Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Add some magic from the Æther in Æthermancy

((I write these interviews as if they take place in real time.  Feel free to answer however you like and I’ll edit them as necessary for flow.  You will then get final approval before posting.  Thanks in advance!))  

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  Today I am joined by Kelly Barone  from Silver Gryphon Games who is here to talk with us about their latest  Kickstarter: Æthermancy.  Thank you for joining us today Kelly !

Thanks for having me! I appreciate you taking the time to talk  with us!

Besides being hard to spell, what is Æthermancy?  
Æthermancy is the magical component of the Æther rules.  It handles all powers, spells, and abilities of a supernatural, magical, or extra-dimensional nature.  It encompasses everything from psychics to arch mages to monks and clerics; anyone whose abilities seem to bend the fabric or reality.

You were kind enough to give me a review copy of both Æthermancy as well as the base Æther Gaming System and the first thing I see mentioned is that while Æther can be used with any setting, it isn’t a generic role playing system.  How important to the system as a whole and Æthermancy specifically is this flexible yet not wholly generic idea?  
Well to us,  generic systems all feel like generic systems.  They feel like a system that forces the setting to contrive to the mechanics.  With Æther, Kevin  wanted to design a system that put the mechanics in the back; they’re not driving the bus... the experience, the story, and the players are in control of that, with the Narrator serving as referee and, well, as a Narrator.  With Æthermancy, he wanted to be able to cover the ability for people to look at the game and say “Hey, I’ve always wanted to try it this way…” and have the rules be a vehicle to accommodate that while taking pressure off the Narrator to not have to create a ton of new rules or figure out how that integrates with the existing rules.  We want people to say, “Hey, how would this work?” and then let them flip open the book and say “Oh, it’s right there.  Cool!”

As a longtime fan/GM or as your system calls it, Narrator (love the term BTW); of multiple generic role playing systems (Tri-Stat, FATE, GURPS) yours is the first one I can recall that allowed different stats to determine different kinds of spell casting.  For instance the Academic Caster is the traditional “book learning” kind of spell caster, yet the Toughness caster is more like an anime martial arts caster, the Will caster covers the cleric type caster, and you even have a Wits caster for the wild talent trickster type casters.  How key to the Æthermancy system is this kind of approach?  What brought this idea up?   
I’ll answer the second question and then the first.  The idea was brought up during initial system design phases way back in 2002, and it didn’t start with magic at all.  Skills are all pegged to a parent attribute that makes sense most of the time, and that Attribute give the skill a Base Attribute Modifier.  A question was brought up about the Throwing skill, which is pegged to the Aim attribute.  I know Kevin had a friend ask “What if I don’t care if it’s an accurate throw, what if I just need to get something away from my character?” He thought about it and said “Well, then you could use the Base Attribute Modifier for the Muscle attribute.”  Handling different spell casters within the same group or game just evolved out of that.  We also suffered through the AD&D 2nd Edition Great Psionics Quandry of whether or not spells that protect from magic also protect from psionics.  Æthermancy deals with all of that in a single stroke, because it doesn’t matter what type of magic user, or Æther manipulator, you are using, it’s all the same core idea that all of the magic-using, psychic, etc. characters are doing what they do by the same base function in gaming physics.
Taking that in mind, it’s pretty key to the approach we  used for Æthermancy because it creates that unified feeling, it creates a system where mechanically everything is treated the same, but the role-playing possibilities are wide open.  It allows the rules to stay in the background and the mechanics to do what they should; give a framework of how things work, not force the characters into all feeling the same no matter how many characters are in the same party, no matter what type of magic or Æther influence they are using.
How important an expansion is Æthermancy?  Will I just not be able to run magic type campaigns using the Æther Gaming System at all?
Æthermancy, like any other expansions we’ll do for the Æther Core Rules, is just that, it’s an expansion.  It pivots off the skill system, and it gives more tools for the massive gaming tool box for both players and Narrators.  Being that it’s our first expansion for the Core Rules, it’s important!  It also forms a groundwork for what is to come in the future.  You can do magic and magic-effects without the Æthermancy book, but you’d have to create all your own rules, figure out how metamagic works within the casting structure, write your own 225+ spells, figure out how to handle multiple caster types, how to handle spell creation, how to handle magical item creation, magical items in general, figure out how to use magic in high-magic, moderate-magic, and low-magic world, come up with your own adventure hooks for a pick up game (we’re giving you 30 in the book) and figure out a good way to introduce characters into this magical world instead of using the pre-written adventure included with the book.  In short, you’d have to come up with enough of the 300 pages or so of the Æthermancy book to run magic in your game.  Sure, you can do that, but pledging to the Kickstarter sounds a whole lot more simple to me!

You don’t see percentile based systems as much anymore as more folks seem to be going for D6 or D20 based systems.  What made you guys choose on a percentile based system?
All rule systems come down to a basic statistical question:  your character is trying to do something; did he or she succeed or fail?  The only thing that a system does is give a mechanical gradation to answering that question.  We liked the d100 system because it emphasized the skill system over all, and it made over emphasizing in skills less attractive, encouraging a balanced approach to character design, or at least balanced approaches to party design.  Everything in Æther is a skill, there are no Feats or Edges or anything else of the sort.  Also, damage is based on a single D10 (until you start getting into more damaging effects, bigger weapons, higher-powered spells, etc.) so up to a point, the whole game can be run with a single set of percentile dice.  After that point, you might just need another D10 or two to roll all of your effect dice at the same time.

