This month for the last two years I have participated in the A-to-Z Challenge, but that hasn’t been possible this year because of other demands on my time. Writing so many articles requires a lot of preparation. Instead, I have been taking part in April TTRPG Makers – an insight into the work of game designers at all levels. It seemed to me that it might be possible to do something very similar with a focus on The Iron Pact and Symbaroum, offering a little insight into me and why this blog exists.
Mind you, I have skipped or rephrased a few of the questions that didn’t quite fit the intent… so, there aren’t actually 30 questions and answers!
Who are you?
My name’s Paul. By day I work as a business analyst
Where are you?
I live on the outskirts of Manchester, in the UK.
How did you start creating The Iron Pact?
I discovered the IndieGoGo camapaign for the original translation of Symbaroum’s Core Book and the artwork fascinated me. I just had to get this game – but, I couldn’t justify spending on the crowdfunding at the time. I kick myself now for missing out and will never do that again for any Symbaroum crowdfunding! Anyway… I managed to get the Core Book from Modiphius (two copies in fact), devoured it, and found myself bitten by the creative bug. The Iron Pact became the place I could share my ideas.
Describe your work?
Iterative, perhaps. I find myself reading back through the Core Book or one of the campaign books – and something will strike me as interesting. I’ll then start taking notes on it, or read around it. Or maybe I’ll spot someone else asking a question and I’ll ask myself, how would I handle that? I end up with rounds of notes that turn into articles on The Iron Pact.
Favourite article you’ve worked on?
The Ambra articles for last years A-to-Z Challenge. Even though I never got through all twenty-six articles, I enjoyed creating what I did. Ambra occupies a spot on the map that Symbaroum will otherwise never visit, so I felt I could do anything up there and it would sort of be my own part of the canon.
Favourite game mechanic?
I like the fact that Toughness never changes. I know that’s not quite a mechanic – it’s an aspect of the mechanics. It reminds me of an old favourite game from the 1980s, Maelstrom. A historical game about adventures in Tudor England with magic turned up in the backdrop to make it a bit different. Characters could die, easily. The wound and bleeding system in that game was brutal. There’s something of the same in Symbaroum. I roundly believe that characters in Symbaroum SHOULD die. Often. The campaign should persist and the players should pursue it, but getting tied into a single character isn’t something I think should be encouraged.
Oddly, I find sitting and just reading a Symbaroum book provides the best space for working. I have a spot where I type – like now – but that isn’t necessarily what I’d call my workspace. My workspace is Google Drive and Keep – the spots where I keep my notes.
Describe your routine.
Notes. It’s all about reading a lot of varied books, magazines, online articles and other people’s questions, then taking notes. And take them straight away. Often I don’t and I’ll forget a great idea that might never surface again.
Describe your process.
If I have a couple of notes, I’ll store them in Keep or jot them on a sticky note. When I’m working on my computer, if I have any ideas on that subject I’ll open Notepad and start a TXT file in Google Drive. I’ll come back there whenever I have more ideas. Usually, I’ll start with headings for an article, add a sentence under each. Then I’ll expand the material when the muse strikes.
Favourite Symbaroum book to relax with?
The Core Book. No question. I know that people constantly get excited about the next release, and I’m amongst them. However, if I want to get new ideas, more often than not, the Core Book will be the place to go. The first 70-pages of background remain a rich source of ideas, adventure hooks and wild rumours. The Timeline earlier in that section has offered up ideas for adventures on many occasions, just by asking myself “What happened?”
What’s your brand?
The Iron Pact – the ancient agreement that the Elves made with humanity to secure the curse of the Symbaroum Empire beneath the great forest of Davokar. Or at least that’s how I remember it. Now, they’re the ragtag exiles of the Elven race who – along with other loyal supporters – seek to maintain the ancient agreement. It seemed like an ideal banner beneath which I could provide my own thoughts on the game, the setting, and my own actual play experiences.
How do you get your work out there?
The core of the work lies within this blog. I promote the blog through posts across various social media platforms – including Google+, Facebook, Reddit, Twitter (and Buffer) and Patreon.
