Interview with Marc Tassin about Aetaltis

The World of Aetaltis campaign is going strong over at Kickstarter and I’m excited to see this setting grow. I’ve been a fan for a while and backed this campaign in the early days. I wanted to see a little behind the curtain, though, so I asked Marc Tassin to answer a few questions. He provided some great answers and I think readers here will be just as excited as I am when the delve into Aetaltis!

Mephit James: The setting of Aetaltis has a lot of the hallmarks of an exciting fantasy setting: fallen empires, evil gods, brave heroes… What are some of the things that set it apart from other D&D settings out there?

Marc Tassin: There are a ton of great settings out there right now that really break the fantasy mold. The thing that makes Aetaltis different is that instead of shying away from the classic heroic fantasy tropes, we embraced them—but we didn’t stop with that. In a sense, we’re remastering the attributes and elements of classic fantasy that shaped our hobby. We’re adding clarity, improving the quality, and generally cleaning the old tropes up to work in the modern world of gaming. And of course we’re inserting some brand new elements, everyone loves to discover something new, but at its heart, Aetaltis represents a re-imaging of the things that made fantasy RPG settings so popular.

MJ: Sounds like a strong plan. What new mechanics are you planning for characters in the World of Aetaltis? Are there any aspects of the Player’s Handbook that don’t feature much in Aetaltis?

MT: The arcane magic system and the rules for divine inspiration are the two most notable additions. With arcane magic, we’ve introducing a point based system that is coupled with a spellcasting skill roll. It creates the feel of a craft that demands great skill and dedication, and differentiates it from divine magic. It also allows us to introduce elements like ley lines, essence wells, and essence voids in a way that adds real richness to the game. And of course, if you’re rolling to cast the spell, that opens the door to catastrophic spell failure, which makes magic both powerful AND dangerous at the same time.

Image © Mechanical Muse

With divine inspiration, we’ve expanded the inspiration rules to make using inspiration a cooler, more story-driven experience. Inspiration goes from being a simple rule for getting re-rolls, to being a representation of the will of the gods and their avatars and their influence on the heroes in their quests. It adds new ways to use inspiration, and introduces a ton of cool flavor to a relatively bland game mechanic.

MJ: Those are some interesting new options for 5e, which makes me think about the original quickstart, Heroes of Thornwall, which was written for Pathfinder. Why did you choose D&D 5e as the game system for the World of Aetaltis?

MT: We love Pathfinder. To be fair, however, we always wanted to create a 5e compatible product. At the time that Thornwall came out, however, that wasn’t an option. NEXT wasn’t official, the SRD wasn’t in place, and there was no legal path to do use the rules. Shortly after Thornwall released, however, that changed. Suddenly we were able to focus on the system we really wanted to write for. The biggest reason, however, is that 5e just does a better job of creating the feel we’re shooting for with Aetaltis. Again – I own a LOT of Pathfinder books, and love their products. I just believe that the 5e rules feel more like the Aetaltis I imagined.

Image © Mechanical Muse

MJ: What would you say is a typical adventure in the World of Aetaltis? Is it a land of dungeon delving, a land of high politics, a land of moral decisions, a combination of these, or something else entirely?

MT: A good campaign setting supports all of these things, and Aetaltis definitely does this as well. That said, the heart of an Aetaltis adventure is a group of independent heroes, stepping in to do the right thing when no one else is willing or able. They step up and put their lives at risk, all to make their world a better place. This might take the form of a dungeon crawl, as they plunge into the Deeplands to seal a long forgotten ward, or it might be joining in the defense of a city when the forces of Darkness threaten to overtake its walls. In the end, the typical adventure is more about why the heroes are fighting than the type of adventure they undertake.

And if they happen to salvage piles of ancient dwarven gold, get a nice big reward, or acquire a magic weapon along the way, even better!

Image © Mechanical Muse

MJ: It looks like there’s a lot of room in the setting for different stories. Actually the map of Aetaltis is pretty striking… pun intended since it definitely looks like a meteor crater! What’s the story behind the “Amethyst Sea” and how does that feature into the setting?

