It’s an RPG that, in her words, is a bit of a blend of The Golden Compass and Pokemon. Familiars and spirits exist, and populate a close to modern day world that is emerging from the Vast War. Into this landscape stride the Seekers, who are the main protagonists of the game.
Check out this Firing Squad Interview below!
Douglas Cole: Good afternoon and welcome to Gaming Ballistics Firing Squad. I am joined today by Elizabeth Chaipraditkul – did I get that right?
Elizabeth Chaipraditkul: You got it right! Good job. [both laugh]
DC: At any case we’re here to talk about a upcoming Kickstarter and roleplaying game. Elizabeth is the proprietor of Angry Hamster Games and by the time you see this video she will probably have launched her second Kickstarter. Tell me about the game itself. It’s called Familiars of Terra.
EC: Yes. So our game is called Familiars of Terra and the elevator pitch is that Familiars of Terra is a fantasy world where everyone has their own animal familiar and you play a seeker. A seeker is basically a wandering hero who performs epic deeds and adventures along with their familiar. It’s kind of a mix between the Golden Compass and Pokemon if you’re trying to think of genres and themes and where it would fit.
DC: I didn’t read the Golden Compass book, but I did see the movie and I have two children so I simply cannot escape pokemon even if I chose to. The question that I ask is Golden Compass – at least as potrayed in the movie – was kind of a dark tone to it. Lot of shadows and darkness and stuff. Pokemon isn’t. It’s sort of light and fluffy and even the bad guys – Team Rocket – is …you can’t take them that seriously, right? [TERRIBLE RUSSIAN ACCENT] We’re going to take over the world, of course! [TERRIBLE RUSSIAN ACCENT] So what’s the feel of the setting? Epic deeds in a war-torn land seems like it could get pretty dark.
EC: I think its very young adult (the setting). Even though I’m an adult who plays it with a lot of adult friends. Our game is kid-friendly. I think a lot of what you would consider darkness or serious stuff comes from the moral choices you have to make as a seeker. Deciding between what’s right and what’s wrong. How am I best going to approach this situation where it comes out the best for everybody. That’s a common theme in young adult fiction and struggling to discern the right from wrong even though you have adversaries telling you or actively working against you. So in that way it’s a serious game. You have to make those choices. The world is really fantastical. You have all these animals and these cool mutations and there are a lot of foreign places to go. Foreign yet familiar because it’s in a world much like our own. There are cars and radios and TV and internet. There is a Familiars of Terra version of Google, but it is different. You get that really cool, fun exploration kind of cutesy element almost.
DC: Did you use the Earth map and say “It’s Earth, but not Earth” or did you create your own world?
EC: We created our own world because we’ve definitely taken inspiration from certain cultures and its really been cherry-picking. That’s also from my own background. I’ve lived so many places and I’m from so many places when I wanted to create this world I created this strange amalgamation of cultures. It will seem familiar to people, but very different and that’s why we decided not to choose Earth. “Oh, yeah, this is Thailand.” You won’t get that from the game.
DC: Seeker. Sounds like a job description. Tell me about the core components of making a character. What choices do you make as a gamer and for people who just want to plunge in and start playing. What’s the frontloading involved? Are you going to be like three hours later you’re working on it and now you can play or is it “Roll a couple dice, pick a couple cards, and let’s go seek.”
EC: Creating a seeker is pretty simple. It’s twofold: How much you are invested in the animal you want to create. The seeker is simple. You choose the nation you are from and we have 5 different attributes and it’s a point buy system so you put points in each attribute and put points in titles and trophies. The more epic deeds you get the more titles you get so you’ll be like the “Savoir of Rocking Chair” and that will go after your name when you’re announced places and stuff like that. You also get trophies which are cool magical items so maybe instead of a title from a place people are so thankful they give you an amulet that allows you to speak to spirits or something like that. You chose those things and they are already created in a book so you pick a couple that you think are nice. Then you create your familiar. Familiar is a little bit more involved by the simple fact that you go through the attribute thing again, but then you get to choose traits for your familiar and we have a lot of traits. All of the traits are kind of equal, but are anything from being able to walk on the walls to having wings to being purple. You can do it very quick. “Oh, I want to be purple. I want to shoot lightning. I want my familiar to walk up on the wall.” Or you can get really into it. Be really specific about what you want to do. That’s kind of it. Then you choose your familiars powers. Those are powers you get to use in combat and will modify what you’re doing when you’re doing the combat minigame. That’s also very quick. You pick three and you’re done.
