Tabletop roleplaying games as we know them have been around in various forms for well over 40 years. While they lack the mass-marketable appeal of a new major video game release, they have captured the imagination of generations of gamers. If you ask any fan of the medium, you are certain to get all kinds of stories about memorable moments in tabletop gaming, much like how EVE’s shared social space generates the drama and intrigue we are all addicted to.
At their core, RPGs are a way to enjoy a shared story. They don’t need to be monstrously complicated to be fun, either – gaming has generally moved on from being all about mountains of charts (Tunnels and Trolls, the second RPG ever published and the first to be adapted by MetaArcade was a reaction to this), and new ideas are being tried all the time.
Games, and their shared experiences, are there to be fun.
With this in mind, I sat down with Steve Seddon, who has just released Grimoire – Tales of Wizardry and Intrigue, a fast-paced game of high magic, high stakes, and hilarious drama. We discussed the game, and the process of developing a modern tabletop product.
In the interests of full disclosure, while I am credited in Grimoire, I have no financial interest in it. It is simply an excellent game that I encourage you to check out. You can read the full interview on page two.
Grimoire – Tales of Wizardry and Intrigue is a fantastically fun game about being a powerful, somewhat specialised wizard thrust into high-pressure situations. When all you have is a hammer, the world looks like one giant nail. When that hammer is a flexible and powerful magic system, exciting drama ensues.
Spells are cast by stringing together words of power, with each extra word increasing the difficulty. A part of the game’s drama are the unintended consequences of a spell gone awry, succeeding beyond the caster’s imagination – or doing what they had literally asked for instead of what was intended.
While there is no canonical setting to Grimoire, it lends itself well to fantasy settings played with a bit of humour, not unlike Discworld. However, while the misadventures of Rincewind and the other denizens of the Unseen Academy were an inspiration, Grimoire brings its own versatile, darkly humourous flavour.
Steve Seddon has been a fan of role-playing games since his teen years in Australia, and has been a supporter of technology bringing gamers from across the world together in the name of good fun. He and his soon-to-be wife have co-founded a company, RedPathGames, which is publishing Grimoire as its first major release. When he isn’t working on tabletop games, Steve works in IT for large businesses in Australia.
When and Where
Grimoire was released today as a digital download via DrivethruRPG.
Because magic in most other gaming systems is a static, unchanging thing that distills wonders and power down into standardised packages that don’t feel like either of those things. Grimoire was created as a reaction to the way magic is often used in RPGs, and to capture the feeling of being one of the famous wizards of fiction.
Gandalf did not have to flip through a three-ring binder to find out what he could do on a given day, and neither does your Grimoire character. While there is an argument to be made about balancing magic versus other character types, by focusing on the magical action – and its consequences – Grimoire becomes something new and exciting that is definitely worth your attention.
RV: Hi Steve, and thank you for your time! Please start us off by introducing yourself.
SS: Steve Seddon, head of RedPathGames, which is a company I’ve created with the help of my soon-to-be wife. RedPathGames is an independent roleplaying games company built on the back of my own love of the hobby, and is the name we’ll be launching all our products under. That includes Fate and Fortune, which was a Pay-What-You-Want product we launched back in May, as well as Grimoire – Tales of Wizardry and Intrigue, which has had its digital release today on DriveThruRPG, with a physical version soon to come!
RV:So we’re here to talk about Grimoire – Tales of Wizardry and Intrigue, which goes on sale on September 1. How would you describe Grimoire to someone who might not have played too many tabletop games?
SS: Grimoire is a game about wizards who inevitably bite off more than they can chew, and it’s a roleplaying game that will really make you feel like you’re one of those wizards. In movies you might see wizards waving their wands around while muttering an incantation, and that’s exactly the kind of thing that Grimoire lets you do. Grimoire captures the cinematic feel of ‘real’ magic.
RV: What kind of person is Grimoire aimed at? Do you see it as something anyone can play?
SS: Grimoire is a different kind of roleplaying experience, and there’s a big party-game element in there as well. By party-game I mean that player skill has a big part to play, and that’s what gives the feeling of taking on the role of a wizard, because most of the rules aren’t game mechanics, but rather a guide on how to cast spells as a wizard might, wand waving and all. It’s definitely a game that anyone should be able to pick up fairly quickly.
RV: Please give us an example of the kind of adventures Grimoire creates.
SS: Adventures in Grimoire are unlike the kind of adventures you’ll find in most roleplaying games. Your usual quests in those start out with requests such as ‘go slay the monster’, or ‘go save this person’, and that’s exactly what will happen on those quests. A quest in Grimoire will start out with ‘go slay the monster’ and end with an incredible amount of unintentional property damage, and often that also means the actual quest is technically completed.
RV: So why Grimoire? What influences have pushed you towards making it?
SS: Grimoire is actually the result of a few other roleplaying games that I’d either run or played in several years ago, the most recent being a free-form sort of game where the rules were made up on the fly. I wanted to create a game where you could play as a wizard and actually feel as powerful as a wizard should feel, because there’s just nothing else out there that caters to that. We can see in cinema that magic is wondrous, but there are also certain rules behind it, and it’s that experience that I wanted to capture. So a lot of my influences have been in movies and books, such as Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, or the wizards of the Discworld series, or the whole Harry Potter franchise.
