Interview with Latest Savage Age

I’m here today with a long interview about a pretty terrific group of products. I’ve spoken with the folks at Weaponized Ink before and they’re back to talk about what’s new in the line. This prehistoric take on the World of Darkeness, specifically the Ice Age werewolves and Fera, is epic, imaginative, and fun. Let’s jump in!

Mephit James: You’ve recently jumped into that quintessentially World of Darkness of products, the anthology. White Wolf and Onyx Path love them some anthologies, but what was your motivations for putting out narrative fiction in the world of Savage Age?

Chris Gunning: We want to make Werewolf: the Savage Age as approachable as possible.  Tales of the Savage Age was designed with that goal in mind.  Fiction is an easy way to show people what a story set in the Savage Age might look like. 

There are a lot of curious players out there that seem to like the concept behind Savage Age, but are concerned that they will need a PhD in paleobiology to be able to run the game.  That is not the case.  We have built a LOT of tools into our products to make it as easy as possible to dive right into the setting, but those tools are embedded in larger books (especially Accounting for the Dead and Rise of the Garou).  So, Tales of the Savage Age is designed to be an easy and fun way for existing players to get some inspiration and prospective players to get a glimpse of how easy and interesting the Savage Age can be.

Brandon Steward: As Chris said, making Savage Age accessible was a major goal, and I’m a huge proponent of giving players examples of “What might this look like?” It was the same design ethos behind not only Broken Brother, but even the little in-character blurbs I like to head off sections with. New settings, particularly unique ones, can feel overwhelming, and part of our job is to alleviate those concerns so folks can get to having fun.

Tales of the Savage Age was not only a chance to do just that, but a chance to take both new folks and some of our core team and go, “Okay, we’ve got all these tools for telling stories in this world, what story do you want to tell?” and sort of give them a chance to frolic and stretch their creative muscles in our setting. By definition, I think any time you’ve got a tabletop rpg setting, one of the fundamental premises you’re trying to put out there is, “Hey, this is a fun place to tell stories,” and Tales was a chance to show that off.

On a personal note, Tales was an opportunity to pay it forward. My first gig was actually in another Storyteller’s Vault anthology called Darkened Streets, and I remember the moment it went live as being the first time I thought, “Hey, this is real. Maybe I can keep doing this.”

Without that moment, I don’t know that I would’ve found my way to Weaponized Ink, and I know so many great talents struggle with that imposter syndrome and that initial barrier of “How do I get started?” so Tales was a chance to use this platform that Chris and the rest of the team have built to provide that same boost to other folks. Tales was very much a passion project, and obviously I want it to keep doing well in sales, but if even one of our new contributors keeps writing because they finally got their first shot to show what they could do? Then I’ll consider it a success.

Image © Weaponized Ink

MJ: How did you go about finding the stories and authors in your anthology book? What do you think it adds to a game of Savage Age?

CG: That was all Brandon Steward.  He pitched the idea to me and said he had a bunch of author friends and contacts who would be great fits for the Savage Age.  Brandon has delivered before (just look at Broken Brother!) so I had ever confidence he could put together a strong group of authors to fill the pages of Tales of the Savage Age. 

I created Weaponized Ink (the imprint under which Savage Age is printed) specifically to help bootstrap new artists and writers – to give them a chance to excel, build a bit of a resume, and get paid.  Brandon finding a collection of veterans and newer writers was exactly the type of project I want Weaponized Ink to be known for.

BS: As far as what it adds, apart from the aforementioned practical examples of what diving into the Savage Age looks like, I think it adds not only world-building to flesh out what’s been established, but it also broadens the horizons of our stories.

I think one of the best things about the anthology format is that it gives Savage Age a fresh perspective, not only in the sense of bringing in new talent with new ideas, but getting to take what’s been put forth and see what sort of new styles and directions one might take it in.

