Lately we’ve seen a lot of new Scandinavian roleplaying games. So far, most of these games have come from Sweden but that might be changing. Black Void is a new Danish roleplaying game that was successfully funded through Kickstarter recently.
Growing up as roleplayer here in Iceland in the 90’s, there weren’t that many roleplaying games to choose from. Sure, we had AD&D, Cyberpunk, World of Darkness, Shadowrun, Call of Cthulhu and of course the only Icelandic roleplaying game Askur Yggdrasils. There were a few eccentrics that mail ordered lesser known games, like Kult or Warhammer Fantasy RPG, but for the most parts, the Icelandic roleplaying community was rather confined to this handful of games.
Along came the internet. And suddenly we learned about other games as well. Although these few games still dominated, playing lesser known games was no longer just something that the “nerdiest of the nerds” did. But with the internet came Kickstarter, and what a blessing that has been. And what’s even better, roleplaying games are seeing more and more interest here in Iceland, perhaps partly due to D&D going mainstream, and now kids can opt to go to roleplaying classes in some schools.
Publishing a Scandinavian game
This is the perfect opportunity and a very fertile soil to introduce new roleplaying games, especially games that resonate with the culture and spirit of the Scandinavian people.
Black Void is a dark fantasy tabletop roleplaying game revolving around the fall and subsequent resurgence of humanity after cataclysmic events have torn them from Earth, designed by the Dane Christoffer Sevaldsen. The game was recently successfully funded through Kickstarter, as many other Scandinavian games have in the past few years, games like Trudvang Chronicles and Tales from the Loop.
“Yes, Scandinavia seems to have really taken off recently in the RPG world. The Scandinavian games seem to push into uncharted territory, trying new themes or approaches, which attracts attention. Most of the ones I know about have a dark edge to them, which really seems to resonate with a lot of players right now,“ Sevaldsen says.
As mentioned earlier there haven’t been many Danish games published internationally and Sweden has been leading the Scandinavian wave. Many of these game have however first been published for the home market, then translated and published internationally. The same can not be said about Black Void, which is written solely in English.
“I would say that the Danish roleplaying scene is fairly strong, but I don’t know if there are that many locally made RPG’s in Danish, I have only ever heard of two: Fusion and Viking. Most Danish RPG gamers tend to play the big international systems I think,“ Sevaldsen says and adds: “Local success will surely help, but as far as it being necessary, no it is not. The RPG community is very aware of what is going on around the world and very keen to support projects they like regardless of where it originates. What is critical is having a good concept and putting in the effort and work.“
Be known for what you love
It seems, however, that Kickstarter is a must-have platform to introduce new games and have them funded, at least for many Scandinavian publishers, and to see so many Scandinavian games get fully funded and reach most or even all stretch goals is really nice. It‘s not easy to be so successful on Kickstarter, since there‘s so much noise and even some of the larger publishing houses are using the platform, publishers like Chaosium. How do you get your message through?
„I don’t think there is a secret as such. As for me, I am very passionate about Black Void and I think people could sense that and all the many hours of work that has gone into it. The key thing is putting in the work, planning everything, having the right people to support and help you (preferably a team if you can) and making sure that you communicate your brand and product in a clear and concise way. I have been lucky enough to get some amazing artists on board to bring the game to life, which resonated well with many of the backers and I have spent the past two years building a following and interest for the project.“
Passion sure plays a big role and it‘s easy to see and feel Sevaldsen‘s passion for his game, but conveying that passion can be tricky at best and a serious challenge. You need to invest time in building a following on social media and it does help to have an eye for marketing.
„Passion is the basis and what inspires you to put in the hours needed to make a good product. It is not enough to be passionate, but that is what drives everything else. Methodology-wise, yes – social media, marketing and building a community is very important. I have a background in marketing including social media and PR, so I have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t, which channels give the best exposure and where to find and how to address your core audience.
You have to focus on the channels that work best for you and showcase your work in the best way. For me the initial channel was Instagram, because I wanted to showcase the visual universe of Black Void. Later on I began focusing more on Facebook, Twitter and G+ to capture audiences here as well. Each platform has its own merits and advantages so you have to use them right or they won’t work for you.“
Enter the Black Void
In the days when Babylon was the greatest city on Earth, mankind lived in placid ignorance of the grandeur, vastness and horror of the cosmos. Following cataclysmic events on Earth the fragile veil between reality and the Void was shattered and the truth of existence revealed. As mankind cried for salvation they were torn from their homeworld by Void-torrents and the surviving peoples of Earth were scattered among the stars. Countless were lost and mankind seemed all but perished. Over the decades the survivors, stragglers and ragged remnants of mankind’s tribes struggled for their lives across countless uncaring worlds. However, a few managed to go beyond mere subsistence and travel the Void-currents to congregate in fabled Llyhn, epicentre of the cosmos.