DC: Let’s come back to combat because I want to talk about other conflict resolution systems as well as what your core mechanics are. Familiars of Terra uses cards instead of dice.
EC: It does.
DC: I just talked to Craig Campbell about Capers and he has a playing card mechanic also and so I’m two for two in playing card mechanic for interviews. Why cards and not dice? I don’t have any dog in this fight so to speak until I play the game and then I’ll have a dog in the fight. Literally. Why cards instead of dice?
EC: I was thinking about my favorite . . . the whole inspiration for Familiars of Terra comes from me loving any character class or whatever you want to call it in a roleplay game that gets to have an animal. Ranger is always my first DnD class no matter how angry I am at 5th edition. Things like that. When I thought about the games that I enjoyed the kind of animal mechanics of they really came down to card games like Magic and Pokemon. I know they are very different beasts other than roleplay games, but still. I like the idea of slamming down cards. The tactical thinking of being able to steal things and trick your opponent. The kind of forethought of having a hand and stuff like that. When it came down to the type of mechanics we wanted I immediately went to card games. From that it stemmed into how would you make a normal check would you also need dice? No. Obviously not. You can have a deck of cards as random as a d20.
DC: Absolutely. When push comes to shove a deck of cards with 52 or 54 if you include jokers is actually a smaller resolution then a 1d20 and just as flat. A single playing card has a great deal of potential information on it. You can get a lot out of one card that may require four or five dice rolls.
DC: There is an efficiency. Until someone shows you one and you walk through it. OH. OOOH! I’m not going to turn Dragon Heresy into a card game (at least not that kind of card game), but the card-based mechanic is interesting. I have another game designer friend – Jay Meyers – has a game called Noble Treachery which mixes cards and dice.
EC: Oh cool.
DC: He calls it the card dice [garbled]. It’s kind of awesome. Good marketing name. In any case, tell me about . . . do you use the same conflict resolution for whether you are trying to win an argument or bludgeon or club with a sword or something?
EC: Actually, combat and making combat check and a normal check is how we differentiate in terms of languages of the game. When you’re making a normal check – like if you want to leap over a chasm for example – you’re just going to draw a card from you deck. If it’s equal to or lower than your attribute number then you succeeded. That’s making a check. Making a combat check is different because you’re going into a minigame. What you’re going to do is draw a hand of cards and then against your opponent or multiple opponents you’ll put down a card, they’ll put down a card, you’ll play a combat power or maybe not. Then basically you’ll turn over your cards and resolve the winner. Basically we decided to do it that way, again thinking about the mechanics and the type of game we were wanting to create we very much went back to things like Pokemon, Digimon, that type of thing. In familiars in Terra all familiars are created equal. You’re goldfish-kin, we add “kin” to the end to donate familiar. Your goldfish-kin could beat [garbled] because it has all these cool special powers which makes it unique. It’s more about how clever you are in the way you play your cards, how you think, how you work with your allies. Basically, you can have one ally who has healing powers and is able to stack the opponents deck. Like bash powers that will do a lot of extra damages and that way work together to win the day.
DC: Right. And you say that you have a bunch of pregenerated powers from design and game continuity you can always release supplements of further powers as you feel clever.
EC: For sure. You get entire levels once your familiar becomes epic. There are epic powers. Those are combination powers of two. Each power has three levels and which you reach the third level in two powers you can get a combination power and another combination power and become more and more awesome basically.
DC: That’s cool. What kind of stories . . . you got a post-apocalyptic region, the Badlands, effectively. Is that truly desolate. Are we talking Mad Max in there or just like Detroit on a bad day.
