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Ed Jowett Interview
Please welcome Ed Jowett, the man behind games company Shades of Vengeance. Ed took a bit of time out from his schedule – he’s a bit busy at the moment with a Kickstarter on the go for his new game Era: Survival – to answer a few questions.
JONATHAN HICKS: Hi there and welcome! Perhaps you’d like to tell us a little bit about yourself?
ED JOWETT: First, I would like to say it is great to be here!
Hi! I’m Ed Jowett, Game Creator. I love Sci-Fi, games of all shapes and sizes and am a former software developer, now a project manager in my day job. By night, I develop games for Shades of Vengeance!
To date, I have created 4 games and produced several more, along with development assistance.
I tend to focus on creating my own universes because I particularly enjoy that aspect of game creation.
JH: Tell us about your RPG history – what got you into the wonderful world of tabletop roleplaying?
EJ: The first RPG I ever played was Paranoia. 2 sessions later, I was GMing my first game of Paranoia!
I was totally hooked from the start – I am a very tactical gamer and I would create complicated plans about how to frame up the others and generally bluff my way past suspicion… and I found I was very good at it.
I began branching out into other games, mostly as a GM, and it was not long before I was called upon to help create a setting.
By that time, I was in my second year of University, and the one I attended runs a 24-hour game each year. The tradition is that a setting is created by the 5 or 6 GMs that rotate through those sessions (across usually about 4 player groups, so you get some rest). As the previous year had been a low fantasy game, it was quickly agreed that we would do Sci-Fi. The vague concept was “Firefly with aliens”, and that’s when I came forward with concepts for two alien races, the Eulutians and the Ximians (which would later evolve further and appear in Era: The Consortium).
That game went great and it firmed up the foundation – I was never going to stop being a roleplayer!
JH: What is it about the tabletop RPG hobby that attracts you? What do you enjoy most when playing a game?
EJ: I like the freedom of choice which can only come from a human GM. Video game designers can’t predict all of my crazy schemes any more than I can, and I love the opportunity to let loose with something that the GM had never considered as a possible solution to a problem.
I am very frequently in the GM chair, though, and when on that side of the table, I enjoy allowing people to experience the same – I will often create problems that I don’t necessarily see a solution to and see whether the group can come up with a way out. It definitely keeps the players on their toes!
I don’t think that video games will reach that kind of flexibility for some time, still, so I think that tabletop roleplaying games still provide a very unique experience.
JH: What’s your favourite game? What games that are out there at the moment float your boat?
EJ: This is going to sound self-serving, but I just love Era: The Consortium. We finished playtesting 2 years ago and I am still running two groups through 7+ hour long games at least once per month! I never run out of ideas in that Universe and the history really does give you both a solid foundation and flexibility. I would have to say that is my favourite game.
I will always have a special place in my heart for Paranoia, as well, because it got me started, but I find it less good for longer campaigns… as I think many do!
I have also played and particularly enjoyed World of Darkness (Malkavian for ever!), Edge of Empire and Firefly.
JH: Tell us more about the Era roleplaying games; what was the inspiration to create the ruleset and the first two settings, Consortium and Lyres?
EJ: I have loved games since a very young age – I started playing computer games at about 2 (which, I know, provides clues to my age!). I started “designing games” when I was about 7 – silly kids’ stuff mostly, with dreams of doing better.
After the 24 hour game I mentioned in answer to question 2, I finished university and went to London to work. For a year, I didn’t play anything and I missed it a lot. I invited a group of work friends who were interested, and also several of my friends and family to join me in a game.
We played Paranoia first, and after a session or two of that, people said they were interested in something that was more long-term.
That’s when I started on Era: The Consortium (although it wasn’t called that yet, of course!). I reformed the Universe from the 24 hour game, tweaked the races around what had not worked, changed the universe around, and when the players created their characters, Stiletto Unit was born.
After the 5 session campaign (which had an epic ending we still run as an introductory session for people at conventions!), one of the players asked to run a session. He had a vague idea about the rules, but requested I write them down.
I did so, in the clearest way I could, which took a few weeks and, in the meantime, showed the underway to a friend I have in Canada to ask his opinion. His first thought was “Oh, cool, are you publishing this?”
Well, things went from there, through artwork, rewrites and editing, to the Era: The Consortium you now see – 500 years of playable history!
Era: Lyres was totally the opposite in terms of development. I had a silly thought one day, because I, personally, am not a huge fan of diceless RPGs. I wondered what it would be like to include minimal dice rolls, but let the players loose to say whatever they wanted.
A silly storytelling game in a D&D-like Universe when everyone is sat around in the tavern, trying to con people out of their gold, is something that just came to mind naturally as the logical conclusion, in the space of an hour (…does that say something about me?) and I was talking to one of my team about it right away!