The Black Void RPG is set in a dual reality: A vast cosmos and beyond this evident world an intangible void. The cosmos is the universe we know; home to mortal species such as mankind and many others. In contrast the Void is an entirely alien and bizarre domain; an ethereal ocean constantly fluctuating and inhabited by unimaginable life forms and in its depths the mindless ghostly abominations. The void is chaos and catalyst as opposed to the order and constancy of the cosmos.
Black Void is a unique fantasy game in many ways. It seeks inspiration from many different sources and I can imagine many fans of H.P. Lovecraft will see some resemblance between some of the monsters and the many mythos creatures, aliens like the Elder Things that lived in the strange city by the Mountains of Madness. Other might feel a connection with Arabian Nights.
„You are right that some inspiration has been drawn from Lovecraft as well as 1001 nights, but there has been significant inspiration from many other sources including Frank Herbert’s Dune, the epic of Gilgamesh, the epic Ramayana and so on. I wanted to create something which rekindled the magic of what fantasy is, and my way of doing that was to remove most of the typical fantasy tropes from the game and replace it with something unknown to people: That way the wonder and mystery are reintroduced. The game is gritty and it is dark, it is a struggle for survival and it is a journey for humanity to define or redefine what it is. Also there are no magic items, healing potions, dragons or elves… Many others have done those amazingly well, I want to do something else.“
Sevaldsen has a degree in philosophy and I can’t help but wonder if that fact plays a role here, since the game poises some serious philosophical questions, since Black Void is not your typical good vs. evil fantasy game and puts more focus on the grey areas of morality.
“My background and interest in philosophy does play a big role in this for certain. It is probably more philosophically inclined than the majority of fantasy games, enabling players to delve deeper into the schools of thought and this impacting their journey. However, it is up to the GM and players if they want to take this route with the game.
In any struggle for survival ethics are often an afterthought and humanity is definitely struggling for survival in Black Void. One of the themes of the game is encountering otherworldly and outlandish lifeforms with significantly different mentalities, worldviews and sense of right and wrong, but that does not make them inherently evil, nor is humanity or the players the good guys per default. The point is that humanity is stranded without ethos and needs to determine what it is to be human with all the grey aspects of the choices needed to survive and thrive.“
A d12 skill system
Black Void is a skill system where players have much freedom to create the character they like. The character creation is point-based and the progression is non-linear, which means you can create pretty much whatever kind of character you like. Two main factors in the game are enlightenment, that grants characters the ability to traverse the Void as well as extraordinary powers and abilities, and the so called waastah, confers tangible and vital sway, authority and social influence with other sentient species.
„Character creation is a point-based system where the player gets 48 points divided into two pools: one pool to determine Traits (the physical, social and mental characteristics of the character) and the other to acquire skills, attributes, backgrounds, powers and talents. Before you allocate points the players choose or roll (GM’s discretion) to determine the character’s home world, which will give both a basis for backstory as well as unique capabilities to the character. Players can also obtain flaws for the character granting additional points as compensation for a detrimental quality.“
What’s even more interesting, and quickly caught my eye, is the fact that Black Void uses a d12 as the game’s principle die. Granted, there are games like the One Ring RPG that also use the d12, but at least to my knowledge that die is one of the least used dice in the standard rpg dice set.
„The number 12 has significance and features prominently in the Sumerian and Babylonian sexagesimal numerals as well as mythology and other esoteric fields. I wanted to make a simple system enhancing story-focus, which – to me – means single-dice system. The D12 allow even minor modifiers to have a fairly significant impact to rolls – which I like – and it gives a statistically higher rate of exceptional successes and critical failures, which benefits the story if these two factors are composed in terms of how they affect gameplay, adding drama and narrative opportunities rather than being game-determining or even -breaking. The D12 allows you to easily and precisely convert results to D6, D4, D3 and D2 (which are used occasionally in the game) by only using a single die. And finally, I wanted to give the D12 its deserved possibility to shine!“
A roleplaying game for sandbox gaming
In the recent years the sandbox gaming style has been a real buzzword and many roleplayers have opted for a more open-ended approach to storytelling than many of the more traditional games and modules seem to offer. A style where player agency and freedom of choice is kept at heart. Black Void seems to be designed with this in mind and my guess is that the game will seem like a pleasant surprise for many roleplayers.
“To me, simple rules provide myriad possibilities and allow the players to be imaginative as there are few regulations to adhere to. The players have extensive options available to them both when creating characters and playing them, the only thing they have to consider is that actions cause reactions and consequences. The sandbox style seems to fit the concept and themes best as it allows for story-depth and character development which are key in the game and mechanics such as wastaah and enlightenment. The system works for one-shots, but it is difficult to incorporate these key elements of the setting.“
Black Void is due to be released late this year. You can however get a glimpse of what the game will look like by getting the Quick Start Rules (see here). If you like your fantasy games to be a little more unique than your traditional Tolkienesque setting, I recommend you check out Black Void. It’s more than worth it.