RV: How much of it has to do with earlier magic-heavy games you played in?
SS: Elaborating on that, there was a game run using a rules-heavy system, where like most roleplaying games we had the spells we bought, and couldn’t do anything else for reason except we hadn’t taken other spells yet. That was definitely an influence in terms of the general feel of what Grimoire has become, and I think there was a general frustration at the completely arbitrary limitations that got me thinking about how magic could be done differently, which set me on the path to where we are today.
RV: Switching gears a little, when and how did you get started playing RPGs?
SS: The first thing I remember that was anything like roleplaying was going over to my friend’s place and playing with his Hero Quest set, which was a boardgame sort of setup for straight dungeon crawls. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-teens that I started hearing about roleplaying as anything more than the ubiquitous Dungeons and Dragons, and from there it was a pretty slow introduction into the hobby. I think a lot of it coincided with the development of the internet in the late 90s to what it is today, from playing on IRC networks and forum boards, to the current situation where we can have people from all over the world playing together by video chat.
RV: When did development on Grimoire begin, and what challenges have you faced getting to this point?
SS: Grimoire development began almost by accident with a free-form roleplaying game I named ‘Learn to Spell’, which served as a conceptual basis for what the game became. Back then it was extremely bare-bones mechanics, totally different to how it plays today, but it did manage to hold that feeling of a magical adventure. It wasn’t until a year or so had passed after that game that I actually started to actively develop Grimoire based on my notes from the old game, and from there it was just a matter of learning everything I needed to know about putting an actual rulebook together.
RV: Please walk us through the development lifecycle. How did you get from the idea to where we are today?
SS: Well, as I said I already had the concept and an idea of how I wanted it to work, and Grimoire is not the first roleplaying game I’d tried my hand at designing. I already had a good idea of what was needed to turn the mechanics I had into a functional rulebook, but there was a lot of research and learning that I had to do. I’d seen the kind of high-quality roleplaying rulebooks put out by the larger companies, so I went and compared how they each laid out their books in terms of structure, artwork and typography, and I learned how to emulate that.
RV: In an era where indie gaming is getting a lot of attention via Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight, indie tabletop games still haven’t gotten the same level of exposure and understanding. How does publishing your own tabletop game work in 2016?
SS: There have actually been quite a few roleplaying games published through Kickstarter, but most do struggle to reach their goal. That’s because it’s very difficult to look at this indie company you’ve never heard of and have no idea about the quality of their work, and then be willing to part with your money. Most of their self-promotion is through artwork and world descriptions, but it’s hard to talk about game mechanics in a way that will serve to draw people in. That’s why I decided to self-publish via DriveThruRPG instead, even though I needed to do most of the work on the book by myself and with my own funds, because at the end of the day there’s a complete product on the market that people are able to see. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes processes that need to be done in order to get the book print-ready, but in my experience DriveThruRPG have done an excellent job in streamlining the process.
RV: Your day job is in IT, having worked with IBM and other companies on the support side. Have you found any of the skills you’ve used in those jobs useful in developing Grimoire?
SS: Absolutely, with the exception of actual technical support. My experience extends to writing technical documentation that can be used by end-users, which means it has to be well laid out and easy-to-understand. That happens to be the exact same thing you want in a rulebook, so there were definite benefits there in terms of how to structure and explain points concisely.
RV: What’s behind the name ‘RedPathGames’? Is it the abbreviation that drew you to the name?
SS: The abbreviation—RPG—is definitely one thing that drew me to the name, but I took the name from a dirt track in the bush near where some of my family live. The name always stuck with me, even before I started work on Grimoire, and when the time to think of names it just seemed to work.
RV: What’s next for RedPathGames?
SS: After we’ve got past the launch for Grimoire, we’ll start looking at the other projects we’ve got sitting on the backburner. There’s the expansion books for Grimoire to be considered, including the Wizard’s Guide to the Multiverse which will be a world-information book for the Grimoire-Cosmology, and the Mighty Adventuring Hero book, which will expand the rules to cover non-magical adventurers and how they can be implemented into your game. We’ll also have some missions for our Fate and Fortune roleplaying game, which is already available on DriveThruRPG as a Pay What You Want product, starting with the Lost Idol of Shanshadar, which is the highly cinematic pulp-style action-adventure mission currently being written.
RV: In addition to more Grimoire content, you also have Excelsior. Please quickly tell us about that, and when you expect that to be due.
SS: Excelsior is a streamlined rules-heavy roleplaying game that I’m developing alongside Grimoire, and is aimed at being a universal roleplaying game system. It’s still very much in development and is being playtested all of the time, but more rules means more testing even once the core mechanics have been decided. I can’t tell you when it’s due at this stage because the design stage is not yet complete, but there’ll be an announcement when development comes to an end and art and layout work gets underway.
RV: Thank you very much for your time, Steve! Is there anything you’d like to say in closing?
SS: No problem at all, Ryan. I’m also happy to announce that we’re looking into arranging podcasts to help showcase Grimoire. More details about that will appear on the RedPathGames website as we start getting broadcast dates in place.