPG group at the end of a military campaign. After scouring our local game store and the internet, we couldn't find what we were looking for, so we set off to design it.
Sean Bircher: While Urban Fantasy hasn't made the inroads with gaming that it has in novels and TV, what was it that the few existing Urban Fantasy settings lacked that you felt you needed to design?
Dark Smile Games: We found a lot of the Urban Fantasy settings segregated the Fae out of the world, except for brief periods. We also found they had a tendency of paying much more attention to the horror and misery of some tales, while downplaying the wonder, beauty and joy of others.
The Fae, and these stores, were modern at their time period, and in a lot of ways they’re like James Bond -- each generation reinvents them to suit their needs. We wanted to capture some of this, and not just present them as medieval throw-backs.
Sean Bircher: I can certainly agree with wanting to emphasize the wonder and beauty of the Fae, and I think the best modern versions of the Fae certainly integrate them into the world... in particular, a certain Canadian TV show (wink-wink).
Dark Smile Games: That’s funny; the actor who plays Tryst has been in several of our other campaigns -- none of the Fae Nightmares ones, though.
Sean Bircher: Wow! Really!? That's awesome!
The Fae Nightmares setting integrates Celtic, Native American, and tall tale imagery [including the awesomely bizarre whangdoodle] into one setting. What made you decide to bring in tall tales?
Dark Smile Games: They’re very distinctly North American, unique, and something you won't see elsewhere. They're also part of the progression to using modern urban myths as well. We discovered this rich history that for most part isn’t explored or really known about.
Sean Bircher: You've released a sampler to backers of the Kickstarter that includes some of those modern urban myths, like the Boogey and the EMP (an electrical imp). I find their inclusion pretty refreshing. I was never particularly comfortable with Changeling: The Dreaming's hostility between the Fae and the modern world (of course, the whole Old World of Darkness was like that).
The details on the courts of the Fae, though, so far seem to concentrate on the Celtic Fae. Are the Native American Fae and Celtic Fae integrated, or do the former not participate in the Courts of Roses and Blades?
Dark Smile Games: They are integrated. Part of the difficulty here is that the different Native American tribes had very different cultures, much more so than the historic Celts. In addition, both the Blade and Rose courts are actually not indigenous to the location. This is covered in the (short) history section. They are integrated, but it is a bit more subtle due to the difficulties with cultural commonalities. They [the Native American Fae] are featured more so in the courts described as pushed out of Arden, [but] the King of the Rose Court is actually a Native American Fae.
The plot point also pays homage to some local Native American tales. (Look up Maid of Mists; it’s the Anglicized name of the story, but that one is in the main plot point.)
Sean Bircher: I really like that.
…[W]hat I found both brave and inspiring about your blurb on the Kickstarter homepage, [is] that the setting is gender-neutral and LBGT-friendly. I'm not saying that I've ever seen any discrimination in the Savage Worlds community itself, but a surprising number of gamers can be pretty conservative. What made you decide gender-neutrality was a selling point of Fae Nightmares?
Dark Smile Games: We're both people who have been extremely uncomfortable with the way women are presented in a lot of RPG art and stories. We did set out to make sure that both genders were represented equally. The Queer component, however, was actually unintentional, and likely just a byproduct of who we are -- and who our game groups are -- that has become ingrained in the setting. It’s something we noticed cropping up in play—it makes sense for the Changelings [Fae constructs left to replace mortals who have joined the Fae, and one of the four possible player character origins] who can change apparent gender at will, but there was significant bleed-over of this affecting the way other PCs interacted with characters and the world.
We've been very fortunate to have a wide range of people from different backgrounds in our game groups and playtesters, and this has really shone through in the world.
We were unsure about actually promoting the queer & LGBT inclusiveness of the setting, but we had so many people -- game designers, players, etc. -- ask us to and that really emphasized how important it was, because it’s so uncommon.
Sean Bircher: I'm really, really impressed. 90% of my gaming is duets with my wife, and the idea that I'm not going to have to rewrite a setting to create a world she wants to explore is so great. Especially since that setting is going to contain TWO plot point campaigns! Why are you including two campaigns in the setting? One is hard enough to write!
Dark Smile Games: They explore different aspects of the setting, and different styles of gameplay. The first campaign leans more into the intrigue, while the second is much more hack and slash (though both contain elements of the other). They're also a great way to introduce players to different parts of the setting.
Sean Bircher: I like that there's enough of a setting that it rewards that kind of exploration. As good as Pinnacle's classic plot points like 50 Fathoms and Rippers are, once you've finished the campaign there isn't much left to do with the setting. I assume Fae Nightmares is meant to be more of an open-ended game world?
Dark Smile Games: Because it’s got the social and intrigue in with the hack and slash, it tends to be easier to extend games beyond the plot points. We wanted players to be able to explore the world in way similar to what we have. The world is open ended, though finishing the first plot point does tie up certain threads, leaving us free to open up new ones in another book!
Sean Bircher: Always a good way of expanding the line.
…What that I haven't asked would you like the readers to know about Fae Nightmares?
Dark Smile Games: The setting is heavily researched.