Prior to April Allsop’s contribution, for example, it had never occurred to us that an epic edda would be so at home in our world. D.W. Scales explored how the Mokole ancestral memory operates in already-prehistoric times, and in doing so gave us a glimpse of the time before the Savage Age. L. Alexandra used short-form poetry to tell the story of what it might be like to be a kinfolk caught in the middle of something so incomprehensible as a war between god-beasts. And Grant Rose explored a Fera that our current releases haven’t really touched.

Image © Weaponized Ink

Since the last time we spoke you’ve been busily putting out new Savage Age products. Recently you put out Tribebook: Kor which features were-dimetrodons. Why dimetrodons and not dinosaurs? Why go all the way back to the Mesozoic?

CG: There are a lot of reasons and motivations behind Tribebook: Kor, but one of the biggest motivators is because Dimetrodons (and their pre-mammalian kin) do not get near enough attention.  Dinosaurs are unapologetically cool, but there is a lot of existing media out there that already deals with dinosaurs.  I wanted to explore something even older and funkier. 

I also wanted to touch on the very birth of the Fera.  To do that, I needed to go well past the age of dinosaurs – back when reptiles and mammals were basically the same thing.  Now that we have the “contemporary” parts of Savage Age well-defined (and the future history is covered by Werewolf: the Apocalypse), I thought it would be fun to explore the deep history and generational roots of the Fera of the Savage Age.  To do that, I wanted to go back to the very foundational biological precursors of the mammals and reptiles – and that led me to Dimetrodons and other therapsids. 

There are some behind-the-scenes rules to SA’s Fera to make sure there is some consistency.  One of those rules is that the Fera need to come from archosaur or mammalian stock – something with a backbone.  In the SA canon, those are the types of animals that best adapt to a human-like lifestyle and can work with human-like thinking.  Insects and invertebrates are simply too different and too alien to easily adopt the great form and (at least in more modern times) human-like thinking.  (There is an ongoing debate within the development team about how the Anasasi fit in the SA due to this rule… but that’s for another interview). 

The Kor are the ancient grandparents of ALL the mammalian Fera.  They were the very first Fera (alongside the Kor).  They set the standard for what their descendants could be and do.  They started Gaia’s great experiment with the Great Form (bipedalism with functioning hands) and transformable bodies.  Even more importantly, their wins and losses set the stage for the Fera of the Savage Age (and Werewolf the Apocalypse).  Tribebook: Kor let us explore the very roots of the creation of the Fera in a way that was applicable to existing Savage Age and Apocalypse games.

Image © Weaponized Ink

MJ: You also have more familiar-ish Fera like the Urkama (predecessors to the Camazotz) and Wlewa (cave lion Bastet). Besides adding more animals to the mix, how do these changing breeds change the world of Savage Age?

CG: What a great question.  The new Fera types we introduce are designed to explore and/or highlight some part of the setting that we think needs a bit of love.  The Gaian mandates we assign to each of the Fera in Savage Age help define what default role they are to play in the setting.  Those roles help keep us focused on what they are supposed to do and define how they interact with other Fera. In a setting that pushes the War of Rage to the fore, the interactions between Fera communities is super important (and often wonderfully complex). 

