Geek Native’s patrons voted Battleaxes & Brimstone into the publisher spotlight this month.
That might not be a name that you know, there are only a few products carrying that name on DriveThruRPG, and that’s the whole point of the Spotlight. The goal here is to shine some light on studios that might not otherwise get it.
There’s some good timing here as B&B have the Halloween-appropriate They’re Coming to Get You! and wouldn’t it be good to ask about horror tips for GMs?
Fortunately, when I reached out to get in touch, Malaki, the designer behind the company, responded. We’ve been able to put together a Q&A-style interview before the end of the month.
Have an idea of who else could get featured? Site backers can suggest publishers and take part in next month’s vote.
Who is Battleaxes & Brimstone?
Starting at the beginning and learning the basics about B&B felt like the way to go.
Who is Battleaxes and Brimstone?
An independent RPG publisher, currently exclusive to DriveThruRPG. Created during the pandemic, Battleaxes & Brimstone was inspired by decades of enthusiastic players and my own personal bucket list. As of this moment, it’s a staff of one who produces all the content, art, and general available nonsense.
You told me you’ve been playing since the Red Box days. What was it about the boxed set and game that so caught your attention?
The art; the heroics. I was about six when I was enthralled by Elmore’s iconic Red Dragon. The bravery, the recklessness, the pure insanity of the chain-clad fighter was fascinating. Whatever treasure laid within that pile at the dragon’s feet couldn’t be worth soloing that massive beast. How could he ever hope to survive? What brought him there? My mind clung to the concept and reeled. I had to be a part of whatever was going on inside that box.
Growing up during the Satanic Panic
Malaki is a kid of the 80s and from the American midwest. That must have been interesting for any budding D&D player, so I asked about it.
How did growing up during the Satanic Panic influence your gaming then? Does it still affect your gaming today?
The Satanic Panic wore like a big bright buckle on the holy expanse of the Bible Belt. Where I grew up, Dungeons & Dragons, Ozzy Osbourne, and pretty much anything cool was simply the devil’s work. Urban legend held that a D&D player, high on angel dust, lept off a building to his death because he thought he could fly. Parents were scared of the demons, devils and boobs plastered throughout the books. D&D was so taboo that I wasn’t able to find a proper game until I was a teenager; it was underground, and you had to know someone in the know to be a part of it. Certainly, no Hellfire Clubs where I came from. It was fringe.
But as a thrall of that damned dragon, my imagination kept going back to the story and drama from the box art. The books were off limits so I just made my own stuff. I was creating maps, Legend of Zelda style, during class while everyone else finished their assignments. I drew stick figure heroes crushing comically simple skeletons. Islands, dungeons, magic swords, potions and spells consumed pages of secret spiral notebooks.
My desire to play drove me to the Dungeonmaster role. My first gaming group fell apart, and I couldn’t find another, so I recruited players and started my own. More than playing, I wanted to participate in (and actually facilitate) an awesome and fantastical experience. I wanted to impart that feeling I got from that Elmore piece to my players. I wanted my excitement to be theirs, and I wanted them to feel as bold and daring as that solitary fighter who challenged the dragon. This was a fantasy game, and anything should be possible. Ever since, I’ve done my best to make that happen for every table I run.
The crazy thing is, whenever I recall that box art, it looks exactly like the Jeff Easley piece from the 1990s Black Box. How could such an inspiring memory change through time? It wasn’t the thing that changed but my perception. Thus it has been with my games. Driven by emotion and framed by concepts rather than rules. Excitement is key; the goal is to have fun. Don’t let the facts diminish the experience.
What have you learned about roleplaying on your journey from a kid with a game to becoming a designer?
Roleplaying encapsulates suspension of disbelief and freedom of expression. As a kid, it was all about the adventuring experience. I could fight like a master of the universe, I could journey like I was from Bag End, I could discover my own Odyssey. I had a license to do and be anything. These days I see rolepaying as a tool to create atmosphere. When players dive in and invest in your world, good RP pays them back on their investment. Oklahoma has some majestic sunsets; sun-burnished skies in violet and orange, clouds blazing like coals in a celestial furnace. I want to capture that feeling at my table.
Satanic Panic to having fun. How does it all come together?
Since we started talking about red box discoveries during the Satanic Panic and ended up creating an atmosphere at a fun table, I wondered how it all came together.
What do you think you’re best known for?
As a gamesmaster, I’m known for difficult and rewarding games. A decades-long player of mine summed up the table’s sentiment when he told me my game was like everyone else’s, but on hard mode. Still, my campaigns were their favorites. I think it’s because my players share one essential quality: a deep trust in their GM. They know it will be tough, but I will play it fair. As a GM, I invent problems and let the players create solutions.
As a referee, I stand back and watch the players deal with the situation at hand. It’s a fairly strict non-interference policy that lets the players take their lives in their own hands. They know that there is a very real chance their characters won’t make it out alive, so when they do survive, the thrill is personal and satisfying. They unlocked the mystery, lived through it, and made an impact on the world. That’s the win condition in a TTRPG.
