Interview: T. Julian Bell of Raex Games

T. Julian Bell is the owner, lead game designer, and a writer for Raex Games, a gaming publisher that specializes in RPG table top games, card games, and board games.  The Gamers Codex appreciates him taking time out to talk with us.
First off, tell me a little bit about yourself and your gaming history.
I’ve been playing tabletop RPG’s, board games, and online video games since as far back as I can remember. I’m a huge fan of storytelling. I was hooked to tabletop games full time around 19 when my college roommate introduced me to d&d 3.0. I’ve worked in the film industry and game industry, but left those to do what I love. I think it was just this idea that tabletop games offer another layer. They are just way more fun and the stories never end.
What were the primary inspirations for the game system in Kromore?
The game system was developed over many years of playtesting with a hundred or so testers throughout the US and Canada. I wanted a system that could encompass scifi and fantasy at the same time. I needed a simple system but also one with the ability to allow gamers that like a lot of tinkering those options. Basically it became a balance of what can I offer as many players as possible with keeping the majority as happy as possible. The three action combat system with d4 skills was born out of that labor.
What were the primary inspirations for the setting?
When it came down to packaging a setting, I initially was going to release all the different eras of Kromore separately, but I came to the conclusion that giving the players the keys to the entire universe upfront would be a huge amount of content for them to explore. As it always is with my gaming groups, the GM or as we call it “storyteller” always modified and changed the universe to fit their group’s needs. Kromore’s eras are a perfect canvas for those GM’s and the hundred story arc moments provided in the book are all great hooks from which to launch a campaign.
Did each era have a specific inspiration?
Sure they all are settings that are built around existing archetypes. What make them unique is that they each organically grow from their previous setting on the planet Kromore so all that history still exists as do the weapons, armor, and technologies. What you get are the Three Kingdoms Era, Age of Man, Age of Nations, Steam & Steel, Civil War, and Space Eras.

I’ll break them down a bit more for the readers: Three Kingdoms Era is a fantasy medieval setting. It’s a mix of castles, sword and sorcery, political espionage, and exploration as the globe wages war against one another. That setting is ended by a cataclysmic event known as the star comet. The star comet strikes the 2nd moon of Kromore and reigns down dust and debris for a hundred years causing darkness to cover the planet leading into the reconstruction and rebuilding of cities, history, and society called the Age of Man. I have to say it’s a very Conan-esque time and the hundred years of darkness in between those two eras is a pretty great time to play in as well. Organically, the Age of man era eventually leads into the Age of Nations, a high seas time. This is when Kromorians are starting to rebuild cities throughout the planet and rediscover ancient ones. As technology grows, steam technology is discovered and you get the Steam & Steel era of Steam air ships and giant mechanized robots. Those sort of speak for themself. The Victorian theme lasts until it clashes with the futuristic evolution of social and technological advancements in the Civil War era. This is probably one of my favorite eras as you have that steam victorian feel being edged out by science and space like themes. This then transitions to the Space Era.

All the eras are great to fill that itch any gaming group needs and there are thousands of years to explore within them or create your own settings within. It’s a sandbox setting in a lot of ways where we give you the outline and you go from there.

What are you most proud of in this work?
All of it.
What do you think players will most enjoy about the game?
There is content for every type of player from casual to hardcore. With literally hundreds of character build options and setting story hooks you really have a great book to use as a tool box for any game you run. The majority of time players come up to me and tell me how they created alternate nations and eras within Kromore. I think that is awesome and exactly the point of the book. Be creative and use it as a tool where you feel you need to. There has been a lot of great feedback about the art as well.
What are your future plans for Kromore?
The book just came out in stores this year, so as a solo indy publisher I’m slowly trying to familiarize the audience with Kromore until the moment comes when I can really take it to the level it deserves. This moment involves a larger team than just myself and commissioned artists. I have dozens of expansions planned, but right now it’s about getting the book into players’ hands so they can start to absorb the massive content Kromore provides. I will say I’m already working on the playtest for the second edition that I don’t plan on releasing for several years out, but that book will simply add to the setting from the first one on top of streamlining some of the mechanics to open the game up to an even bigger audience and speed up sessions. If players want to see more Kromore faster they should talk about it with their gaming groups and get their stores to stock it so word can spread! The only way for me to bring more Kromore products is for the community to support it.
 
How has the reception been thus far?
There are a lot of games out there to compete with, but when I get feedback from someone who has taken the time to crack the book open and play some games the responses are great. I don’t have the marketing budget the bigger companies have so it’s entirely a player promoted product beyond what I can do at conventions and through social media. The hardcover book is almost sold out, but it was a small print release of only around 1000 units this past February. The digital version and modules are selling well and players should expect more products coming in 2017. People can pick up the book and talk about how pretty it looks and how much content they can see, but they won’t realize the massive amount the book offers till they start to play it. I couldn’t be more happy with the feedback from the game so far.