MT: Although Aetaltis is steeped in magic, the universe in which it exists follows the same rules as our own. The people of Aetaltis believe a rather fantastic creation myth about the formation of their planet, but the truth is a tale grounded in real world physics. In ancient times, Aetaltis was subjected to the type of meteoric bombardments that happen to most planets. This left its scars on the world. Everything from the Scythaan Wall, a massive cliff that stretches for thousands of miles along the southern edge of the Zhamayen Jungle, to the Amethyst Sea are a product of this. And because I’m a hopeless nerd, I actually got a planetary geologist to help ensure that the effects made sense scientifically.

All of this said, I will offer that there is more to the story of the objects that struck Aetaltis… I’m just not quite ready to reveal all of that yet.

Image © Mechanical Muse

MJ: As a former planetery geologist myself, I’m all for that. I also wanted to as why you decided to produce two separate books, the Player’s Guide and the Gamemaster’s Guide.

Mainly because RPG books (in general) are really expensive, and not everyone will need all the stuff we’re writing. I wanted to make it easy and affordable to get extra copies of the “rules you need at the table” without having to buy all the other stuff. If a player can afford it, I definitely encourage them to buy all three books—they really will have a better game. But if they can’t afford it, I don’t want them to be excluded from having the rules they need to make characters and play the game. For many years, my budget for RPG books was super tight, so I never want to exclude people who are in that position today.

MJ: Speaking of the different books, what made you decide on making the Adventurer’s Guide, an in-character introduction to the setting?

MT: I love immersive setting books, you know, the ones you can just pick up and read, almost like a novel? FASA had a long history of doing this extremely well, from their Shadowrun books to Earthdawn. I wanted to help create that same experience, the sense that you’re going to a world that truly exists, and that the rules are simply a portal into that world. Doing a fully in-character book helps to weave that illusion and maintain that suspension of disbelief that lets you really buy into the idea that it’s a real place.

Image © Mechanical Muse

MJ: Seems like you’re drawing your inspirations from all over! Tell us a little about your team and this setting. This is the second Kickstarter for the setting and you’ve already produced an impressive fiction collection. What drives your vision of Aetaltis?

MT: My biggest motivation is that I want give people a brand new fantasy world to explore that makes us feel as wonderful, inspired, and excited as when we first discovered settings like the Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, and Greyhawk. The attributes of classic fantasy, whether you call them elements of the monomyth or archetypes or tropes, persist because they resonate with us as humans. Use them right, without embarrassment or hesitation, and wrap them in a rich new story, and I believe you can create something that is both deeply familiar and a utterly unique. Time will tell if I’ve pulled it off, but that’s my biggest motivation.

There’s also the idea of heroism. Aetaltis supports whatever story you want to tell, but at its heart it’s about heroes stepping up to do the right thing when no one else will. In our real world sometimes it feels like heroes are in short supply. I find it inspiring to take on that role in my games. It reminds us that we aren’t powerless against the forces of Darkness, and that we can make a difference. That’s the sort of story I’d like to be involved in, anyhow.

Image © Mechanical Muse

MJ: There’s a lot going on in this campaign, which is pretty exciting to watch! You’ve got some exciting stretch goals already revealed, from more content to a revised quickstart. Are there any others that you’re particularly looking forward to?

MT: Oh, man. You know, we didn’t reveal all the stretch goals, but JUST IN CASE we actually have something like 20 stretch goals planned. We haven’t revealed the one I’ll share with you, but I’d love to see us get to the Dunbury Castle book happen. If Heroes of Thornwall is my ode to the Village of Hommlet, Dunbury Castle is my Keep on the Borderlands. Together with Thornwall it creates a foundation that can support years of campaigns, giving a rich backstory and flexible infrastructure to support an endless number of classic fantasy adventures. I’m keeping my fingers crossed! I’d LOVE to see us unlock that.

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