When it comes to a certain style of bespoke board game, Steamforged Games have made a reputation for themselves. They have grown immensely from the runaway success of their crowdfunded Dark Souls board game, expanding into other parts of the hobby. This includes ongoing licensed board game adaptations – Monster Hunter World, Resident Evil, Devil May Cry 5, Horizon Zero Dawn, etc. – complete self-contained adventure modules for Dungeons and Dragons with their Epic Encounters boxes, as well as their own unique experiences like Animal Adventures and Bardsung: Legend of the Ancient Forge.
But Steamforged Games have only continued to grow as a studio. Recently, they've delved into official TTRPG adaptations, an extension of their popular licensed board games.
So when Steamforged Games reached out to me regarding their latest project that was coming to Kickstarter, I was beyond interested in just what compelled the creative process behind these projects and why they have been expanding their repertoire. Thankfully, a helpful Zoom call with Steamforged's own Ross Thompson lead not just to a great conversation about TTRPGs, the challenges of adaptation, and the studio's future projects.
Steamforged Games and Local Legends
First, Thompson went into detail about Local Legends. In a way, it is a natural continuation of Steamforged Games' Epic Encounters boxes. Epic Encounters are designed to be combat modules, essentially dungeon crawls with unique monster and boss encounters, that can be easily integrated into a longform D&D campaign or played as a one-off. Local Legends by comparison takes that modular approach but adds it to one of the most familiar tropes of a fantasy TTRPG party: meeting at a tavern. Each tavern will include two different maps, one for the exterior view of the tavern, the other for the interior. Furthermore, every tavern will include unique NPCs. Each one will have a stat card that will contain a portrait alongside some text describing their personalities, a bit of their history, as well as various quest hooks to compel an adventuring party forward. There will even be a tavern pub game that players can be involved in to help give the location a lived history. Finally, each Local Legends box will include an NPC miniature as well as a monster that is tied to the quest the players give.
Thompson did talk briefly about how while Local Legends will be getting funded on Kickstarter, the vast majority of what is backed will be coming to retail as well. There may be a few exclusive perks for backers, but ultimately these will be coming to as many potential buyers as possible.
Much like Epic Encounters, the various drinking establishments of Local Legends will contain many different tones and sensibilities. The taverns shown by Thomspon included hunting lodges, a wild-west style frontier bar, a shady den of thieves, a white collar establishment for the aristocracy, a seaside dive full of salty scoundrels, a rough and tumble fighting pit, a gothic horror gambling den, a smoke and spice lounge, and even an interdimensional waypoint for traveling the D&D multiverse. These boxes cast a wide net with just how these different taverns can be used.
Like more recent Kickstarter projects, Local Legends will be going live June 28 but will only be running for ten days. A similar model was used for their Runescape Kingdoms: Shadow of Elvarg campaign. As Thompson explained, “it's tough to make a thirty day campaign exciting, especially with the cult of new being a thing.” In addition, Local Legends is planned to be cheaper than the Epic Encounters boxes. While the standard MSRP for Epic Encounters is around $45 to $50, Local Legends is planned to be cheaper since the focus is less on protracted gauntlets and monster variety. As for how much cheaper, Thompson was not able to give me a direct answer other than aiming for below the asking price for an Epic Encounters box.
This is where I asked the big question to Thompson: is this a sign of Steamforged Games' developers wanting to expand their creative reach? Thompson explained, “we're definitely trying to add more to the full DM experience outside of just the combat.”
This segued the conversation into the design sensibilities of Steamforged. Everything from the trailers and promotional materials for Epic Encounters is mired in heavy metal high-fantasy excess. Everything about the boxes are meant to sell you on the idea of an unforgettable night of dice and adventure. In some ways, the creature designs look closer to something Games Workshop would make for Warhammer: Age of Sigmar than a modern Dungeons and Dragons adventure. So how much is too much? When is that complexity a detriment? After all, while boxes like these are great from Game Masters who want to minimize session prep, they might also be used to bring in completely new players.
So Mat Hart is our Creative Director, and Richard August is our lead RPG Designer. Just hanging out with them, and their creative process, they are very much into 'let's push it and get a little crazy' while at the same time making a product that we want to have people be able to play and use again and again.
Thompson continued about how each Epic Encounters box follows the same format when it comes to enemy configurations. There are always a handful of infantry units, some cavalry, a few medium-sized monsters and one-off baddies. While there is an encounter booklet to help you run an adventure, once that is all said and done, those figures and enemy configurations can be remixed and rebalanced however you want for the unique needs of your table. To paraphrase Thompson's own words, whether it's Epic Encounters or Local Legends, you have to make something memorable but it can't be so out there that it is unusuable.
Steamforged Games – TTRPGs and Dark Souls
As our conversation continued, we began discussing how TTRPG accessories and supplements have become so ubiquitous. In addition to Steamforged's own Epic Encounters as well as the products provided by Darrington Press, it is a great time to be a TTRPG player. Thompson even mentioned that August's design process for Epic Encounters' involves giving monsters additional abilities and feats, giving them an extra layer of complexity the Fifth Edition Dungeon Master's Guide just doesn't provide at its base. As Thompson said, “you can only go to the goblin well so many times.”
This isn't to say that Steamforged Games have some sort of disdain for the latest edition of Dungeons and Dragons. Part of why the game has garnered so much mainstream appeal has been because of its streamlined nature, flexible foundation, and its greater appeal to player expression. But as certain veteran GMs will attest, adding a little extra twist here and there can make a world of difference. It is because of that extra mile that makes Steamforged's material stand out beyond just their miniatures. This did lead to some light discussion between Thompson and myself about various Dungeons and Dragons minutia, including the unspoken merits of Fourth Edition as well as several anecdotes about homebrewed items and mechanics.
Which did bring the conversation Steamforged's Dark Souls TTRPG. Thompson was very quick to reminds us that revised printings of the RPG were well on their way in light of the less than stellar reception in the UK. It was a genuine act of humility by a studio that wears its passion for the hobby on their sleeve.
Having worked in licensed games for the majority of my professional career, it is always interesting to see what the licensors view as 'this is what the brand is, this is what the game is, this is the feeling that we want to have interpreted.' Then there is 'how do we pull this off' in a mechanic style that makes sense. When we look across the variety of licensed games that are out there, licensed games used to be a dirty word, now it is not. It is about finding that 'feel.'
That emphasis on 'feel' was definitely expressed as Thompson continued to talk about the various playtests done for the Dark Souls TTRPG across both the convention circuit and at liveplay sessions. Everything from the dungeon crawl configuration of encounters to the use of action points for tactical movement to even the game's unique Hollowing mechanic were deliberately chosen to invoke the world's bleak oppressive tone. It's that mix of passion, humility, and grace that really embodies how Steamforged Games approaches such licensed adaptations.
Between both the Dark Souls TTRPG and the upcoming 5e adaptation of Runescape, it did beg the question of why the team decided to branch out. According to Thompson it was a mixture of being given the opportunity thanks to their association with both From Software and Jagex as well as expand Steamforged's brand. It's a team made up of hardcore gamers that are also developers and artists. It was a natural progression after their initial TTRPG project, Animal Adventures, went viral, leading to the Epic Encounters boxes, and now to complete adaptations.
As Thompson said, initially it takes a while for you to find your footing. Steamforged Games have been around for eight years, and to have a brand so synonymous with their kind of bespoke board game experience is a testament to how much of a foundation they've built. And once you have a foundation, building upwards is all but natural.
The Kickstarter for Epic Encounters: Local Legends is live right now.