One of the interesting things about being here at TechRaptor is the opportunities that can occasionally arise. As someone who loves pen and paper RPGs, when our tabletop editor mentioned that the CEO of a company was looking at doing an interview for a Kickstarter they had coming to a close shortly, I jumped at the opportunity. I’ve heard mention of Castles & Crusades before but like all too many games I haven’t had the chance to really go through it all and play it. Still it was a rare opportunity, even if on a rushed timeline because the Kickstarter ended in only a few days. So reading up on the Kickstarter and a bit around, I came up with some questions about the game and the Mythos line that they are currently kickstarting, which is all about … well read on as Stephen will explain it!
Also if after the interview you’re wanting to check out the Castles & Crusades system, they have it on sale digitally during the kickstarter at their store. Just enter the code MYTHOS20DIG and you’ll get 20% off their digital books that you can immediately start to read.
TechRaptor: Can you introduce yourself and Troll Lord?
Stephen: I’m Stephen Chenault, CEO of Troll Lord Games. I’ve been head of the company since 2002 when my business partner, Mac Golden, stepped down. I’m generally known as the “Troll Lord” on the boards, facebook, twitter, etc.
Troll Lord Games was founded in 1999 by myself, Mac Golden and my brother, Davis Chenault. Our original intent was to get our passage to Gencon, then in Milwaukee, paid for by selling books, but we quickly got swept up into bigger ideas. We brought three adventures and a world setting book with map to the show. Things went much better than we ever expected. While there we were picked up by ACD Distribution and that more or less launched us.
By a strange coincidence, Mac had stopped by Gary Gygax’s booth and gave him a much deserved thanks for his game (D&D) and some complimentary copies of our adventures and setting. After the show we started poking around to see who he was being published by and soon struck up a conversation with him in which he complimented us on the books. In a lengthy phone call we settled on some terms and soon there after became Gary’s primary publishers.
About that time we had converted our own game into d20 Dungeons and Dragons and were publishing adventures for that game.
So by late 2000 we were suddenly publishing a long line of material by Gary Gygax and a host of our own settings, source books and adventures.
Around 2003 we began to break free of D&D and created our own game, Castles & Crusades, named in honor of Gary’s old gaming club. It launched in 2005 and has since been our flagship product and one of the industry’s longest running, unchanged RPGs. We are on our 6th printing of the core Players Handbook.
TechRaptor: How long have you and Bryan been working on RPGs?
Stephen: I conceived the Mythos line back in 2001. That year we released the huge setting book The Codex of Erde. I intended to release a series of mythological books to accompany that, each one devoted to a single mythology. The Codex Germania was to kick off the line. The original attempt failed, and I struggled to find a writer. The project kept getting sidetracked, year after year.
About 2011, Peter Bradley, who heads up our art department and is our primary artist, introduced me to Brian Young. Brian had just finished a massive game supplement of his own, for his own table. I had long grown used to the idea that the Mythos series was dead so it took a great deal of Peter beating me around the head, neck and shoulders to read Brian’s manuscript. Once I read it, I knew I found the person for the job. Brian was well versed in mythological lore, scholastic background (PhD in Celtic Studies), and a blessed good writer to boot.
We launched the series within a few months, publishing the Codex Celtarum first (as it was essentially complete).
TechRaptor: For those who don’t know Castles & Crusades can you introduce the series and what makes it stand out?
Stephen: Castles & Crusades is an OGL based table top fantasy role playing game. Essentially it has all the familiar trappings of Dungeons and Dragons, though made much simpler. It’s easy game play is based on an attribute check system that allows the players and game master to resolve almost any conflict…from swimming a river to diplomacy with a quick roll of the dice.
The Mythos series brings a host of fresh material to the C&C table. The game master, what we call the Castle Keeper, will find a host of playable material, perfectly malleable to their gaming style to enhance any adventure that they are running. The player will find a host of new spells, classes, and magic. Both will find mountains of material to access and give their game a little more depth.
TechRaptor: For those interested in the idea of a RPG exploring mythology, where would you suggest they learn the basics of Castles & Crusades? Are there any communities in particular you’d recommend?
Stephen: The C&C system is very simple. The core book is the Castles & Crusades Players Handbook, its available in our store, or even through the Kickstarter we are presently running. Everything you need to learn to play is in that book.
