22 July 2012

Kickstarter: Part 3 - Updates and Shadows of Esteren

This is the third part in an ongoing series about crowdfunding. Overview and Index.

Since my first post on the subject of Kickstarter and crowdfunding, I have updates on a number of the projects that I discussed (Division, Project Panda Ninja Taco, Shadows of Esteren and Synnibar) and a new project to add to the stable, SteamCraft.

SteamCraft advertises itself as "a skill-based RPG set in an alternate world, where gears, goggles, and coal-powered airships dominate life". So far so good, but there isn't much there to differentiate it from the many steampunk offerings that are all the rage these days. I already have most of them, so I am looking a little more closely to see what this offers in particular, and it does indeed have offerings that interest me. A conflict between the old (magic) and new (technology) is described, as well as a struggle for the future. A dystopian future controlled by ruthless corporations and authoritarian governments, or a future where individuals use knowledge and technology to make it better. There is also promise of rules to guide the creation of death rays scientific wonders and "detailed rules for airship combat".

So many numbers!
The conflict described is what appeals to me here. Even though I love the trappings of the genre, so many of the offerings seem to lack the "-punk" aspect. More gaslight romance, which is lovely and fine much of the time, but sometimes I want to rage against the machine. I also enjoy the inclusion of both magic and steampunk. I cannot necessarily explain why that is, I just do. The addition of other races and mention of the system (percentile) are neither pros nor cons. As well, the displayed art isn't evocative, but it also isn't a turnoff. There is a sample that can be viewed and has excerpts from the text, including a Table of Contents, brief discussion on steampunk, some information on the setting (one of the cultures is an Egypt expy), an overview of character creation, sample equipment and archetypes and the character sheet. I must comment on the character sheet: there is a hit point tracker that seems to replace the act of writing and erasing numbers with circling numbers from a box positively bursting with numbers.


For the rewards, $20 will get you a PDF and $35 will get you a poster and two custom dice (they look pretty nice). At $40 you will be getting a hardcover copy of the book (this is where I am currently pledging) and for $50 it will be signed. $60 gets the signed book and dice, with $75 adding in a poster and postcard. The vanity reward of creating an NPC falls in at $100, though the later rewards offer handmade goggles ($150) and a flask ($250).

In other good news, Project Ninja Panda Taco has made its funding. I wasn't certain if they would, but am very pleased that this book is now coming down the pipe. For those who didn't get in on this project before it closed and want to, I would suggest trying to contact the creator. It often seems that they are more than willing to continue offering the fruits of their labor to those with funds.


In unsurprising news, Synnibar is highly unlikely to meet it's funding. I was hoping for the glorious mess to reach print. It would be a curiosity to read on occasion, but it was not meant to be. From the initial failures (the rewards offered could never meet the goal), sketchy project description (what is this game?), unclear rewards (how many books are there?), to the bizarre third-person communication, this was destined to be nothing other than a object lesson. Raven CS McCracken, you are just too beautiful for this world.

In disappointing news, Division has failed to meet its funding. This was predicted in my first post, but I was still hoping. Disappointment is apparently the gulf between hope and expectations, or something. Nonetheless, the creator has promised that this is not the last we have seen of him or his creation. It's nice to end on a positive note like this even though the news is not great. Particularly when contrasted to the similar events surrounding Synnibar above.

The meat of this post is going to be regarding Shadows of Esteren, a French game (this is an English translation) I have written about a couple of times. In the past week they have really stepped up their campaign and added a number of new rewards. Rewards tempted me enough to move my pledge from $50 to $120. Initially I indicated that the $90 for the limited edition of the game was more than I was willing to pay for something that I don't know how much I would like. Obviously this has changed. Spending more time researching the game certainly helped, but it was the new rewards that really did me in.

