War of Ashes: Grokking the Setting

Elvorix Ylark unit

This is where I start jotting down ideas as I work on the War of Ashes RPG which will be powered by Fate Accelerated.  I must warn readers in advance that these posts may be more disjointed than usual; I will not be making my normal efforts to provide the whole context to understand the posts as standalone essays.  This is not because I want to be sloppy, but because I’d rather put the effort in writing the game itself.  Comments and suggestions are welcomed nonetheless!

Whenever I start a new research, investigation, art or writing project, I start by gathering background material and inspirations. In this case, these sources will have to do with the Agaptus setting and the Fate mechanics.

So first things first, let’s think about the flavour of ZombieSmith’s War of Ashes miniatures game and its setting, the world of Agaptus.1  This is the #1 criterion: if we fail to convey what’s cool, special and fun about it in translating it to a role-playing game, the project is a failure — possibly a golden failure, but a failure all the same.

The ZombieSmith folks coined the expression “grimsical” to describe the flavour of War of Ashes: grim + whimsical.  Think of the whimsy of Jim Henson’s television shows like Fraggle Rock and The Muppet Show, married to dark, gritty military fantasy like Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Chronicles, Saxon Tales and Grail Quest series, or Glenn Cook’s Chronicles of the Black Company.  In my experience, a lot of gamers resonate with a campaign that unfolds with humour and silliness, but also with actual drama and dire consequences.

The creatures are funny-looking, muppet-style, and have amusing or offbeat abilities — but at the same time, we’re reminded of the British Isles in the Early Middle Ages after the Romans have left, leaving marvels of architecture the locals cannot replicate.  There are also hints of the folly of societies who keep right on doing what has led to their near extinction (think of the French, English or Russian Courts at the time of their respective nations’ revolutions, or the original inhabitants of Easter Island.)

So here are the inspirations that came to mind as I was reading War of Ashes: Shieldwall.  (Fellow team members, please feel free to add or dispute.)

  • illustrations and books by Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, Andy Hopp;
  • movies like Monsters Inc. (Pete Docter, Pixar), Mononoke-hime (Miyazaki Hayao, Studio Ghibli), Antz (Eric Darnell, DreamWorks), The Dark Crystal (Jim Henson Studios), and The Nightmare Before Christmas (Tim Burton, Touchstone Studios);
  • games like the original WH40K: Rogue Trader, Bloodbowl (both from Games Workshop), Low Life (Pinnacle Entertainment), etc.;
  • any soundtracks by Danny Elfman, Camille Saint-Saens’ Carnaval des animaux, Edvard Gieg’s Peer Gynt Suite, Johann Sibelius’ Finlandia and The Tempest, etc.

However, my primary source of inspiration is the stunning art created by ZombieSmith‘s Josh Qualtieri, Jonathan Hoffman, Noah Bradley, Jennifer Bach, and the rest of their team.  I envision creating a lot of my text sections by building around images I find particularly inspiring as a gamer.  We’re in an unusually enviable position here: there are already tons of art available, and ZombieSmith folks produce more every day.  Unlike most RPGs during design, I know exactly how the illos will look in the book!

Elvorix Village

The second part of gathering my sources is assembling the tools I have for tinkering with Evil Hat Productions’ Fate Accelerated.  Fortunately for me, several high-quality resources are at hand, both among official publications and fan-written essays:

1Agaptus is both the name of the planet [question: or “continent”?] which encompasses the isles of Sentia, Matriga, and Iradon; and the name of the supreme deity of the Elvorix people, first to settle on the isle of Sentia. Return
Credits: Art ©ZombieSmith 2012-2013, used with permission.