Interview with Christopher Moyer of Hard Luck Workshop

Christopher Moyer is a member of Hard Luck Workshop and instrumental in the Kickstarter for The Lost Territories RPG.

To start off, tell us about yourself and your history in gaming.

I’ve been playing RPGs since I was a kid, probably like most of us. I cut my teeth on Dungeons & Dragons when I was in middle school, though the group I played with had to keep it rather secret—all of our parents had bought into the moral panic of the late 80s about how this was an evil hobby for maladjusted people. At sleepovers, we didn’t play until people went to sleep. Or we played on camping trips around a campfire, which was a perfect fit anyway. Later, I moved away from D&D and played a lot of Alternity, another TSR offering—though it came out in 1998, a year after Wizards of the Coast bought D&D. I was in high school by that point. There’s a lot of Alternity influence in The Lost Territories in terms of its mechanics, almost a mash-up of things I think that game did well, things from 4th Edition that work well, and a smattering of mechanics unique to this game. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I started following indie games more closely.

Describe The Lost Territories for us in the form of an elevator pitch.

The Lost Territories is for groups who love to immerse themselves in a new world and learn about the way it works. It’s for the players who prefer hatching and executing a good scheme to constant battles. It’s for everyone who likes rules but doesn’t want so many of them that the game has to stop frequently while the Game Master consults the books. It’s also a game that, thematically, is meant to be about forcing characters into difficult choices and situations, situations in which there are not necessarily black and white “good outcomes.” This world is messier than that.

What works of fiction helped inspire The Lost Territories?

Not many. My reading tends to fall strongly along literary lines, a product of my educational and professional background, I suppose. I don’t read a lot of genre fiction. Neil Stephenson’s work has proven influential, though, especially The Diamond Age and Anathema. I do adore comics, and there are several that have inspired the game in small ways, though not so much that anyone is likely to tell. Those include Saga, everything Sandman, The Wake, and Matt Fraction’s run on Immortal Iron Fist.

The Lost Territories features something called celestia, which functions a bit differently from magic in most other RPG settings. Could you elaborate?

Magic, as otherworldly a concept as it is, tends to become a mundane aspect of life in various fantasy universes. It’s a thing a lot of people can use, a thing that’s suffused throughout society. Celestia is a physical substance that occurs in the world of The Lost Territories—typically as a liquid, under certain circumstances as a gas, that is tied to the way the physical world evolves and decays. The inhabitants of the world don’t really understand the specifics and are only now beginning to learn more, and part of the main campaign setting’s appeal is that players can play some role in helping drive those discoveries. Good Game Masters will withhold information about celestia, allowing players to learn more about its nature gradually as they venture out into the places in the world where celestia exists.

All of this said, exposure to celestia can have dramatic effects on living creatures. For many, it may cause unwanted mutations or degradation of mental functions in sentient beings—this is where the game’s monsters come from—and in humans it may also simply result in death. There are some, however, who are exposed to celestia in one of its forms and instead find themselves developing new abilities. With practice, they are able to harness and channel these powers: these are, of course, the skills and abilities Player Characters employ during gameplay.

Celestia is a powerful thing that has yet to be harnessed in the world of the game, and attempts to control and refine it may have very dire consequences: this is one of the game’s primary driving forces.

What other aspects of The Lost Territories do you believe cause it to stand out from other settings on the RPG market?

The setting, most of all. The area of the world known as The Lost Territories (from which the game receives its namesake) is constantly in a state of flux. Landmasses in this region of the world may evolve and decay in the course of days, hours, or minutes, and new species may spring into life in an instant. There are rules for groups to randomly generate the current state of an area in The Lost Territories, though players generally won’t know what they’ve generated. They’ll get some information, depending on certain skillsets (Meteorology, Biology, etc.—nerd skills are extremely valuable.)

Mechanically, we’re not reinventing the wheel in many regards, though there are some aspects people will find new: personality scores, for example (based on the Myers-Briggs model), play a role in character creation. Dice rolling mechanics work a little differently than most games popular right now, too. And as I’ve hinted at before, “nerdy” skills play a more central role than they do in most games of this style—so don’t pass over skills like Chemistry or Tailoring during character creation.

The Lost Territories also uses a classless character system. That’s hardly unique to this game, but it’s worth mentioning.

If The Lost Territories proves to be successful, are there any additional supplements you would like to publish for the setting?

Absolutely. Five of them are already available as stretch goals for the Kickstarter campaign that we’ve just kicked off. If we hit those goals, we’ve got a couple of guest writers ready to write adventure supplements (Kris Straub, David Crennen of the Crit Juice podcast, Michael “ThriftyNerd” DiMauro from Drunks and Dragons, and more to be announced.) We’ll do a compendium of monsters and human enemies at $25,000—”The Encyclopedia of Threats.” There’s also a book called “The Modes of Conveyance” planned, which lets parties geek out on airship technicalities, boat to boat combat, odd steampunk land vehicles, and even controllable golems. We’ve got to meet our initial funding goals before we can even begin to worry about those, though.