EC: [Laughs]. It’s definitely a post-apocalyptic landscape. I would put it under the category of Fallout-type landscape. There’s monsters and evil spirits there and its just not a good place to be. [cross-talk] [laughs] Depending on what Badlands you go to because there is more than one they are going to be thematically different. There is a Badland in a kind of desert plains area there is also Badlands which came from a forest so that’s obviously going to be different depending on what your seeker explores.
DC: Ok. I’m not going to harp too much on Badlands and stuff like that, but I’m curious. Different forests different Badlands . . . was this like a multidimensional magical conflict happening? Have familiars and powers always been part of Terra?
EC: Familiars have always been part of Terra. There are two different types of magic which are not normal in our world. Or at least not normal in our Western-world thinking. One of them is familiars and the fact that every person has one and some familiars become even more special by getting these [garbled] that differentiate them from normal animals and the second thing, which we call spirits. Spirits are very real in Terra. No one questions there existence because they’ve always been there. You’ve probably interacted with one or your grandmother has. It’s not like they are messing with lives on a daily basis to protect areas. They were born into places and because of the war some of them were corrupted so very much as a seeker part of your job is to find these corrupted veins and help them.
DC: Ok. It’s funny you mention that because I wrote a little bit. I got a setting coming out about Norse mythology and one of the things I remember growing up playing DnD and some other things there is always the guy who wants to play the atheist. If you’re playing Fallout that’s fine or a game like Fallout. If you’re playing something where the Norse gods or the Greek gods especially exist you’re going to have a hard time being an atheist where your third cousin once removed is the child of Athena. Kind of hard to disbelieve in the superior being when they might show up, pat you on the back, or flirt with you. Or if you read the Iliad you get the storm clouds and all of sudden things fade to black and the gods interact with the mortals in an entirely different way. There is certainly a thing where you can’t be a skeptic. You’re going to be walking down the street and “Oh, look there’s a familiar, and a guardian familiar, and a spirit. And we’re going to go out into the forest and you have to deal with the forest spirits.” It’s not Blair Witch Shaky came, these are real things you have to deal with. Is there any provision for that explicitly in the rules? They’re real, deal with it kind of role from there.
EC: It’s the latter basically. We say they are real. Everyone knows they exist. What we don’t go iunto is defining them. People probably think very different things. We have one faith system in our game which involves the spirits. Depending on what your character believes and what they are. You could just think these are things of nature or related to some higher power. We don’t define how the character sees them, but we know they exsist.
DC: Out of curiosity you’re leaving that to be defined by the GM and players – which is cool. In your mind, is there a right answer to that? DO you have a cosmology that is definitive or not so much. Do you know what I mean?
EC: I know what you mean, but I always find . . . this is a really interesting question and I won’t dig to deep into. I’m an atheist myself and I always write these things focusing on faith because I find it interesting of studying it. I really do love . . . the thought behind people who believe in different religions and have faith. For me, in my mind, I don’t have a cosmology because in my mind its not real, but in the game it is real. I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer. I must say I don’t think I have one. It always interests me. The thought behind this. I have discussions with my colleague, Steffy, about it. She’s like “Shouldn’t we know ourselves what it is?” and I’m like “Maybe we don’t need to know.” Maybe it’s enough that it’s just there. It’s something to believe in. Some type of higher power.
DC: But the other way, it’s whatever you want it to be. We don’t know how everything works in real life so why should we know in the game?
EC: From a worldbuilding standpoint when I thought it I think there are things science can’t answer yet, but science will answer. We are getting very philosophical here!
DC: We are, we are.
EC: I think it’s the same thing. In Familiars of Terra the bond that humans have with their familiars as technology gets better will be a way to show that. From that standpoint, I’ve already built it up. Animals and humans always together. Ok, evolution. Then human evolution and human history and kind of focus that way. And also the integral question: “What would life be like if we knew on a very real level that this animal next to me was sentient in a way and could feel what I feel and how would society look different. How we treat animals and how we treat the Earth and what would that look like because of how we treat the knowledge.”
DC: Right. Let’s a perfect segue we can get out of the existential cosmology. But too far because with that sort of thing what stories. What kind of adventures would you see these seekers going on.