What would you like to be best known for?
As a publisher, great products, of course. Otherwise, just being a good person. As a GM, I want to make people think and test their beliefs. This hobby of ours is a great way to do both, even through a vicarious lens.
What makes a good RPG product?
The same thing that makes a good pizza, a great steak, or entertaining fiction. A good RPG product satisfies a desire. Those desires are as unique as the people that play the game and change over time. I’m always looking for interesting or innovative mechanics that improve one or another aspect of the game, and I want to provide creative prompts to inspire other hobbyists to improve their own games. If you like the art style, cool. If you find something different to add to your game, awesome. Or if you just get inspired by the fact that it was all put together by some random knucklehead in the middle of nowhere, and it makes you want to do it yourself, that kicks ass.
Is there tension between having rules for a game and having fun?
Always! But tension is at the heart of every good story. This is the true metagame of the GM, balancing the rules and the fun. The key is to use only those rules that make things easier and facilitate everyone’s enjoyment.
So, if you don’t own the PHB and have never read the DMG but you and your buddies have a blast rolling dice, awesome! Or, if your table gets their kicks from manipulating super-complicated and obscure rules, rock on! Still, whether you have a powerful knowledge of the rules or just a passing understanding, at the end of the day, nobody cares how well you can recite the letter of the law if everyone isn’t having a good time. Regardless of how many rules you use, they are useful only as a framework. Never let them get in the way of having fun.
What’s next for Battleaxes & Brimstone
Will I be asking every publisher about One D&D? No, but I asked Malaki!
From what you’ve heard of One D&D, the next edition-less edition of Dungeons & Dragons, how well do you think Wizards of the Coast are shepherding rules and fun?
I’m not exactly the stereotypical grognard, but I prefer the creativity and imaginative wealth of modern independent creators and the elder TSR to the recent “developments” of WOTC. As so many of the games I’ve run have been cobbled piecemeal from handpicked rules and gaps filled with creative license, I lean on table interpretation and GM intent over RAW.
No corporation can tell you how to have fun at your own table, and this hobby is built for infinite variety. It’s what so many of us DM-folk love about it.
Even though the flagship game is attempting to move beyond editions and consolidate us beneath the banner of One, there will always be as many different rulesets and interpretations as there are gaming tables and GMs. It is what it is.
The heart of this game is really personal interaction, the connection, the drama, the laughs, the excitement of participating in an imaginative experience of cooperative adventure. The way this plays out will vary from table to table, which is one of its great things. It’s the trust between players and DM, it’s the danger of the die roll, the interpretation of the result, and the creativity of the group. No one owns that stuff. You can’t put that magic in a bottle. You can only hope to shape it as it passes through you, and watch in awe as it plays out in front of you.
Does a new edition of D&D change anything for Battleaxes and Brimstone?
Nah. Makes me want to lean into everything I’m doing even more.
They’re Coming to Get You! has done well. What’s next for you?
Yeah, the success of my slasher movie-themed title, They’re Coming to Get You!, is begging for supplemental material and there are plans to release additional scenarios themed after well-loved films in the genre. Hopefully in time for Halloween!
Beyond this, a companion book for Dire Roads containing monsters and magic items is scheduled to drop this year. The ruleset itself may receive a revision in the near future, geared toward further simplification and ease of play. There are other projects in the works as well, including a take on the OSR, but I’m a one-man operation so I’ve got to prioritize and focus some of this madness bouncing around in my head if I actually want to get anything done.
Lastly, with Halloween coming up, what tips do you have for DMs on how to run an appropriately spooky session?
Rewatch your favorite old horror flicks and ask yourself why you like them. What is it about those films that move you? Incorporate that into your game. When you start play, channel Hitchcock and establish the norm before breaking it suddenly and violently. Subvert your players’ expectations; keep them guessing. Mix opposing themes, like innocence and insanity, or benevolence and depravity. My latest game, They’re Coming to Get You!, provides a simple framework for GMs to create a palpable fear and encourage improvisation. It’s a broad ruleset that is perfect for a one-shot fright fest.
Thanks to Malaki for taking part.
Battleaxes & Brimstone
- Battleaxes & Brimstone’s website.
- Battleaxes & Brimstone on DriveThruRPG.
- Battleaxes & Brimstone’s email (shared with permission).
Latest Battleaxes & Brimstone Products
As noted, B&B is currently exclusive at DriveThruRPG, and as a relatively new publisher, we can list all the catalogue right here.
- 1st of November, 2021 Dire Roads.
- 5th of November, 2021 DoOMS: the Deck of Opportunity and Misfortunes.
- 10th of December, 2021 The Gathering ‘Neath the Ground.
- 8th of January, 2022 They’re Coming to Get You!
- 20th of August, 2022 TCGY Wallpaper Pack.
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