  • The Wlewa (were-cave lions) were introduced to serve as an object lesson on the horrors of the War of Rage, to show that in that sort of total conflict there are no good people, and to create an antagonist that felt like a legitimate threat to the Garou Nation.  We wanted to explore the primary drivers for the creation of the Garou Nation, and a big, bad Bastet that was better than the canid-shifters in most ways provided are great reason for the Garou ancestors to band together for survival.  Wlewa also allowed us to show what a well-organized Bastet group can look like – and just how impressive and scarry a thing that would be. 
  • The Urkama (were-bats) allow us to explore the outer parts of the Umbra.  There are a lot of great books about the Umbra already in existence, but default Werewolf: the Apocalypse does not provide a lot of tools to really get into those narratives.  The Urkama are our tool to do exactly that.  They are built to explore the deep Umbra and all the horrors therein.  Using them in a Savage Age game pivots the story to the Deep Umbra and all the shenanigans thereof. The Urkama are foes to the Nightmare Gods (Cthulhu-esque horrors at the edge of time and spirit-space).  So, playing an Urkama opens up some interesting stories about fighting against hostile insanity spirits infiltrating Gaia.  We made sure the Urkama’s exploits in the Umbra have significant implications in the physical world of the Savage Age… and their canonical fight with the Garou (that leads to the creation and isolation of the Camazotz).
  • The Kor (were-therapsids from before the dinosaurs) we already talked a bit about – but there is another aspect to their role worth noting.  The Earth has been through a series of devastating extinction events over the last 300+ million years.  Many of us are familiar with the extinction event 65 million years ago that killed all the non-avian dinosaurs, but there were a number of others (including some more recently).  Each one of these extinction events is, basically, an apocalypse.  So, the Kor, who lived through multiple extinction events are experts on “apocalypses.”  The implications for that sort of expertise and knowledge in both Savage Age (at the height of the War of Rage) and Werewolf: the Apocalypse are immense.  So, the Kor are our way of linking geologic-time equivalent extinction event to Werewolf’s Apocalypse (capital “A”).  Green-lighting a Kor character opens up a lot of great storytelling options centered on extinction, desperation, and the end times. Oh, and the Kor are also designed to make it easier to play the normally reclusive Rokea.  We wanted to make it easier to bring more of the Rokea book to more tables.

…and that’s just to name a few of the Fera we highlight in our books. 

Image © Weaponized Ink

BS: For me, what’s also been really fun about projects like Urkama, Wlewa, and Kor, is how many new storytelling angles they bring to the world. The Urkama open us up to the wider Umbra and a whole new antagonist, the Wlewa offer a whole new system of magic and a rival to the Garou Nation, and the Kor are literally creatures out of time who offer a new way to look at the titular Apocalypse in a new era.

And, much like with Tales, new books mean the chance for our team to try new things and to bring in new folks to let them play in the sandbox, so to speak. It’s been fun watching everyone put their ideas into action and really explore the new concepts these books introduce.

In the case of the Urkama and Kor, for example, we got to work with a writer who’s a longtime World of Darkness fan named Max Peeples who contributed fiction to both projects. Getting to highlight new voices as the line grows is not only, as Chris said, part of what Savage Age was designed for, but it also fuels everyone’s creativity, new and old, and I think that just makes for better books. I wasn’t on Kor, for example, but rest assured that reading what they’ve done absolutely pushes me to elevate the next thing I offer up.

Image © Weaponized Ink

MJ: What about Savage Kinfolk? What is new in a book about boring-old homo sapiens?

CG: The fact that Savage Age has other types of humans allows us to explore some of what makes Homo sapiens special.  There are rules in Accounting for the Dead that describe the Neanderthals and offer some variant rules for them as Kinfolk.  By defining the Neanderthals, we also define what makes the Homo sapiens cool as well (hint: sapiens have some advantages in stamina and throwing). 

One point we make in our products is that we want to show that human means human.  It does not matter is your character comes from Sapiens or Neanderthal stock, they are human.  Likewise, we go to pains to break the “rock-pounding” stereotype that surrounds the Neanderthals.  There is a lot of evidence and science that tells us Neanderthals were just as sophisticated as their sapiens counterparts.  We want people to explore Neanderthals and their different culture respectfully.  Plus, sophisticated Neanderthals are not only more accurate, but are also a lot more fun to play. 

We also have some products in the works that will introduce the Denisovians.  Stay tuned.

BS: I’d also add that Savage Kinfolk was written by the very talented Neal Litherland, who’s done an entire series of 100 Kinfolk books for the various tribes in the modern day over on the Storytellers Vault, so he’s definitely got a handle on how to help folks fill their world with interesting character concepts.

One treat I think folks will enjoy is that, not only is our title misleading in the best way – there are more than 101 Kinfolk in the book because we are clearly deceitful agents of the Wyrm – but the book has write-ups for kinfolk across all sorts of tribes and changing breeds, including those we’ve yet to spotlight. Want an example of prehistoric Rokea kin or Ananasi kin? We’ve got you covered.