EC: At the heart of it you play a seeker who is a wandering knight and after the war there was a resurgence of these seekers. There is still not a lot, but a need for them because things are still in disarray. A very easy one for GMs would be things are coming out of the badlands please go in there and stop them. “Hey, this spirit seems really unhappy and we’re not sure why, but our village is probably going to flood in three days please go figure out why.”
DC: “Make it stop.”
EC: “Please make it stop” [laughs]. Then we also have the more human level of things where we have a nation called Plinth. They aren’t the nicest people. They are controlled in some ways by a giant AI. It’s not a good thing. It happened during the war. We don’t like to talk about it. But they are actively antagonists in this world they send out spies and stuff and need to be stopped. They have animal smuggler you can get into if you want a more lighthearted story. An easy antagonist to beat down because no one likes animal smugglers.
DC: You’ve got your evil AI and your twisted spirits from the war, are there factions that are both well-meaning and think of themselves as good but are at odds because they have a different perspective on stuff.
EC: For sure. We have one faction in the game for example . . . there are these creatures who were created during the war and are called Hybrids. They are human-familiar hybrids that they’ve been bonded together by the evil nation. It was not good. They have formed their own society in the badlands and are doing things there, but there are people who believe these Hybrids should be worshipped. They aren’t necessarily bad people and the Hybrids aren’t also necessarily bad. Some of them might be. You don’t know unless you explore. That’s a grey area navigating relationships and beliefs that you would have to engage in the game.
DC: Even if the answer were “No, it’s black and white. These are the bad guys you beat them up and these are the good guys you root for them.” It’s not like that’s unheard of in RPGs.
EC: No, for sure not. Part of that is discerning good from bad and trying to do the most good for the most people. I always like those grey area things if our society is what I view as good but they are not hurting anyone else but themselves should I stop them? Those are interesting questions to try and answer in a roleplaying game. At least from a player’s standpoint. As a world creator I try not to answer it and let the players do it.
DC: Switching gears a little bit and getting away from the game itself and into the Kickstarter. Because Kickstarters are always a pleasurable, fun rollercoaster [both laugh]. Kickstarter is a fun little beast, isn’t it?
EC: Yes [both laugh more]. Kickstarter is great because I very much love engaging with people who want your project to succeed. That’s the cool part of Kickstarter you get this awesome comments section and you can talk about your game and talk to people on Twitter about it, but it’s also what you said. Thirty days of misery in terms of “I really hope that we make this money!” and we can produce this game and I hope I’ve marketed it enough. It can be very stressful.
DC: Yeah. So you’re looking for $5,000 euros or $6,000 USD for most of my listeners. So where is that going to go?
EC: It’s going to go into editing the book so the editing and proofing process. It’s going to go into a few extra art pieces and we want a few more just to make the book extra-extra pretty and it’s also going to go into printing and shipping of course which we’ll charge during the pledge-manager.
DC: Right. I’m going to come back to that. I have a couple of questions about DriveThruRPG and fulfillment through them both from an enlightened self-interest and in general what that’s like. So the book is going to be about a 150-160 pages?
DC: It’s written. Which is important.
EC: It is written. We’re just finishing the GM’s section now. The final antagonist statblocks and things like that but it’s done and all it needs is editing.
DC: Excellent. So you’re talking around 75,000-100,000 words?
EC: I haven’t checked. I put it all into InDesign and made sure it fit.
DC: Fair enough. I’m going to ask a really ridiculously technical question because it’s been on my mind the last week. Are you doing statblock by list merge or doing them one at a time?
EC: I do them one at a time, but Familiars of Terra statblocks are really simple. I haven’t decided on whether I wanted to put them on an actual table yet or do a really nice list because we’ll see.
DC: Ok. So how long have you been working on Familiars of Terra. Is it like five years of inspiration or you had an epiphany and three months later, look, game.