Lovecraft. When it comes to Symbaroum, I think my interest in Lovecraft’s stories of the Mythos has a lot to do with it. On a smaller scale, things like Lindybeige come in handy for grounding yourself in reasonable mechanics for combat, weapons, armour and so forth. Met Lloyd at an event recently and thanked him for his commonsense materials on why RPGs so frequently get things wrong!
What are your dreams and plans?
On a small scale, I want to continue posting a couple of new articles, at least, each month on The Iron Pact. I also want to post more translated articles on the alternate versions in Spanish, French, Italian, German and (on day) Swedish. On a large scale, I would love to get more opportunities to write for the Symbaroum game line. If they’ll let me.
Do you design in public or in private?
Private. I mean, I will playtest my adventures where the opportunity comes about, but most of the ideas I have remain in private.
Any design partners?
Not as such, although I have shared ideas and brainstormed with Xaras from Ordo Magica on a few occasions and love the material on that site.
Favourite form of feedback?
Constructive and open. I would rather someone offer a broad and considered opinion rather than keep something to themself or just say, “Yes” or “No”. I like to think I’m open and forthcoming with my own feedback to others.
I read all kinds of books to get inspiration, from modern literature to old school games. At the moment I’m reading The Enemy, by Charlie Higson – which has given me some ideas about the non-player character Undead for Symbaroum. I will read almost anything, from Norse legends to modern young adult fiction, and get something useful out of it.
Article that’s most essential to your design view?
Probably the Monstrous Traits article, where I expand on the rules as written with the idea of boons for monsters and some standardisation of terms, like Harm and Favor. I like tinkering with a game while staying within the bounds of the mechanics – creating something new without completely overstepping the mark.
Favourite design tools?
Sticky notes, bookmarks, a wipe-board, Microsoft Notepad. The combination means I can mix and match ideas as I’m putting my thoughts together for a new article.
How many play-testers?
None, really, unless I have the chance to run an adventure or try out a mechanic – like the Symbaroum Funnel – which will mean 5 to 10 play-testers across one or two sessions of running the game at an event.
How do you document ideas?
Google is your friend. Using Keep means I can make a note of an idea, then I’ll expand on it in Drive. At home, I create material in Notepad (like right now) and store the text files on Drive. It means I can write new stuff at any time and even when not writing, I can re-read in-progress material to generate new ideas.
People who’ve helped you?
As mentioned, Xaras and some of the other enthusiasts for Symbaroum. Mattias at Järnringen has been very receptive when I have asked for clarification. The same goes for the location of Ambra in the north – as Mattias confirmed where we wouldn’t expect to see any development on the bigger world map from the Järnringen team in the seven-part campaign set.
Most notable achievement?
Writing two of the stretch goal Adventure Locations for The Monster Codex.
Being a blog writer for Symbaroum means…
I get the opportunity to soak up all the wonderful illustrations and ideas in the official books and create something of my own. I know that’s true of all roleplaying games, but there’s something about Symbaroum that has caught my imagination and perhaps a little sliver of my soul, too.
Top tips and advice?
Make your Symbaroum game your own. Don’t worry too much about the canon. Symbaroum is a landscape, a sand box. From the outset, in the Core Book, the Järnringen team made it clear that if you have a character die who turns out to be pivotal later on in the official campaign, just replace them. I strongly suggest you follow that advice and don’t sweat the small stuff.
And my final piece of advice, don’t skimp on the Kickstarter backing when the next Symbaroum crowd-funding comes around. The Järnringen team make a point of keeping the bar to access as low as possible if you want to try Symbaroum for yourself. Like all the previous campaigns, Yndaros: The Darkest Star will feature options that allow you to not only pick up the new campaign book but also grab the core and the earlier parts in the series as well. Don’t be like me after the IndieGoGo campaign two years back – I regret that at the time I opted to drop out and wait for publication through distribution. More fool me. Don’t make that mistake – back The Darkest Star at the earliest opportunity!