TechRaptor: With Castles & Crusades Mythos you are kickstarting the creation of 3 books of your Mythos line—why did you decide to kickstart them all in one go?
Stephen: This was a hard decision. But it boils down to the release schedule for these books was just too slow. They are a really fantastic addition to the C&C core line, but one a year just wasn’t doing it for me. So I pulled the trigger and we announced all three at once, get them funded, so we can get all the resources lined up to bring them out in rapid succession.
TechRaptor: What interested Bryan in each of the regions that he’s looking at in these three codices?
Stephen: When I conceived the line it was centered on the Codex Germania, to be followed by a book on the Viking, Greek and Egyptian mythos. But when Brian showed me the content for the Celtic book, and it lined up with my conceptualization of what the series should be, I green lighted that one immediately.
I then gave him a brief outline of what I wanted covered in the series and the rest I left to him. His first choice was the Codex Slavorum, covered the ancient gods of the peoples of Eastern Europe. He has all manner of ideas for future additions to the line, from Japan to Meso-America.
These I leave to him and the market.
TechRaptor: The Mythos line is dedicated to exploring the mythologies and legends of the past, can you tell us some of the general details that make up each of these books?
Stephen: Each book is laid out in a similar fashion, with some little deviation per volume. The first part covers a brief history of what we know about the people in question. This gives the reader some context for the mythology that follows, as so much of a people’s beliefs are tied up in their past experiences, language, geography, etc. etc. The mythology covers their world view and how they saw the gods and goddesses, their tales, stories etc.
The mythology is the cornerstone of each book and is followed by a treatment of the gods themselves. Included here are more tales, personalities, traits, etc.
The game play begins next, and we include new classes for the characters to play, new spells, powers, monsters, magic items, adventure hooks, etc.
TechRaptor: What has really worked in the past Mythos books that you want to explore and take inspiration from going forward?
Stephen: The first two books in the series, Codex Celtarum and Codex Nordica, were instant hits. Brian did an amazing job blending the mythology with the game itself. He did this in such a way that the material is not ponderous. Often history and mythology can be dry, but he avoided that. He hits the mark quickly and gets you to the table where you can take advantage of the material quickly and with a whole lot of fun.
TechRaptor: With your stretch goals, what were your goals with them in general and how do you make sure not to have the project cost and time creep up significantly?
Stephen: Kickstarter projects can get away from you very quickly, both time and cost, particularly the shipping. So you have to be careful and balance the expected cost with the stretch goal. This can be challenging, but after 10 successful campaigns we are confident that we can control both.
TechRaptor: The first book is expected to arrive in December, when do you expect the others,especially those in the stretch goals, to be done for backers?
Stephen: We are actually aiming that all three books hit in December. The first, Codex Germania, is already in layout. The second, Codex Slavorum, is slated for editing in about a week and Brian is working fast on Codex Classicum.
With his dedication, skill and talent I don’t doubt that he will get that third book done before its due!
TechRaptor: How has Kickstarter affected your business model and RPGs in general do you believe?
Stephen: We were very slow to embrace Kickstarter, but once we did we did with a gusto and the main reason for that is that it created a vehicle in which we could test a product before we put a mountain of time and energy into it. In the past the distribution network would place pre-orders based on what a book was and what they thought they could sell. When the d20 market collapsed in 2004-06 that system fell apart. Kickstarter has essentially replaced that, giving us a good indication of what direction the gamers want the game to go.
And in the end, that’s the real value of Kickstarter. It has created a bridge between the developer and the gamer and its a bridge that offers free and open communication between both parties. This communication has brought the community together like nothing before. By endorsing a product through pledges the gamer takes an active part in creating the games they play.
So in short Kickstarter has given the gamers the avenue to empower us, and so many others, to bring out more games.
TechRaptor: Anything else you want to share with everyone?
Stephen: I’d really like to thank you for reaching out to TLG, myself and Brian Young and for the opportunity to talk about what we do, our games and our latest Kickstarter.
I’d like to say thanks to Stephen for talking with us and if you’re interested do check out their Kickstarter or website for more information! They’ve also created what may be the most creative RPG ad that I’ve seen with the following short: