Kickstarter is an amazing resource for small-scale game developers and roleplayers alike. Of course, finding Kickstarters that are worth backing is difficult and I find as many that I’d never want to back as ones that I like, if not more useless ones. Still, I like to keep my eye out and so it didn’t take long after I encountered Bloodlines & Black Magic to realize that it was one that I wanted to be involved with.
Disclaimer: I am a backer of this Kickstarter campaign so I’m not totally impartial. However, I decided I wanted to interview this team before I joined as a back. Still… I wanted to get that out of the way.
The team working on Bloodlines & Black Magic is Storm Bunny Studios. I sent questions to the setting’s co-creators Jaye Sonia and Clinton Boomer as well as Erik Frankhouse, who is handling some of the material and working on social media and advertising for Bloodlines & Black Magic.
Mephit James: In a nutshell, what is the story behind Bloodlines & Black Magic? What is the setting like and what are the hooks for players and GMs?
Jaye Sonia: Simplified, there’s a secret war going on between a legion of entities known collectively as Goëtic Spirits and the Archons – semi-divine servants who are trying to keep Earth and humanity precisely where it is – static and stagnant. This is not, however, the classic “Good vs. Evil” trope, because both sides cross all of the alignment lines.
Bloodlines & Black Magic is a darker, modern setting designed to be compatible with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. It’s set in the current year, but presents an alternative explanation for everything from current events to many of the urban legends we take for granted. It’s a setting that embraces conspiracy theories, esoteric traditions, and occult mysteries (it’s built to support Paizo Publishing’s Occult Adventures). What’s the story behind it? Well, that’s a pretty broad question. It’s a setting Boomer and I have been building for about two years now, and it’s chock full of strange supernatural assumptions.
MJ: What are some central themes you hope gaming groups see in a Bloodlines & Black Magic campaign?
JS: When people ask me about Bloodlines & Black Magic, I describe it as “Modern, supernatural-themed Pathfinder.” Our themes are arguably strange, weird, and esoteric, but with one foot in conspiracy theories (think the Illuminati) and the other in supernatural horror (all those urban legends you’ve heard about). Most groups are going to be able to take these themes and run with them, at least that’s our hope.
MJ: What are the bloodlines of the setting and why are they important to the game?
JS: Each bloodline is a supernatural, magical bloodline that has links back to either powerful Goëtic Spirit or one of the Archons. These bloodlines replace races in your traditional fantasy roleplaying game. So, instead of having elves or orcs or halflings, you have fey-blooded, seraphic-blooded, or infernal-blooded heroes. Why are they important? These bloodlines are ancient and have established themselves as powerful agents in the modern world. Although they operate in shadows and silence, their actions can (and do) have global impact, both in the mundane and in the secret, supernatural worlds beyond the ken of mortals (I love saying that).
Shadowrun and d20 Modern’s Urban Arcana both handled that already. We’ve been avoiding modern orcs, beholders, elves, and similar fantasy tropes on purpose. Our material is definitely its own.
MJ: You say that “Bloodlines & Black Magic draws liberally from the lore of our day-to-day world, weaving historical facts, modern myths, urban legends, and popular conspiracies into a supernatural world that could be our own.” What myths and legends really inspired you writing this world?
JS: Oh man. How long do you have? We’ve definitely tackled a bunch of the regional urban legends (stuff like Slender Man, Bloody Mary, Cry Baby Bridge, and so on), as well as the classics – popular themes like the Illuminati, secret governments, MiB, and occult-aligned super bankers. You’ll hear us references everything from Bohemian Grove to Stonehenge to the cryptic symbology of the dollar bill.
MJ: You also list the World of Darkness (and presumably also the newer Chronicles of Darkness lines) as inspiration and just reading the introduction makes that inspiration clear. Would you expect WoD fans to be interested in this?
JS: I’d be honestly surprised if World of Darkness fans were not interested in this setting. While this is a distinct, specific take on our modern world, it’s still dark, supernatural horror. That said, we’ve made a point to make sure this is not the World of Darkness we all know and love. There are no clans of vampires, no tribes of werewolves, and no traditions of mages (although we do have seven, distinct occult traditions). There are definitely all of the supernatural foes you’d find in World of Darkness, but you’re not playing them – you’re playing blooded humans who are either fighting or aligned to these forces.
That’s all true, of course. This looks like it’s a very original setting that borrows from others but has a lot going for it. The various factions, for instance, strongly call to my mind the various sides in Supernatural with just as much room for an extensive mythos. It’s assumed that your characters are going to be relatively minor players in their bloodline’s schemes, foot soldiers rather than generals, but you can certainly work your way up. Continuing the connection to Supernatural or the different groups in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, things could definitely come to a head in an end-of-the-world manner. In the words of the project’s Jaye Sonia, “If they go on to run the world, that’s entirely up to their GMs!”
Like the World/Chronicles of Darkness and Unknown Armies, the setting is based on our world which means most of the rest is familiar to anyone with access to the internet or evening news. It sounds like the plots that characters follow are similarly familiar: political maneuvering, exploring the world around them, and fighting against politically opposed enemies. So what is your character going to be like? Well, let’s ask some more questions.
MJ: The character generation system is described as point-buy rather than a static racial template, allowing players to choose a personal array of powers. This is something that should appeal to veterans but are there shortcuts for new players (new to Pathfinder or to RPGs in general)?
JS: Yes. The character generation system is standard Pathfinder, but when it comes to picking your race, you instead pick up a customizable bloodline. So, all of these characters are very much normal humans, but with innate supernatural and magical powers, not all of which are obvious (at first). We’ve been working on this for several years now, and so far in play test, people have really flocked to the idea. I wouldn’t say there’s a big learning curve, either, so newer players are likely to easily pick up the new system and its assumptions.
As a Pathfinder Roleplaying Game compatible product, you’ll want to have access to the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, although we also recommend you have a copy of Occult Adventures as well. That’s really it. All of the modified classes and all of the bloodlines are in Bloodlines & Black Magic, as are the new skills, powers, Feats, weapons, gear, and all the other fun stuff you’ll need to play in the setting.
MJ: How global is your book? Does it have a default city or can you use it anywhere in the world?
JS: It’s definitely global. We have seven, principal locations described in the main book (several in America, one in the U.K., and one in the Middle East), but there’s plenty of room for GMs to set games anywhere in the world they want to. We’re not locking anyone into a particular area. That said, there are some fun locations (I’m looking at you, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Chicago, New Orleans, and New York) for players to explore – especially if we hit those stretch goals!
Speaking of stretch goals, one of the most exciting things about a project like this is the dynamic nature of it. This Kickstarter has a lot of different parts to it and even now, with a week to go, we don’t really know what it’s going to turn out like. There are a number of different stretch goals in the works and also a series of adventure material that the team is planning to release. This means that you can help shape the game and setting now and you can count on continuing support as a GM once it’s out in “the wild.”
This is one of the things that most excited me about the game as I was reading through the Kickstarter page, and ultimately one of the things that caused me to back it. There is a definitely sense that things are happening in this world, that it isn’t a stagnant planet waiting around for your players’ characters to start moving things around. Worst case scenario, there are adventures and plots that will happen alongside your homebrewed one and your players will understand that they are part of the bloodlines and that things are happening in this supernatural world. That’s how I’ve used other living campaigns in the past (the D&D Adventurer’s League, for instance, and the Star Wars Living Force campaign) and it’s a good way to enrich your world without overtaxing yourself as GM.
MJ: Only your first few stretch goals have been revealed so far. What can you tell us about Apex Infernal?
JS: Apex Infernal is a solo project by a musician named Arjay Murray. He focuses on very dark ambient music, with supernatural overtones, which is perfect for what we’re building in Bloodlines & Black Magic. Fans of Lamia Vox, Randal Collier-Ford, Cryo Chamber, and Lustmord will likely notice Apex Infernal‘s influences. All in all, he’s made some pretty awesome music, so teaming up with Arjay seemed like a smart move.
MJ: Any teasers you can provide about future stretch goals?
JS: We have two stretch goals we really, really want to tackle. The first is a series of short stories based in the setting called Tales From the Shadows (which unlocks at 21k). The second is a special bestiary for the setting, called Monsters & Madmen that unlocks at a higher tier.
MJ: Tell us about the Whispers & Rumors campaign “seasons.” These short PDFs of game resource will be produced for a year start in October 2017, and how often can we expect them to come out? Any chance of going longer than a year?
JS: Just to clarify, Whispers & Rumors and our Bloodlines & Black Magic episodes are two different things. Let me tackle Whispers & Rumors first. Six-plus times a year (bi-monthly), we plan to release new content about the world. This could be anything from new locations, new haunts, new monsters, new class options, new careers – anything. Each of these releases will be compiled and released as Whispers & Rumors. Additionally, some of these will include cyphers, hints, and additional content that supports the episodes that we plan to release.
Campaign seasons, on the other hand, are designed to be similar to a season of your favorite supernatural-themed television show. Each episode is designed to be resolved in a single sitting (3-5 hours; ideally convention length), and each season will contain roughly thirteen episodes. We have currently planned out the first season, but have enough episodes outlined for 2-3 seasons (right now). We’ve toyed around with the idea of only supporting 7 seasons, but that’s an ambitious endeavor. I think we’re up to it, but that really depends on fans, community support, and if folks rally to the setting like we hope they do.
MJ: What are some challenges about running this Kickstarter? Anything you’d do differently next time?
JS: This is Storm Bunny Studio’s third Kickstarter, so we’ve ironed out a lot of the bugs. That said, each Kickstarter has its own challenges, not all of which you can anticipate (like competing RPG Kickstarters, for instance). All in all, I think Kickstarter suffers from two problems. The first is exposure. This is a pretty basic, signal-to-noise ratio problem. You’re competing with any number of projects, which means you potentially lose pledges to other projects. There’s not much you can do about that. The other challenge is one of trust. Backers tend to flock to very established names and projects, even if those creators don’t really need Kickstarter to fund their projects. Much of this has to do with trust – too many gamers have been burned on projects. Luckily for us, we’ve delivered everything we’ve set out to do, so we’ve got a fairly faithful and dedicated audience of repeat backers!
Hopefully, this interview leads to a few more! Once more, you can back the Bloodlines & Black Magic Kickstarter campaign using the embedded link below, or just head on over to their site and see for yourself. Jaye and the others at Storm Bunny Studio seem like solid, passionate roleplayers and reading what they have to say about their project certainly shows their passion for it. A passionate game designer means a great foundation for your own game so consider adding this to your Kickstarter line-up and post any questions here for Jaye Sonia. Maybe we can get him to leak even more about Bloodlines & Black Magic!