EC: No, it’s been about 2 years working on it on and off along with my own company and lots for other companies. I had funded [garbled] Kickstarter. Witch is like a dark fantasy game where you sell your soul to a demon for power and its all about this inner struggle and finding redemption. It’s a very dark game. I love witchcraft and the dark witchcraft – witchcraft doesn’t have to have a dark theme but I gave it a dark theme. I then needed something very happy and very cute and freeing almost for my creativity so it all funneled into Familiars of Terra. I’m getting back into that darkness because we’re releasing another dark game after this. But this was kind of my stress-relief project.
DC: You’ve kind of got an um-jang development cycle here.
DC: You mentioned Witch and you funded that on Kickstarter.
EC: We wanted $4,000 or $5,000 euros I believe and we got roundabouts $14,900 something. It was great. I was so surprised. I thought we were only going to just make it maybe, it was such a great surprise. I’m so thankful to any backers who are watching this.
DC: It’s funny though because the funding of it. I know when I do it, “What’s the minimum amount of money that I can ask for that I could physically finish the game?” And then there is what I actually want and won’t ever admit what I want which is what I want the book to look like.
EC: Oh, my goodness. That is so true. So we have . . . one of our stretch goals is a deck of cards and each card has a unique animal familiar on it and there is such a large part of me that’s so greedy and I just want to make that amount of money because it would add so much and it would be so cool. I can’t set my funding goal at $10000 euros if we get the book I’m happy. There’s what you want and what you ask for.
DC: So you’ve got a 150-page game it’s 8.5×11. Here is the quick start which you can download and see later.
EC: The final is going to be 8.5×5.
DC: It’s tough to look at a game that you’re working on and say “This is how I want my vision to come true” and to say “But, here is all the places where I am going to not do that” so at least the vision is out in the world.
EC: An interesting issue. It is indeed you just want it to be out there and you hope that people enjoy it and I have a lot of views of how it should be [both laugh].
DC: So who’s on the team? You mentioned you had a partner in crime. I saw Glenn Seal of the Midderlands whose book I have on my shelf and whose second book is going to be on its way to me when he’s done with it.
EC: Steffy works with me at Angry Hamster Publishing. She’s my co-hamster [chuckles]. She’s helped me with the development of the book and she’s done some writing as well. She basically works with my company and you’ll see a lot more from her coming soon. Then we also have Willow she was the man artist on the book. All the cool art on the kickstarter is hers. Then we are working with Laurana and Claudia who are also artists. Laurana is going to do more of the inside art and she’s worked on our Fated: North America book and she’s coming back to work on this. Claudia is going to do our cover and she’s also going to do the side art – the page border art. We have Carol and Bob our two editors. Carol is our copy-editor and Bob is our eagle-eyed proofreader. He’s so good. Carol is also very amazing. Carol makes sure its thematically correct and all the headers make sense and stuff like that. We also have Glenn is going to do the map, which I’m really excited about. I worked with him on our Kickstarter last year and he made the maps there, on Monsters, and he made the maps there. And I was like “Cool, dude! I have a really our there pitch for a map, can you do it?” and he was like “Sure.”
DC: I’ve been talking to him a little bit about a map for a future project as well and I liked what he did with the Midderlands. I’m actually looking at some of Claudia’s art right now because she was in my digital rolodex of people from whom I’ve gotten samples. You got a good team. What did you learn from the Witch Kickstarter and the other Kickstarters that you’ve been associated with that you brought to bear on this one.
EC: Oh goodness. One thing I learned and I don’t know if we talked privately about this or touched on it in the conversation live here, but don’t add your shipping costs to Kickstarter. Do it in a pledge-manager. I was very new to Kickstarter and I knew Kickstarter was going to take a percentage of the money – they take like 8% to 10% in the end – but didn’t realize how crippling that would be with the shipping costs. It was just so bad. I ended up paying a lot of my shipping costs out of pocket because the money just wasn’t there. That 10% they took was the shipping costs. That’s…it’s so much money at least for someone who isn’t making hundreds of thousands. For anyone! Even if they take that 10% which is your shipping cost, it’s still crazy. That’s why we decided to add it to the pledge-manager so I don’t have to charge that extra money on top to the backers. That seems like crazy to do, why would I charge people extra for shipping. Pledge-manager definitely. Also, I think I learned to take it easier on myself during the Kickstarter. I’ve done a lot more planning now and I don’t know if Familiars of Terra will be as successful as Witch. Maybe it won’t be successful at all. I remember with Witch we funded in the first two days and then we started knocking out a stretch goal every couple of days. It was very overwhelming and I had nothing done for it because I didn’t even expect. I talk to writers and I didn’t have any prewritten posts “We reached the stretch goal!” I’ve done a little bit of work now for that because doing it all during the Kickstarter and trying to connect to everyone in a very real way because people are posting cool stuff and you want to answer them it takes so much time. So if you can get some of that pre-work done assuming you’re going to be a big success it will save you so much sadness.