It turned out really well, a genuinely fun game that people have really enjoyed playing!
That covers the settings but not the rules. Both games (and our planned future ones) run off the same rule set. It is a multiple d10 dice pool system with variable Success Threshold (somewhat similar to Old World of Darkness or New Shadowrun). I have worked on it to make it easily accessible to newcomers (as nearly everyone I had in my personal groups was new to RPGs when I started) but also holding enough interest and variety for the Mathematicians and Computer Scientists that make up my group! I am pretty happy with what has come out of that, people are genuinely able to pick up the game in minutes at conventions, even if they have never played a tabletop RPG before.
…and an added bonus is that all of our games have modular rules, so if you want to run a game with elements of Era: Survival in the Consortium universe, such as limited ammo and weapons that break, the rules support that!
JH: The newest one is Era: Survival, and as of this interview it has just funded on Kickstarter. What’s it all about?
EJ: Era: Survival (on Kickstarter now) is a game where you’re trying to live in a post-apocalyptic world.
It’s 100 years after the Cataclysm and Humanity has somewhat adapted to “Infected” wandering around the world. It’s split into many different factions, each of which has a different solution for how to survive the ongoing decline of Humanity.
Some factions choose to hide underground in pre-Cataclysm bunkers (known as “Vaults), attempting to maintain the ancient technology for as long as possible, protecting all but a few front-line warriors from what’s outside. Others believe that the Infection is inevitable for Humanity and react to that in their own way. Still others seek new Vaults, which may contain riches beyond their wildest dreams in the form of vehicles, weapons and equipment – enough to live comfortably to an old age.
JH: It’s a post-apocalyptic game and there’s a lot of post-apoc fiction in all kinds of media right now, so what makes this different from the others?
EJ: I think there are several things that separate it from other post-apoc universes.
The first is the factions – Gaia is politically complicated, and things are changing. Two large factions are expanding from the North and the South, the most concentrated areas of Infection are expanding and most of the “ordinary people” are caught in the middle of all this. For some, capture by the Swarm or the Sisterhood of Pyrus is a worse option than being Infected! I think this is quite unique in this genre, because although many do describe cities, they tend to assume that all societies that survived are different.
It’s also based 100 years after the Cataclysm, so rather than being someone who remembers what the world was like before, you’re a third generation and, while you might have heard stories, you’ve grown up with the knowledge that Humanity might be gone entirely not long after you die. I think that’s less common than the “sheltered with these people through the apocalypse” story types you see in other games and media.
JH: Shades of Vengeance are not only getting their own games out there, they’re also offering help for up-and-coming games designers; you offer services such as design, art, printing, and even podcasting and comic strips. Tell us more about why you decided to offer these services, and how it can help the fledgling games designer.
EJ: Actually, it was at a panel at Animé North!
We were asked to appear on this panel because they don’t do one-person panels there and someone wanted to talk about game creation. This individual was a successful (board) game creator – he had created 2 board games bought by publishers. He was also one of the most unhappy people I’ve ever seen.
Someone asked him how to go about creating a game. His response was “Don’t, if you don’t want to spend a huge amount of money and time and risk getting something on shelves that potentially has nothing to do with what you had to start with.”
My co-writer (this was just after Consortium first came out in its initial form) and I looked at each other and he grabbed the microphone and said that, alternatively, if you want to make a game and have it come out the way you envision, come and talk to us. We’ll give you the benefit of our experience, help you avoid our pitfalls and get your game to print.
Seven people followed us back from there, including the creator of Amazing Space Adventures (the first external game we published) and the guys from Dice and Stuff (http://www.diceandstuff.com), who still run Podcasts of our games every week.
We’ve turned that into something that really does happen, does work. We’ve helped 3 people bring their games to life and we’re working with 3 others right now.
Everyone who works with us works at their own pace. They pay for the contract work (artists and writers) that they need help with, but don’t pay us anything for our work until we get to the Kickstarter, and even then only out of the profits after fulfillment. Does that mean we take a risk? Yes, a big one. We don’t always get paid very much at all.
But, you know what? It’s worth it, because cool indie games that would otherwise never see the light of day can make it into existence.
JH: What else can we expect to see in the future?
EJ: Well, I hope you can expect to see more games!
We’re currently working on a high fantasy game called Era: Silence, which will be ready pretty soon now. We’re also working on a few more expansions and source books for the Consortium universe, which aim to answer some of the questions people have…
I can’t say too much more than that, really! There’s more coming, and it’s going to be great, and you can keep an eye on our website for more details: www.shadesofvengeance.com