After Play-test Report: Kromore

From: Raex Games Publishing
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Kromore Role Playing Game & Campaign Setting is a RPG Core Rulebook from Raex Games Publishing.  This is a summary of a short playtest of this game.

My playtest of Kromore was two fold: (1) character generation and (2) short combat.  I actually developed a cool idea for a one-shot adventure but wanted to first see how the game played out.  We are veteran players 42 years old and older, with a lot of gaming experience between us.

Some writers put together a rulebook very modular and understand that a game master may not read the entire rulebook cover to cover at first, especially of the rulebook is 350+ pages. Before I dedicate myself to a 350 RPG, I need to be able to clearly understand what I am investing myself into.  Rules need to be placed modular in their proper locations  of the rulebook so they can be easily referenced and note spread out or even assumed.  At first try, I want to get a taste of the game and in doing that, I need to be able to reference the basics of the game quickly.

The best thing I think a writer can do is write up a simple quick start set of rules and a supply an short adventure to get a GM started. Clearly state all the rules in the sections they belong, and establish clear conventions of your mechanics first and foremost. However, in truth, many writer don’t do this the first time, which is why second or revised editions are released.

Kromore suffers from some of these missteps in the writing, as we discover in our play-test.  As i struggled to clearly understand some of the concepts, I was flipping a lot of pages and found reference to various rules in odd places.  I found myself begging for more examples.  Of course I realize that more examples could easily make the book 400 pages but perhaps the writer could post examples on the web site in a download section.

As a GM, I really would have liked higher resolution maps so I can get a better feel of the setting.  This is something else that could be placed in the download section.  It might be nitpicky, but the fonts used on the map made the wording harder to read as well.

We first did character generation.  That went fairly smoothly once we had our concepts down.  To make it quick, I assigned concepts to each player – warrior, magic user and rogue.  They set out to find the best ways to make a 1st tier character based on that.  The slowest part of character generation was the origin story, using the complex flowchart.  But once the players got through that, they really did have a good feel for their character and began to take ownership of it.  They liked the potential of versatility in the class or profession system, and the ability enhancement added more variety.

Once made, the characters had some pretty good numbers.  In some areas they felt like first level characters but in others they really felt effective.  I set up a short combat with a couple of beast men, and wasn’t sure how it would go.  There is not a lot of choices to throw at a 1st level party, but you can learn a lot from more challenging situations.  It went fairly quickly and we definitely discovered several areas we need more clearer understanding before we tried it out again.

In play, we struggled with several things with our play-test that would have been easily solved with examples, perhaps a little editing and clearer definitions of game mechanic conventions.  Understanding when to use the attributes as dice or as modifiers is not clearly defined.  This is a key convention mechanic that needs to be explained a little clearer, I feel.

We tried out some basic spell use and it does not seem to be very balanced and we saw some scaling issues with it. Example was fire ball.  There are 5 layers of fire ball ability that one can take and each layer, there is more damage.  However, it is very easy to dodge the fire ball and makes it totally ineffective.  There should have been (and might be, but I could not find it) a means to allocate the points you exceed the spell cast test to make it harder for targets to dodge the fireball. Also, throwing magic around also seems to depart from the one-roll concept that is in combat and that confused me at first.  First your roll focus to cast and then you roll damage.  I think there needs to be a little more consistency in that area.

The aspect called Hero Points was something I missed in the previous review.  In Savage Worlds, we call them Bennies, and in 5th edition D&D, they are called Inpiration.  In both those systems, they are handled better.  In Kromore, they are gained as you level but once used, they do not come back until you level again.  You only have one until 7 level, and once you spend it, it is gone until you can level up.  The problem with that is the benefit does not make it worth the wait.  You can spend a point to get a chance to re-roll, max out a damage of one hit or automatically stabilize a dying character.  Honestly, I would want more out of something I can not gain back.

What got the players interested was the setting, but we struggled with the rules.  We needed a little more clearer definitions and think that this book would be better with a little more editing and content to help people play the game.  Maybe some downloadable game enhancements would help because we all can see the potential in this game but ran into too many question marks and things that made us go “huh?” as we played.

Kromore Role Playing Game & Campaign Setting

From: Raex Games Publishing
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Kromore Role Playing Game & Campaign Setting is a new RPG Core Rulebook from Raex Games Publishing.