Image © Weaponized Ink

MJ: You mentioned to me a few projects on the horizon. What can fans of Savage Age look forward to in the near future?

CG: The Corax-Rapax book is in the midst of a heavy edit and procuring art.  I’ve been posting some of the sketches on the Weaponized Ink Discord (if anyone is curious).  Corax-Rapax is our effort to rectify the dinosaur heritage in Werewolf.  We explain why the Mokole claim ancestry to the Dinosaurs despite literal dinosaurs in the form of the Corax (and all birds) still in existence.  The humble Corax are going to be very cool and able to access deeply hidden powers connected to their true dinosaur ancestry.  Corax-Rapax will also serve as a vehicle for us to touch on the era of the Dragon Kings. 

The Players’ Guide is also well into editing.  The Players Guide will be THE book about all of the canon Fera out there that we haven’t spent time on.  There will be a lot of detail on playing the Bastet, Gurahl, Rokea, Nagah, Mokole, Ratkin, and a few others in the Savage Age.  There will also be am exploration of the Savage Age timeline to help bring everything from the existing books together.  This is going to be a big book with lots of great detail. 

There will be books on the Tengger (proto-Stargazers and Three Brothers) and a new Fera type called the Tam’Omin (were-Hyenadonts).  Farther out there are plans for books on the Ajah-Abah (proto-Ajaba), a book on the Americas, and a book on the differing ecology and lost lands of the Pleistocene.

BS: I’ll also be heading up a new epic jumpstart designed to give folks a chance to explore not only the Nightmare Gods introduced in Tales and Urkama, but some of the tribes that The Broken Brother didn’t include. Currently the plan is to include the Wlewa, Urkama, Ceilican, Kor, and the upcoming Rapax as sample player characters.

The goal is for folks who’ve bought those books to have some additional tools to help put them into action, while folks who haven’t will get a nice, fully playable look at the cool things happening in those corners of the Savage Age.

Image © Weaponized Ink

MJ: There’s a solid arc to most World of Darkness lines, setting the stage and then building out the corners. Do you see a metaplot growing along with these various key players or is that something beyond such a wide-ranging setting?

CG: The War of Rage is our metaplot.  Likewise, the transition from the Savage Age to the Modern Nights is a sub-plot. 

We are constantly seeding our books with easter eggs and examples to help explain why things are the way they are in canonical Werewolf: the Apocalypse.  I like to think that Werewolf’s War of Rage and impending Apocalypse are more exciting and engaging when Savage Age elements are introduced. 

The Savage Age books Accounting for the Dead, Rise of the Garou, Khara, Celican, and Wlewa all define different aspects of the War of rage, providing significant detail on there where, when, and whys of that conflict.  We will continue to explore the War of Rage in forthcoming books, but we are also starting to explore the precursor events that set the stage for the War of Rage (Tribebook: Kor, Corax-Rapax) and some of the events that connect Savage Age to Werewolf: the Apocalypse (Ceilican and Urkama).

BS: To top off what Chris said, Savage Age also has a unique antagonist figure in the form of the primordial Nightmare Gods, whom we’ve been expanding upon since Tribebook: Urkama (and possibly seeded even further back). In many ways their presence is fundamentally tied to the War of Rage metaplot and the events therein, so folks can look forward to their exploration as the line continues to grow.

MJ: Anything else you’d like to plug?

CG: Come join us on the Weaponized Ink Discord server.  We are a welcoming community of writers and gamers.  We are becoming known as a community of collaborators, where ideas are thrown into the community forum and built upon.  We talk Savage Age, Werewolf, the World of Darkness (all editions) in general, our unique property called The Hammer and the Stake, and just about anything related to roleplaying.  I’m proud of the helpful and supportive atmosphere in the Weaponized Ink Discord, and would love to welcome more people.  Myself and the Development Team are active there, so it’s a great place to connect to the people behind Savage Age (and a few other properties/games).

BS: You can find me over on Twitter at @BrandonMSteward, where I post special offers, project announcements, art previews from our upcoming books, and far too many pictures of the small animals that live in my home.

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