One of the great things about the current RPG boom is all the new and exciting games being made. There’s not much time to spare, but there is still a chance to look into and investing in Awaken: the Blood of Salvora on Kickstarter. It’s a follow-up, expansion and setting book and to the previously Kickstarted Awaken RPG. We decided to take a look at Awaken, it’s expansion and chatted with one of its creators, Zoltan Lečei.
This feature could very well belong in our Let’s hear it for the little guys series. Awaken is designed by a grand total of two people, in a small RPG market before being successfully Kickstarted. It’s a dark fantasy RPG influenced by Slavic and Mediterranean myths and folklore with a heavy emphasis on drama.
Simply put, Awaken is a d6 dicepool system. It’s a skill-based system with no classes and all the PC’s are Vasalli – advanced humans that are physically and mentally superior to the common folk. They even have powers that are part magic, part superpowers. But with great power comes comes a heavy price. Abuse or overuse your powers and you will slowly lose your humanity and become little more than a monster.
It’s a cleverly built system and world in many ways. The base setting is on a fairly isolated but vast peninsula (Salvora), with a lot of possibilities to both expand the world and to detail the base. The mechanics stick to simplicity in most ways. Each character has three attributes and there are a few skills associated with each attribute.
If there is a complication, it’s brilliant – the Picture Rule, which rewards the effects of adding a detailed or lively description of your actions. It may sound quite complicated that each round of action is split into four segments, but it flows quickly and smoothly and it all revolves around tension and drama. First, there is the declaration phase, where each player declares his actions and the Narrator (GM) decides if the description deserves extra dice to the roll(s). Next up is the maneuver phase, where the group sets up their actions. Next there is engagement, where the actions are resolved. Finally, all that has transpired is settled in the Resolution phase. It’s all about the drama and letting yourself go or having a great idea actually has a mechanic instead of being arbitrary.
While there can be plenty of action and fighting in Awaken, that can be had in plenty of RPG’s. What is more interesting is the enormous role of politics and factions. Each character must pick a side and there can be conflicts in the group. It’s a system where the side you pick can be far more important than what dangers you will encounter.
The big bad of Awaken are the Vargans – creepy, roughly humanoid creatures that look like a bestial, white-skinned bat-like vampiric creature with long sharp claws and unclear motives. The Vargans are at war with humankind and the Vasalli but have unclear motives and origins.
Making it Come Alive
Awaken: the Blood of Salvora (AtBoS) is the first supplement to Awaken. It’s a book meant to greatly expand on the game world, adding details, history and lore to the city states and lands of Salvora and its NPC’s. It also adds new powers and gear as well as expanding on and adding new orders and factions.
The book looks absolutely beautiful. The original looks great but AtBoS looks like it will even more impressive.
I’m a sucker for goodies and there are some interesting ones in the Kickstarter. Many are familiar, like a GM screen and themed dice but you could also snatch up posters, shirts and a soundtrack. The by far most impressive extra is a 25 cm (10 inches) resin figure of a Vargan ready for battle.
The whole thing looks quite exciting and is absolutely worth a look.
Straight to the Source
To truly understand the world of Awaken, we went straight to the source and asked Zoltan Lečei, co-creator along with Marko Matijević Sekul, and asked him some questions.
Tell us something about yourselves. What is your background, inspirations and experience? What were the influences for Awaken, both in terms of other RPG’s and other elements?
I’m part of The Games Collective, a two-man game design team from Croatia. We’re not strictly a company, more like a creative team, and as such, we’ve changed numbers. Marko and I, as co-creators of Awaken, started this together, but there were other members who had to focus elsewhere. Marko and I are long-time friends who actually met through gaming. Our friendship developed through gaming, music and other common interests, so it was only natural to focus our passion into the projects we both loved. We played various games, but we considered M.R. Hagen’s World of Darkness, Call of Cthulhu and D&D a holy trinity of games. Of course, these games are almost universally considered as such, but we always favoured narration and roleplaying experiences over the epic combat and fantasy of D&D. So we tinkered as every true gamer does. It’s just that we decided to go further with the worldbuilding and create the entirely new games.
Where did the original idea for Awaken come from?
Before we started developing our own, we always preferred simple and light systems, which finally resulted in Marko creating an entirely new system for Awaken. We used to strip down existing systems to their basis and used only the essentials. So Marko started from there, adding basic attributes and skills. The powers, combat and HP system are derived from the base stats, so the character creation is pretty easy and straightforward. All in all, I could say that the inspiration for the system comes from various simpler systems.
Awaken seems to focus a lot on factions and politics and the system has a lot of options and flexibility for social interactions. Is this entirely by design or did it evolve as the world was developed and came alive?
Marko envisioned a rough draft of the Awaken setting and we filled the holes in together. Needless to say, it took a couple of versions before we agreed on the version which can be found in the Quick Start edition of Awaken. The final draft was a fantasy world, a peninsula with Mediterranean and Slavic influences. We come from Croatia where you can see both elements present, fortified by magnificent local folklore. We drew some heavy influences from the history of the territory, old mythology, folklore, and culture. But most of the game doesn’t revolve around these details. It was actually our idea of how would a world with gifted humans in a low fantasy setting be like. The backdrop for the setting simply evolved from there.
How would that society develop? Would new political powers be born? Would the discovery of a fantastical new resource push the world closer to an industrial revolution? What place would these gifted humans find in this world? What are the consequences of overusing both those powers and this new resource?
In the world like this, we believe it’s natural for various factions to rise and we did want to present that. Factions would actively engage in politics while not at war with each other or against a common enemy. Gifted people would naturally be drawn into politics, as tools to be used if nothing else.
So, you have your ordinary Vasall (gifted human), trying to keep their sanity while torn between the political factions, their ego, consequences of their powers and enemies lurking in the dark wilderness. We tried to keep all these elements in the game, while at the same time building a varied world. Through constantly asking ourselves questions, we try to explore the dark side of being special.
What is the Croatian RPG scene like?
Of course, designing a game is nowhere as easy as a simple brainstorming session. We had a long development process. Part of the problem lies in the fact that Croatia doesn’t have s very active RPG scene. The problem isn’t the lack of players, but the lack of people experienced in game design. We’re a small market and lack consumers. It would be an impossible task to design and launch a game locally.
There are bursts of action in the system, but it’s always clear that the focus is entirely narrative – including in combat and action sequences, where being descriptive and having a good idea is rewarded. Did this come from something special or was it always a fundamental process of the system?
Since we consider roleplay to be a sacred cornerstone of RPG’s, we tried to tailor the game around it, making it a centrepiece, even adopting the system to reward it. We believe that RPG’s are a great way for people to express themselves and learn to solve problems creatively, thus the heavy emphasis.
Have you discussed any future plans for Awaken or are you focused on the present?
We decided to put faith in the power of the crowd from all over the world. We were lucky and we stumbled upon an interested publisher experienced with Kickstarter projects and succeeded in launching the campaign. Now we’re focused on the current campaign for the setting’s sourcebook, and afterwards, we plan to focus on player materials, adventures and saga books.
The Kickstarter campaign for Awaken: the Blood of Salvora ends on June 2nd, so there is still some time to spare. As this is written, there is still a ways to go, so if this interests you then by all means support an independent developer in creating new games and supplements. At least give the quick-start a nice look.