New stretch goals that have been met are a bookmark (the art is currently being voted on, reward levels $50 and up) and an attractive folder to contain the artwork for the game (from rewards levels $60 and up). The next stretch goal, which has not been met, is for character sheet booklets to be printed (from reward levels $90 and up), and the final stretch goal is a new PDF book (from reward levels $65 and up). A new reward level was also added at $120 (which is where I am now pledging) that includes a very attractive three-panel landscape GM screen and an album

When I showed my wife the project and talked with her about it, she fell in love with the art and was interested in the music (check out the promo video). As I mentioned above, the more I research the game, the more I like what I see. By see, I mean have you seen the art?


At first glance the setting isn't especially inspiring, but there are a lot of details that get me thinking of what can be done there. There is a strong Celtic influence and a harshness to the world where nature is an obstacle in itself, particularly the winters which are reminiscent of A Song of Ice and Fire, as well as a sense of lost history. Not quite the "it was awesome before and now it sucks", but more along the lines of "that which we have forgotten will come back to haunt us".

There are also conflicts between the druid-like traditional religion, Demorthen, the monotheistic newcomer, The Temple, and those that practice an anachronistic science called "magience". Magience takes the conflict in an interesting direction because of how it interacts with the setting, which ties itself to medieval themes, in that anyone can become a magientist and how that represents a threat to the feudal system. 

The two different classic magic systems, for the Demorthen and the Temple, are different enough in theme and scope that they should suit different players. The Demorthen have a wide variety of spells used through rune stones that work through the spirits of nature. The effects of these spells tend to be very subtle, to the extent that an onlooker may not be able to say with certainty that it was magic. Their outlook is also harsh like the setting, with strong "survival of the fittest" overtones. As well they are secretive and prefer to exert their authority discretely. 

The most fervent priests of the Temple call blessings down directly from their god, though still strongly tied to the themes of their faith. Cold is a particularly major theme, the symbol of purity, with an abhorrence of fire, a cute twist to the standard monotheistic theme of purity through fire. The latter seem to be more impressive, but more limited in availability and application. This appeals to me in that some players are after a generalist (Demorthen), while others want a specialist (the Temple).

Magience seems to be somewhat "steampunk"-ish in appearance and themes, including the obligatory class warfare (mentioned above), and the mystical fuel source, flux, that requires vast resources to extract and causes a great deal of pollution. There are four types of flux (blue, green, red and amber) and each is extracted from a different source (mineral, plant, animal and fossils respectively). Extracting the flux requires completely destroying the source and collecting the liquid that is produced. The amber flux is basically an oil expy, the most powerful variety of flux, able to be used for any purpose; the others have specific uses. The largest reserves of fossils/amber flux are within Demorthen controlled territory and they have feelings about the pollution it brings (it very, very nasty). This bit about amber flux, it's value, pollution, control of the resource, etc, brings some contemporary context to the various social conflicts within the setting.

What seems to be the most overt fantasy aspect are the feondas, a generic term for any twisted creature that can generally ruin your day what with the killing and the madness. Any game that has insanity as a mechanic is going to at least get a second look from me. The descent appears to be more subtle than you would find in Call of Cthulhu, but also more personalized by having the specific events that caused the break to dictate the ways it manifests.

On the whole everything seems to occupy the low fantasy end of the spectrum. Combat is a last resort as it is short, brutal and risky. The supernatural effects, despite occupying a bulk of the text above, are downplayed in favor of the social implications of their existence. Between the art and some of the interesting ways the setting plays with details, I'm starting to get very excited about this. Also, the more folks that pledge, the more stretch goals. At the very least, it's going to be lovely. At the very least.

This is a project that I've become pretty enthusiastic about and so far has been a very well run and successful campaign. The communication with backers has been consistent and informative, as well as open about what is being done and discussing the game. The only criticism that I could offer is that there are not many options for backers that aren't willing or don't have the funds to back at the high costs for this project. The rewards are excellent, but many of the stretch goals are only available to those who can afford the higher reward levels.The fact that the game is not an unknown quantity, but already in print with supplements in France, gives me a great deal of confidence on the ability to provide the product with the quality that has been shown.