DC: One of the places where I don’t think it happens quite as frequently is a lot of Kickstarters are not doomed by failure. A project that doesn’t fund goes away. Projects that are in the middle can sometimes get yourself in trouble, but projects that go bat-crazy insane. There is real danger there. “Oh, we have to do more!” That was the biggest thing – I can’t remember who I was talking to, but we were chatting – “What happens if we’re wildly successful? What else can I give?” “What have you done?” “I don’t know.” “Then just stop. Be grateful. Take that money that people are giving you. Give them what they ask for, but don’t start promising stuff until you go broke. Especially stuff that you haven’t written yet. Have a plan and if your plan is wildly successful beyond the plan and make sure you can fulfull it and keep your promises. After that maybe you self-fund the next project. Or don’t. Every now and again you’re allowed to personally benefit from it and not have ramen tomorrow.”
EC: Exactly. The dream is if we just meet our funding goal we’ll just be able to print. It would be great if we could get overfunded and the more money we’ll have to invest in the next book, which is just so great. If we didn’t have to pay the art out of pocket and pay for it from the Kickstarter we would be in such a better place and business-wise you have enough over that you have enough projects rolling over that at one point you start to make a profit. That would be absolutely great. I didn’t continue from that momentum from Witch because I felt I needed to go back and learn a lot in the industry and do a lot of freelancing, but now that’s definitely our goal at Angry Hamster Publishing – we roll that money we make into the next project and keep producing.
DC: I personally made a mistake last project. I was so irrationally exuberant after a book on grappling everybody hates I figure “Hey, it’s an adventure for the world’s biggest game system and clearly it’ll do better!” so I missed the market on that one but I was so confident in my success that I wrote a lot of checks. That brings me to the last question that I had. Tell me more about fulfillment by DriveThruRPG.
EC: I’m only fulfilling my PDFs through DriveThruRPG and I’m doing the physical books myself, but I love DriveThruRPG as a consumer and a publisher. It’s not sponsored or anything…
DC: …me either!
EC: It’s just so handy because as a publisher, you can send out free PDF-codes to people and that’s just great. Once your Kickstarter is funded and everyone has that DriveThruRPG library or most people do or they will after they back your Kickstarter. You can get those codes out to people and what’s great about it is you can also update your PDFs. So let’s say there is an inconsistency on pg. 63, well for the print book hopefully I caught it in proofing, but in the PDF that’s super easy to update and everyone has an update PDF. Definitely DriveThruRPG. I can’t imagine distributing another. There probably is another way that is equally as good, but I like DriveThruRPG.
DC: I may need to look into fulfillment by DriveThruRPG for PDF in the next week because it seems interesting [cross-talk].
EC: You have then also the DriveThruRPG audience which is amazing. Once people start downloading your PDF and get up there in ranks and people will download your stuff anyway. So it’s great to have that audience that maybe your website wouldn’t have. I think it’s the largest download site for RPG PDFs out there. That’s a really big audience not to tap into.
DC: Yes. Everything you said strikes me as correct. So you’re launching in a couple of days tell me what that’s going to look like and lay out the reminder to what you’re doing and how its awesome.
EC: So we are launching on the 27th of March on Kickstarter and we are asking $5,000 euros and we are basically trying to fund Familiars of Terra where you playa seeker in a world where everyone has their own animal familiar.
DC: Excellent. Coming on Kickstarter look for it. Thank you for joining me today on the Firing Squad.