On the website, the writer of Kromore boasts some pretty epic claims about his game. First impressions of the PDF tells me that he made a strong effort to fulfil those boasts.  At first glance, I got the impression that Kromore was meant to be a generic system for any genre but then I realized it was more than that.  It is an RPG set in a specific setting but the game can be played within any era of that setting.  Fantasy, steam punk, or space, the game is designed to accommodate any style of genre, but set in a specific world with a very imaginative and vast history.

Both the setting and the system are heavily integrated with each other but not so much that you can’t customize part of it for yourself.  The overall project is very ambitious and epic.  I don’t think I have seen a RPG setting and system done like this.  There have been many generic systems and they have spanned many settings and eras, but I don’t know of a setting to spans multiple eras within a single setting. It is hard not to be even the slightest curious about this game after you know what his goals were.  When you see the book, the art draws you in, like good art does, and then your journey into Kromore begins.

From the website: “For 10,000 years Kromorians have waged war with realm creature, monster, man, alien, and beast. They have struggled through the eras, but there have been many who light the path of survival with honor, bravery, and blood.”

 System:  The system is very character-centric with a strong focus on story as well as character development mechanics.  It has five basic attributes measure in 4-sided dice (d4) dice pools, a leveling system that goes to 30 (and rules for beyond), a pretty elaborate background system, skills and abilities that tie into the leveling system, as well as a profession system that is sort of like a class system but much more flexible.

Attributes are what you would expect – two physical and three mental or spiritual.  They are measured in single point values and are bought through a point-buy system.  These attributes are primarily used to determine the number of d4 dice you are rolling for checks, but also used as simply modifiers to task rolls.  There is a blurry line where I am not completely sure when you use them as dice and when you use them as modifiers and this is where I think more examples would really help.

The short list of fixed skills are primarily measure in bonuses that add to the dice total.  Skills are very broad and simple.  Skills include Fitness, Survival, Operate, Knowledge and Technology.  They each cover a broad spectrum of actions and are very flexible in their use.

Abilities is a much broader and detailed area that goes beyond what the basic Attributes and Skills cover.  They are in part like d20 Feats but also spells and also like d20 Class abilities.  There is a wide variety of them, all categorized in logical groups like Fitness & Fighting, Kicks & Punches, Weapon Abilities, Civilian Abilities and Knowledge & Languages.  There are also Magical Abilities.  They focus on two primary areas – Innate ability and Sci-Magic.  These are strongly linked to the Professions that use them (see below).

Professions are basically the class of a character.  They are divided out into Tiers and each Tier gains a character some bonuses and special abilities.  A character can pick any profession as each level as long as the meet the prerequisites.  In fact, the writer encourages exploring multiple professions so you have a multi-dimensional character.  Professions are broken down into general categories like Military, Combat, Civilian, and Enlightened.  In each category group are 5 or 6 Professions.  Each profession has a varied number of Tiers, between 5 and 15.

My overall impression of the character generation and development system is that it is diverse, and not overly complex. It accomplishes what it wants to do without adding in so much complexity that it is not even worth developing a character.  It is far less cookie cutter than the standard class system of 3rd edition D&D because you have a lot more flexible.  My only concern with this many powers and abilities is that it can tend itself to a lot of book diving unless you make you make good notes on what each one does.  Many are fairly straightforward, and most are not complex at all, but remembering what all they do might be a challenge.

It is an open ended task resolution system where the higher your roll, the better.  It uses 4-sided dice (d4)  in the base dice mechanic.  Instead of a linear distribution of a d20, a [X]d4 system creates that bell curve effect that a lot of people prefer in random probabilities.  I am not a big fan of d4 dice in general but its not really any different from the d6 system in that way, except no wild die.

Combat seems to have a strong influence from the aforementioned 3rd edition D&D, with a slight modification to the actions one can take.  In this system, players have 3 action points to spend and certain actions cost 1, 2,3 or more to perform.  Abilities can reduce the cost of actions.  The points system definitely aids in the tactics of a combat round and also defines actions a little clearer, but it gets subjective when the GM has to make up action points for those off-the-wall actions you know players will perform.

Combat attacks and defense are also handled in an interesting fashion.  It encompasses the attack and damage in one single roll.  The attacker rolls a number of d4 dice equal to his Muscle or Agility attribute, adds in the damage dice of the weapons, and any bonuses or penalties.  The defender rolls his Dodge (Agility) and adds in any bonuses.  The difference, if positive, is damage passed on to shield, then armor and then life points.

Also every character has a Combat Potential, which is a measure of their general combat ability to handle weapons and armor.  This, in a way, takes the place of d20 weapon proficiencies.  This proved to be a very difficult thing to deal with in play test (see After Play-test Report).  This goes up very gradually and limits the time of weapons and armor you can efficiently operate.