The Kickstarter seems to be focused on producing art and polish for the work, how many artists do you have lined up for the project?  When is it expected to ship?  
We already have some art work for it, from an artist named Dennis Darmody.  We need more though, a lot more.  We have tapped Dennis again and he agreed to do some more work for us, and we also have a few others in mind to fill in the gaps.  We want to keep the number of artists low to provide a constant visual fabric throughout the book, but if we can pin down several artists with a similar style, it will greatly help expedite the art process. We have someone else we’re really excited about too, but it hasn’t been finalized yet, so we’ll have to wait to make that announcement.
We’re shooting for a February 2014 ship date.  I’d like to say that we’ll get them out before then, but it depends how quickly we can get art done and how quickly we can get layout done after that.  However, the February expectation is very strong after talking to artists and from what we internally know about processes and our own timetables, and if we can get it out sooner, we certainly will.

One of my biggest complaints about a Kickstarter project is a lack of budgeting.  As a company I’m sure you know all about how important it is to setup a complete budget before you start on a project, yet as backers it’s equally important for us to see this budget so we know you’ve planned this all out properly.  Why don’t you guys have a budget breakdown on your page?  Where is $4,750 going?  
Well, as we stated, almost all of that money is going for art.  We still have to pay taxes on the funds, and we have to pay setup fees for the books to satisfy the printer, and there’s a few other incidental fees here and there for things like ISBNs and bar codes, etc.  However, a bulk of that is pure artwork.  That may sound like a lot, but artists need to eat, too, and there’s about a month’s worth of work involved here, plus the need for the artist or artists to replenish their supplies and so on.  We did a Kickstarter last fall for dice with our logo laser-etched into them, and we took a hit pretty hard on some considerations we didn’t think of or just plain didn’t know about. Lessons learned right? We really looked closely at that this time, I can’t tell you how many spreadsheets have been created to make sure we didn’t miss a single detail this time.  Shipping rates are going up as well, both internationally and domestically.  Taking all that into consideration, we carefully plotted where our numbers had to be, not only for the funding goal itself, but for the individual pledge levels as well.
How did you discover Kickstarter?
I think I found it randomly one afternoon. I don’t remember if I saw an article or how I originally stumbled onto it.I shared it with Kevin a while back. He and Ben had  seen a few things here and there about it early in 2012 and then it really seemed to take off and I kind of said, “Hey, we should do one of these.”  We thought it was an awesome idea to crowdfund small companies and entrepreneurs so that they can get their ideas sent out to the world and to actually see something built and accomplished and so we did it.  It’s an incredible sense of fulfillment to see the fans say “Yes, we love you guys, we love your stuff, and we want to see more from you.  Here, let me help make that happen for you!”

A key part of successful Kickstarters is backer participation and how to convert a potential backer into a full backer.   How are you engaging your backers?  What kinds of things do you have planned for updates to give notice to those who just hit the “remind me” button and surf on?  Interviews?  Videos?  Stories from the project?
We’ve done a number of interviews, been on several podcasts and we’re lucky enough to have a lot of loyal fans who have done some great word of mouth advertising for us.  We have had groups at multiple eventss where we’ve  run and will be running  live events to showcase Æthermancy.  Kevin ran a few online game nights and we have had 2 Q&A Google hangouts to talk about hte project.
We’ve got a number of things planned for this last week that we hope will engage those backers that are just “thinking”about things. We’ve got teams at multiple conventions  this week and should have some great  pictures and stories to share.

What kind of media attention have you received with your project?  How are you spreading the word?  Facebook?  Twitter?  Google+? Youtube?  Advertising?  Are you using Kicktraq to track your progress?  
Kevin has been interviewed several times, we’ve done a number of fan engagement events and there have been a number of podcasts. We have a strong social media presence  including Facebook, G+, Twitter and have been using that a lot. We run a daily contest where fans have the opportunity to win a copy of our core Æther system simply by sharing the link to our Kickstarter with their friends and family and we have some referral extras in place as well.  We talk to EVERYONE we can. Having as much excitement about the project makes it easy to be energetic about it and we’ve noticed that tends to be contagious.  We do use Kicktraq, we have since day 1 and we used it with our previous campaign as well. It’s a wonderful tool!
Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?
Make sure to do your homework. Know what your fans want, what your costs are going to be and how long it will take you. Build in a safety net of time, your backers will not be unhappy if you deliver early… but delays are disappointing.  Learn everything you can about the Kickstarter process before you launch and don’t be afraid to think outside the box or change things up if something isn’t working. Also, don’t expect to sleep much… Kickstarters always take more work than you think! Get extra help and have people lined up to assist if things get really busy. Order pizza the day you launch and have all your friends come help you package things up when it’s time to ship things out.

Thank you for spending your time with us!  Do you have any final thoughts for our readers? We really hope people will take a look at our project and consider funding it, but even if our project is not for them, we hope they  find something on there and back it, Kickstarter is about more than “pre-ordering” it’s about helping to make something happen. Small companies can be eclipsed by larger companies sometimes and the nice thing about Kickstarter, is that fans and brand devottees can really help to create something that might not happen otherwise! That’s pretty amazing when you think about it.
Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!

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