Sigil Stone Publishing and Ben Dutter have a fresh Kickstarter campaign for the RPG Vow of Honor. Geek Native’s community have already had a peak into Vow of Honor but we’re curious gamers and wanted to know more. Ben kindly agreed to an interview.
If you only had three sentences to describe Vow of Honor how would you describe the game?
Vow of Honor is designed for one specific reason: to play honorable warrior judges in a world full of dishonor. The system and setting are fully integrated to support the theme – and players take on the role of Arbiters , which is an often resonating experience. You get to be a hero (fallen or not), and the game fully supports and encourages that.
What are your main concerns about turning to Kickstarter for Vow of Honor?
Kickstarter is always a bit of a risk, because you’re essentially putting your concept or your product out to be judged and supported before it’s complete. Sure I can release the fully written rules, which I have on the Kickstarter page, I can do previews of the artwork and the beautiful layout, but I can’t demonstrate that full product experience until it’s finished. And I can’t finish it until I get the funding from Kickstarter.
The key is to build trust – I have to show that I’m committed and invested in the project and that I know what I’m doing, and then the potential backers decide whether they want to support it or not. It’s of course a bit nerve-wracking, but I’m very confident in Vow of Honor and the team we’ve built for it.
As you know, I launched the Forge of Valor Kickstarter, which was unfortunately unsuccessful – but I’ve applied those hard-won lessons to Vow of Honor’s campaign. I couldn’t be more excited.
What’s different about Vow of Honor that you think would convince a veteran group of gamers to make the game the next one they play?
I’m going to steal a bit from the Kickstarter page for this one, but it essentially boils down to three things: deep integration with honor, a really cool setting that supports the gameplay, and playing as Arbiters.
I’ve always been kind of obsessed with mechanical ways to motivate characters, or to reward them for roleplaying within their moral spectrum or ideals. I’ve been playing RPGs for twenty years and I’m always drawn to the paladin or the monk, or even the noble barbarian sworn to protect his homeland. That kind of character fascinates me – and that’s what I built Vow of Honor to mechanically encourage.
The system is built entirely around the Tenets of Honor – Commitment, Compassion, Purity, Righteousness, and Understanding – a doctrine that I’ve spent the last couple years researching and writing. I wanted something that was a derivative or evolution of many of our own cultural honor codes – something that people in the far future would look back upon as the core concept of what it meant to be good. I don’t know of any other game that is this focused on exploring that concept – or that supports it as thoroughly.
The setting of Sasara is one that I’ve had rattling around in my head for a few years, but I really had a revelation when writing the Tenets of Honor. I realized that in order to put the Arbiters in constant conflict and struggle, the world had to have a compelling reason to be brutal and dishonorable. What better than survival?
Post apocalyptic settings are mainstays of RPGs, but Sasara is so far beyond the apocalypse that the previous cultures are forgotten. The planet itself – unknown to its inhabitants – is actually a giant space station akin to a Dyson Sphere. They live inside of the sphere, so have a reversed horizon compared to Earth.
It makes for some really interesting themes, like exploring the lost ruins of the Forebears, the society that lived there long before the game’s default timeline, or what it means to have an enormous population shrink down to a few clans that have to learn how to survive on this wild and terribly dysfunctional planet.
But I think the really key element is that Sasara is a place the characters want to protect – it is just as beautiful and kind as it is brutal and terrifying. In many ways it reflects our own world.
Arbiters are this kind of amalgamation of iconic heroes – they belong to a devout Order, they follow a strict honor code, they stand between the oppressed and the oppressors, they train in the arts of combat but also study philosophy – they’re sort of a catchall for the things I think makes someone heroic or honorable. Think of Arbiters as a mixture of Jedi, Paladins, Watchdogs from Dogs in the Vineyard, and Samurai all set in a medieval-ish sci fi setting.
It sounds like concept soup, but really it plays great, haha.
What’s the tone in Vow of Honor like? The Arbiters could be seen as little short of religious terrorists who use force to impose the Tenets of Honor and the Order of Fasann on others.
The tone is definitely serious and ethically focused – but I wouldn’t go as far to say that it is grim or hopeless by any means. It isn’t humorous, but it isn’t humorless either. Arbiters are definitely “supposed to be” the good guys, but they aren’t infallible or immune to corruption.
And a good portion of the setting’s populace views the Order negatively – that they are too imposing, or too strict, or unreasonable. And many of the Order’s Enclaves will bend to societal pressure. That’s something that is interesting in this setting, where do you draw the line? How much can you equivocate without sacrificing your principles?
What would you list as inspiration for Vow of Honor?
Ah that’s always tough, I draw from so many different and great sources. Here’s a bunch off the top of my head: Star Wars, Bushido, the Dharma, Indian, Greek, Norse, Chinese, and Japanese folklore, Dogs in the Vineyard, tons of old samurai movies like Seven Samurai, of course many of the settings of D&D like Dragonlance and Dark Sun, the Sword of Truth series among many other fantasy/sci-fi/sword and sandal novels, Mad Max, on and on.
I’ll definitely say it grew out of a lifetime of interest in the concepts of heroism, honor, and humanity.
What’s in the Void Lands?
Oh no! I can’t spoil what’s in the Void Lands. I’ll be vague and mysterious – it is the region in which Sasara’s life support and gravity control systems begin to fail. The few explorers brave (or crazy) enough to venture that far out have seen massive ruins and twisted landscapes – no doubt from before the cataclysm that struck low the Forebears.
It is definitely a region ripe for horror and survival storytelling.
Who are your favourite baddies or opponents in the game? Why?
I think philosophically the most interesting enemies are Arbiters that have succumbed to Corruption – a game mechanic that puts framework around an Arbiter that has overzealously pursued one Tenet to the point of perverting it. It’s a really interesting theme and one of the main bad guys I like to put in the forefront of my campaigns.
Just for fun though? I love the adabhuta. They’re this humanoid monster – often called “demons” by the locals – that have an insane and uncontrollable urge to kill and eat humans. Think of a mix of werewolves, orcs, and zombies. They’re most populous in Forebear Ruins, adding another layer of danger there, and have an enormous cultural impact on Sasaran life – such as the proclivity to build small, tightly defended cities rather than sprawling expanses, and to cremate the dead rather than bury them.
What three tips would you give a GM approaching a game set in Sasara for the first time?
- Take the time to really flesh out your initial arc’s source of dishonor
- Everybody the Arbiters encounter should have an opinion on the Order
- Give the characters something to love and fight for – that’ll make it all the more potent leverage
If the Kickstarter is successful what would the next project for Sigil Stone Publishing be?
Of course my main focus will be supporting and expanding on Vow of Honor – ensuring the community has everything that they want and need – maybe even write some fiction.
Beyond that, SSP has a lot of projects in the works – namely the reboot of Forge of Valor. I’ve been working on the system and getting a ton of playtest feedback for the last six months, so I hope to get that ball rolling again sometime mid next year. I plan on continuing to expand realmspring, my free source of RPG-tailored settings (Sasara is on there, among others), and maybe start playtesting some other system concepts.
There are more details on Vow of Honor at Kickstarter where you can back the campaign.