This is a different take on Fae lore than a lot of the other Urban Fantasy settings. We've had people ask us how does this differ from Changeling, from Dresden, and Marchland, and the best answer is that it does differ substantially, but to catalog the differences would take most of a book. ;)
The biggest ones are that the Fae aren't segregated in their own worlds, you're a part of the Fae court; the courts are not cyclical seasonal courts, but rather completely discrete organizations--some of which are more modern than others. The Parliament of Filth views itself as being very progressive: unionized, with proper healthcare and dental befits (provided your dues are paid in a timely fashion)
The Fae are also not universally erratic, whimsical, selfish, and/or sadistic--those individuals exist, but the Fae have individual personalities as well. As one player put it, their character can understand their logic, even though they may disagree with it, and the timespan they're working on is different.
Sean Bircher: Very interesting. I really like that the Fae aren't inscrutable, just kind of obtuse. Before I forget to ask my signature question, what should one drink while playing Fae Nightmares?
Dark Smile Games: That should depend on your court. Parliament of Filth: a rusty nail; the Blades: a full-bodied stout; and the Roses: a half glass of ice wine in a Waterford crystal goblet with live music in the background. (The first book assumes you`ll be playing a Rose--the ones after that will be expanding on the other courts to make them playable)
Sean Bircher: I think the Roses might be my favorite already. [In fact, the night after this interview was completed, I had a glass of Canadian-made Cryomalus ice cider at Max’s Wine Dive. Magnificent stuff!]
We know from the Kickstarter and the preview that Fae Nightmares is set in the fictional Arden City. Is it meant to be a fictional Canadian city, or generically North American?
Dark Smile Games: We`ve done our best to make Arden generically North American, but with its own personality. This way the GM can make their call as to where they would like it to be. There is a strong influence from Toronto, as that’s where we`re from, but also from Chicago through one of our playtesters.
Sean Bircher: Good to hear. One of the blogs I follow is Mightygodking dot com out of Toronto, so I feel like I've got a bit more insight into life in Toronto and Canadian politics than many Americans, but I think a more generic setting works best.
Speaking of "generic," why Savage Worlds? As much as it's my favorite game and I use for more social and investigative games, there's no denying it’s built on a miniatures skirmishing system. What makes it work for you?
Dark Smile Games: Savage Worlds is a high success system, and that works very well for this setting. The concreteness of its rules also works well for our play style. And maybe part of why we like it because we`re both wargamers as well -- it seems very intuitive to us. But the high success level of the system was the biggest factor.
Sean Bircher: I've never thought about it that way, but the high success factor is probably one of the reasons I find it works, too. Are you adding any new subsystems to the game, or do you find the minimal social conflict rules work well enough to resolve disputes without getting in the way of role-playing?
Dark Smile Games: Introducing mechanics for social play is always tricky--we want to instinctively just play it out, because it’s "just talking", something we`re already doing. With that in mind we tried to keep additions to system minimal and unobtrusive. We did add a new social skill, Trickery, and a new modifier to social interactions, based on status within the court.
Sean Bircher: Glad to hear it. Too much in the way of systems and it breaks the immersion. Can you share what Trickery does?
Dark Smile Games: Trickery is the art of manipulating information, to make it say what you want, without resorting to lying. Social subterfuge at its best.
There are so many stories of the Fae being unable to lie, and many of the cultures we reference have taboos around lying, that we felt it was important to include this in the setting. Lying is actually a capital offense to the Courts currently in the setting.
Sean Bircher: Good to keep in mind. My stock trickster NPCs will have to be even trickier than usual.
Dark Smile Games: We've had a player use it to seed a crowd with discontent about a blood pit match, another to trick particularly unintelligent minions away, and of course, to cover up their tracks socially.
It’s a part of the lore!
Sean Bircher: I like the attention to the original lore, but I know how tricky it can be. I tried writing my own Urban Fantasy Fae setting a few months ago for FATE Accelerated, and differentiating the various similar yet distinct types of Fae (side and alfar, trolls and ogres) was pretty demanding. What's been the most challenging part of choosing what lore to use so far?
Dark Smile Games: There's so much great material, paring it down is painful. This is why we only went with the limited scope; we've already had to remove a lot. Part of this actually shows up in the bestiary, with the "categories" and "similar to" sections we added--not all of those Fae listed as similar will be in the bestiary.
To some extent paring down the lore its easier than we thought… as long as we remember to look at it through both the lens of how useful is it for a game -- what function would it serve, is it flexible enough that people can add their own spin on it -- and the second lens of how updatable is it -- would people understand it without a lot of explaining, or is it too heavily archaic?
Sean Bircher: That makes sense.
Fae Nightmares comes from your own actual-play experience. What have been the greatest moments of the original campaign?
Dark Smile Games: …From the first campaign, there was turning the car into an owl, with the PCs still in it. One of the characters was accused of treason in front of the Queen of the Court, and successfully defended himself, while the other players prevented a double assassination attempt without anyone being the wiser.
One of the highlights of the current campaign was when a changeling courtier ended up in a blood pit match and was the sole survivor among twelve combatants, who successfully killed the giant venom spitting frog with a butter knife another player had enchanted.
The most powerful moment for Brett was when one PC (Kes) was caught by their pack in a relationship with a member from the enemy court (in a time of war-this is a capital crime). The one character (Rocky) said that she wouldn’t have to worry about others finding out, because if she betrayed them, he would deal with it personally. Both the gravity of the situation, and the compassion with which it was done were perfect for the world.
Sean Bircher: Sounds pretty awesome. I really look forward to playing in this world! Good luck with the Kickstarter!
Dark Smile Games: Thank you. Cheers!