This is a system that needs to be experienced to really get a feel for it.  Other than verbiage, slight twists in mechanics, the system is similar to a lot of class and skill based systems out there.  It is just a matter of how that approach works in practice.  As this review is long enough, I will write up my playtest review separate {See After Play-test Report}

From the website: “Kromore offers players the opportunity to choose their game genre and era of play.”

Setting:   The setting is what makes this game so bold and epic.  It sort of a mix of fantasy and sci-fi at its base, with a lot of other genres thrown in as you span the timeline of the world.  The writer divides the world’s timeline in eras, all pertaining to a specific genre.  It deftly weaves a fascinating tale through thousands of years, as ancient aliens (that late become the gods) seed the world with races, through the Age of The Three Kingdoms, through the arrival of humanity (Age of Man) and the disaster that followed.  It continues onward through a Rebirth period and continues on through several others up to the generically named Space Era.  During these periods, there are specific races that are available through out the history of the world and others that area not (some are lost in the aforementioned disaster).  Technology advances. Cultures, kingdoms and countries change. It is a very dynamic world, but through out it remains vaguely familiar as well.

The sheer detail of this setting is too much to comment on.  What I can tell you is there is a plethora of races to choose from as a player character, each with their own cultures that shift and change throughout the ages.  My biggest concern was it being too alien.  Most players need a game to at least be somewhat connected to something familiar like including a human race option.  This setting integrate Earth humans into the world in a very cool and believable way.  And they are in fact Earth humans, as Earth is many millions of light years away.

Another concern I had was how the writer was going to integrate a pantheon to a setting that evolves from a fantasy setting into more of a sci-fi setting.  I was pleasantly surprised by the way he did it, in sort of an Ancient Aliens style that really integrates well with the story.

There is a lot in this book, which explains why it is so big.  A whole planet’s history, technology and peoples all summed up in one volume.  Of course, it is not comprehensive but it is detailed enough to give you what you need to get started.  One complaint, and this is coming from a sci-fi RPG guy, is that when talking about the planet and its neighbors, he puts things in terms of planets and galaxies, never in terms of star systems.  That may be a pet peeve of mine but I like things in this context to at least be believable and translate to things we already know.  I am sure that is to keep things simple.  But when you say the planets in a galaxy orbit a single sun, that just sounds unintelligent to me.

There is a lot depth in this setting but a lot of flexibility as well. There is a complete timeline, as I said, describe all the major events and you can pick from any of the eras and take control of the fate of Kromore from there.  There is high and low fantasy, steam punk, and sci-fi in this.  There is also horror, a potential for post apocalypse and many others.  Following this, is a description of various kingdoms, nations, factions and tribes that populate the land through out this timeline.  There are multiple subspecies of humans, for example.  Not all humans are the same.  There are also vampires, and they play a role in the planet’s history.  Following this is a listing of the religions and the major pantheon of the world that I already mentioned.

Among the other tropes of fantasy, Kromore also has other planes or “Realms” that bring forth celestials and demons.  The Realms are also one of the two source of magic in this setting (the other being Innate or bloodline magic).  The book includes a good number of creatures including Dragons, Demons, and other beasts.    It ends with a very interesting list of cool locations that can be integrated into a campaign.

About the overall book, simply put, it is stunning.  The art is fantastic and inspiring.  I kind of wish it had more pictures of each race, so you can get a better feel for them, perhaps characters in action.  The layout is top notch as well.  If I spot editing problems, it is saying something, and I did.  So it probably could use a little more editing.

Another pet peeve of mine is an quick start adventure.  There is nothing like that in this book and it was probably left out because of page count reasons.  I advise anyone that is making an independent game like this to really consider providing in some way or another to test out the system.  And it would also be nice if pre-generated characters were included but that is really rare.

In conclusion, the play-test result is a better conclusion but on the surface, the concepts of the game and system are sound.  The implementation as later discovered is a little shaky and the presentation is a little rough.  Perhaps the writer took on a little too much with this epic goal, and focused more on the story and less on making sure the reader understood the system.  More examples would be something that would greatly help.

For more details on Raex Games Publishing and their new RPG Core RulebookKromore Role Playing Game & Campaign Setting” check them out at their website http://www.raexgames.com/, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 14

Product Summary

Kromore Role Playing Game & Campaign Setting
From: Raex Games Publishing
Type of Game: RPG Core Rulebook
Written by: T. Julian Bell
Contributing Authors: Kaleb Brown, Marc-Andre D. Fortin
Game Design by: T. Julian Bell
Cover Art by: Christopher Balaskas
Additional Art by: Christopher Balaskas
Number of Pages: 353
Game Components Included: Core Rule book
Game Components Not Included: Standard gaming trappings
Retail Price: $49.99 hardcover (US)
Website: http://www.raexgames.com/

Reviewed by: Ron McClung